The Angry Corrie 57: Apr-Jun 2003

Letter You

Dear TAC,

With regard to broken and replaced trig points (TAC56, p15), at Greenham Common (of the cruise missiles and the women's peace camp), the trig - at SU499653 on Landranger 174 - had another trig lying on its side a few yards away when I was there in March 1993. The fallen trig had had its flush bracket and tribach, aka spider thingie on the top, hacked off.

In May 1999 on the summit of Sgurr na Ciche (TAC55, p12) I indentified the remains of one square pillar and two cylindrical ones. No flush brackets. I wrote to the OS and they sent me a brief history of this pillar. In summary:

1948 Bolt set in rock
1949 Stone pillar built over bolt
1955 Damaged by lightning and repaired
1957 Damaged by lightning
1958 New cylinder trig built with lightning conductor
1963 Reported cracked and lightning conductor broken off
1969 Further lightning damage
1971 Rebuilt
1972 Repaired
1975 Repaired again
1979 Pillar reported completely destroyed by lightning
1983 OS gave up! Surface bolt emplaced and covered with a small cairn
1985 Cairn in disarray


Barbara Jones, Guildford

Dear TAC,

Further to Grahaeme Barrasford Young's points (TAC55, p8) and the letters from Peter Wilson and Niall Macdonald in a similar vein (TAC55, pp17-18), there is little doubt that OS maps have deteriorated as serious navigational tools over recent years. The preponderance of purple lines and yellow blur over critically important bits of geography and the explosion of blue nonsense symbols are the main sources of the problem to my mind. The blue starburst symbols for "nice view here" always seem to be in the wrong place - generally right beside roads, not at the top of mountains.

The OS is clearly an organisation in evolution and struggling with its monoline product to reach out to the broader audience needed to meet commercial pressures. The danger of course in this is that by trying to meet everyone's needs in what is fundamentally one offering, they meet no one's needs adequately. (The differences in scale do not make Landrangers and the new Explorers different products in my opinion. It's a bit like having a more powerful car compared to your existing one: it's still a car.)

image from TAC57

It strikes me that if the OS really put themselves in the boots and other footwear of their users then they might better serve each group. Perhaps, for example, specialist mountain-biking maps highlighting good cycle routes might be created (all the better to keep them away from walkers). We might also see close detail (say 1:10000-scale) summit maps for major peaks reverse-printed on specialist mountaineering maps. Surely this isn't beyond the realms of possibility and technology these days?

With regard to the idea of going back to shading various heights and the accuracy of Irish topographic information, I have had recent experience of both. OSI maps carry darker brown shading for high ground and are only available in 1:50000 scale. Important contour detail is frequently obscured by the shading, and with cliffs represented only by closer contours this can make for some good fun. Last autumn I ran over Lugnaquilla via Glenmalure from Glendalough and back, nearly chucking myself off the scarp bordering Glenmalure in the process in the fog, as its all-so-critical contour feature was obscured by the careful brown shading.

As you might guess from this, I'm not a fan of shading or not showing important ground features. The Irish manage to show every standing stone in the country on their maps, so why not show 6km-long cliffs as cliffs rather than obscuring them?

On a closing note, I am delighted for Peter Wilson that despite the uncertain distance to Sligo Town on his roadsigns, at least they were all facing the right way round, ie pointing to the right place. That's not all that common in the Irish Republic, especially in the country - you have been warned.


Jeremy Chadwick, Reading

Dear TAC,

Grahaeme Barrasford Young in TAC55 and Paul Hesp (TAC56, p16) both seem to regard as an amusing solecism the reference by Sharon Allsop-Seward of the OS to the Explorer series as "small-scale" maps. It's my understanding however that this is indeed the official OS nomenclature, with "large scale" reserved for anything 1:10000 and larger.

According to the OS website, large-scale products include such things as "Superplan plots" that can be supplied at anything up to a staggering 1:100, and promise at first sight an undreamt-of wealth of new material for the cartographic pedant - no offence meant to your correspondents by that term, of course.

Unfortunately, even at the maximum A0 printout size, a 1:100 map wouldn't cover enough area for anything much more enterprising than taking bearings off the concrete gnomes during a stroll around the back garden, and I suspect they are resurveyed with insufficient frequency to be of any use on the hill in the time-honoured practice of sheep-to-sheep navigation.


