The Angry Corrie 57: Apr-Jun 2003

How Now, Brown Cow Hill?

The Corbetts and other Scottish hills - Scottish Mountaineering Club hillwalkers' guide

Second edition, edited by Rob Milne and Hamish Brown

SMC, 2002, 280pp, ISBN 0 90752 171 1, 18

MUCH OF THE INTEREST in any second edition lies in how it differs from its predecessor. Are there substantial improvements and changes? Have earlier mistakes been rectified? Is it worth buying if one already has the first edition? In this instance a dozen years have passed since the SMC first published their guidebook to the Corbetts, and although Hamish Brown has remained from the original editorial team, Scott Johnstone and Donald Bennet have been replaced by Rob Milne.

image from TAC57

The first thing to strike me was that the second edition's cover picture is, surprisingly, not of a Corbett at all, but of Suilven - one of the fine "other" hills described within the book. In terms of the Corbetts themselves, two "new" names have been introduced here. Maol Creag an Loch is now called A'Chaoirnich: this is new to SMC but appeared in Eric Yeaman's 1989 Handbook of the Scottish Hills. Further south, Stob Fear-tomhais (itself a neologism: it was Ceann na Baintighearna until 1990) becomes Beinn Stacath - although should this be Beinn Stacach, as per the Bealach Stacach to the east of the summit? This name comes "from features on the eastern ridge" according to the introductory notes on page 10, but these features are so minor that they have failed to come to my notice on two visits; perhaps they are like the "Pinnacle" which Landranger 72 suggests stands high above Camps Reservoir.

It is good to see the end of the pretence that both Sgurr a'Bhac Chaolais and Buidhe Bheinn (same height but only around 122m of drop between) could be Corbetts. They are now treated on a similar footing to the Carn Liath / Creag an Dhail Bheag pair (same height and with a mere 34m of drop between), though the western pair remains unique in being described by two independent authors, Martin Moran and Alec Keith respectively.

The SMC policy of being nice to awkward land managers remains in evidence, most notably at Green Well of Scotland where the shepherd claims he requires total privacy for lambing: an alternative route to Cairnsmore of Carsphairn is given for the 1 April - 28 May period. (See Access all areas, p19 - Ed.) There are assorted comments elsewhere, mostly about shooting. Is all this connected to the removal of Beinn Mheadhoin in Morvern from the "other hills" detailed in the first edition? It is the only such demotion.

The maps are much improved in appearance and more ambitious. Corbett Tops are marked, as are Grahams, though their definition omits the drop criterion and the diamond symbol (lacking a light border) is often lost among the dark ridge lines. Munro Tops are claimed, unexpectedly, to be shown only when there is a 30m drop, but there are errors both ways, eg Garbh Chioch Bheag (26m drop) is shown but Meall Garbh in the Tarmachans (72m drop) is not. Sadly, the ambition has not been accompanied by accuracy. An unfortunately high number of the maps (over 50) contain at least one error.

The text is disappointingly little changed - so a new edition of The Corbett Almanac does not seem necessary - and it includes too many typos, although those few errors in the first edition seem to have been corrected. Many descriptions are identical to those in the first edition, even where the "author" is different. Does this mean the new author rechecked the route on the ground, or did what? The rewrites for Arran and Glamaig show what can be done without changing the route. (Re-authoring is particularly marked in the Galloway/Borders section, where seven first-edition pieces by the late Ken Andrew - he died in 2001 - have been adopted by Tom Prentice. These are almost word-for-word reprints, certainly not new pieces of work, and the same applies to descriptions originally credited to the late Graham Tiso and the late Bill Myles. Perhaps Prentice has dutifully forwarded his text fees to, for example, Ken Andrew's widow, but even so this leaves a bad taste - Ed.)

Updated descriptions are mixed. The blocked path north-east of Beinn Bheula is noted - I wish I'd known before it blocked me - but the forestry-related changes on Ben Ledi are not adequately addressed (see Parkwatch, p3 - Ed.), although the Glen Finglas approach is described. The new path description for the Cobbler doesn't seem to fit the map.

Some Corbett routes are reversed (eg Beinn Odhar Bheag and Sgurr an Utha), but very few are new. Among these are Hart Fell (from the south rather than the west), Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor (by the Gruinard River, but why not by the Little Gruinard River?) and Ben Mor Coigach (from Culnacraig). It now seems to be deemed safe to ascend west or north-west to A'Chaoirnich from An Dun. In general, more alternatives are suggested, though there remains much more scope here. I would have suggested using the Glen Ogle walkway in combining Creag Mac Ranaich and Meall an t-Seallaidh, and would have combined the Farragons from the north rather than from the west.

The photographs seem to be better reproduced than before, although not as striking as their equivalents from the companion Corbetts CD. They are about 80% new and generally impressive. There are two howlers, however. Mount Blair is illustrated by a photograph of the Cairnwell while a picture allegedly showing Beinn an Eoin is actually of Baosbheinn. There is also a hint of confusion where a (correctly identified) picture of the Glen Lyon Cam Chreag on page 68 appears out of place and adjacent to the Auch Corbetts (which include another, unpictured Cam Chreag).

Surprisingly many hills - admittedly mostly in Section 9 - are not illustrated at all. The three Carn Deargs have no photographs, but the undistinguished Meall na h-Aisre gets two. In some cases where a hill has two illustrations they show the same aspect each time (eg Sgurr Innse and Sgurr a'Mhuilinn), though admittedly at different seasons. It's a pity that both Suilven (twice) and Stac Pollaidh have only end-on photographs. I approve of a shift from "view from the Corbett" to "view of". The captions have their share of typos, notably "Shiehallion", "Srath Blane" and "Brodick Peir".

A few translations have changed and A'Chaoirnich seems too new to have one. I can't comment with any authority but am surprised that Sgurr a'Chaorachain has become "little sheep" rather than "little field of berries" - and, despite Harry Potter, wizards have gone out of fashion for Baosbheinn.

A few other comments. The Lowthers are surely flanked to the north-east by Clydesdale, not Annandale. The shorter Glen Brerachan route to Ben Vuirich is dismissed for its "much trackless peat bog" (about 2km), but the Shinagag approach is described in near-identical terms. And on Bidean a'Chabair, "[the] west top, Sgurr na h-Aide, 859m, was for long shown as the Corbett". This name was indeed used, but the Corbett location has always been the 867m east top.

Altogether, apart from the excess of errors, this is a well produced volume and worth buying if you don't have the first edition. If you do, unless you want the new pictures, it's not worth replacing.

Ed. - It was only when looking again at the 1990 first edition of the Corbetts guidebook that I was struck by the curious similarity of its cover picture - of the tanned-looking, lateral ridges of Cranstackie - with the cover artwork for Remedy, the 1999 CD by Basement Jaxx. This likewise features tanned-looking, lateral ridges - in a near-abstract portrayal of, er, naked bottoms and thighs. The SMC is unlikely, after such an interval, to raise questions of plagiarism and copyright, but it does make one wonder whether Cameron McNeish might not be a covert member of Basement Jaxx...

The list of known Corbetteers, 198-strong as TAC goes to press, can be found online at
News of completions, whether recent or ancient, is always welcome.

TAC 57 Index