Tom Hawkins, Stockport

Dear TAC,

Re TAC56, p13 and your attempt to find an extra 21/2 inches (6cm) for Calf Top and so put it at 2000ft (610m), I was at the summit of Calf Top just a few days after reading your piece. The ground across the fence does seem a tiny bit higher than the base of the trig column, but the trig itself sits on a low concrete plinth and the benchmark on the base plate is at my knee height above ground level. (My knee height was approximately 55cm when wearing winter boots!)

Given that the OS height is that of the benchmark and not ground level, then it would seem that Calf Top doesn't make it into the 610m club.


Peter Wilson, Portstewart

Dear TAC,

I would like to add my observations to the debate over whether Calf Top reaches 2000ft. On a visit in 2002, I measured the summit (across the fence from the trig point) to be 20cm higher than the base of the trig point, which when added to 609.6m makes 609.8m - which is above 2000ft. My method was quite simple:

  1. Hold a trekking pole vertically with its point on the summit and decrease the length of the pole until the top surface of the trig point just disappears as seen from the top of the handle. The top of the handle will then be level with the top of the trig point (assuming that the top surface of the trig point is horizontal, which appeared to be the case).
  2. Hold the trekking pole vertically next to the trig point with its point on the ground. If the top of the handle is lower than the top of the trig point, then the summit must be higher than the trig. The amount by which it is higher can easily be calculated by noting the marked length of the pole, raising the handle of the pole to be level with the top of the trig point and noting the marked length again, then taking the difference.

In case the description of my method isn't clear, this diagram may help:

image from TAC57

Best wishes,

Dr John Owen, Aberdeen

Dear Ed,

Many years ago, the imperial foot was defined as the distance between two marks on a metal bar at a defined temperature. The drawbacks of such an approach were many, not least that marks on a bar are not dimen-sionless, and even when I was still in full-time education the definition was changed. The foot is now rendered in terms of the metre, which in turn is defined in terms of natural phenomena such as the wavelength of light emitted from certain atoms.

The imperial inch is therefore now defined as precisely 2.54 centimetres, making the imperial foot 0.3048 metres, exactly and by definition. It follows that 2000 feet is exactly 609.6 metres, and not the spurious 609.61 quoted in TAC56 (p13). Consequently, much of your discussion of the heights of hills in the Ponds requires modification.

Your incorrect figure is presumably derived by taking the reciprocal of 0.3048 metres/foot, rounding to five significant figures giving 3.2808 feet/metre and using this as a metres-to-feet conversion factor (or, equivalently, taking the reciprocal again to reproduce a feet-to-metres factor). This is a process akin to translating hill names into Portuguese and back again as in the TAC quiz, and gives similar results.

I recall that I have had occasion to correct you for the same mathematical error in earlier editions of TAC, but clearly you are a man more given to words than to numbers. You should ensure that you take more care in future.

Yours, Paul Prescott, Kilmahog

Ed. - There is likely to be a TAC site visit to Calf Top in the fairly near future. More on this in due course.

Dear TAC,

The reference to the highest occupied house possibly being on Carn an Tuirc (TAC54, p12) reminded me that I once came across a small number of wasps on the summit cairn of that same hill. This was sometime just after the Devil's Elbow was straightened. At that time we lived on the north side of Mount Blair in Glen Isla, surely one of the most magnificent hills in the country, a mere 2441 feet high but well proportioned, a sort of geological Kylie Minogue.


Nick Aitken, Kingussie

Ed. - Wasps in cairns have featured here before - see the letter from David Purchase, TAC50, p17.

Dear TAC,

I see that the pronunciation debate on the word midge has been joined by Badger Bill (TAC55, p20) - or should that be Badgerie Billy? There is a lot more involved here than the usual affectionate diminutive so associated with my beloved Inverness. Midgie is defined in the Concise Scots Dictionary as "rubbish", and was always used in the demotic tongue of west central lowland Scotland to mean a midden, used in compound constructions such as midgie-raking, a pastime much diminished since the introduction of bottle banks and wheel-bins, sorry wheelie-binnies.


Johnnie Donohoe, Blaniefield

Dear TAC,

I see that the list of 2003 events for the John Muir Trust's West of Scotland group includes one described thus: "Thursday 27th February, 7pm. From Blanefield to Bolivia, an illustrated talk by John Donohoe. John is immediate past president of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland and the founder chairman of our group. During his period at the helm of the MCofS he steered them through the labyrinth of the consultations on the Land Reform and Access legislation and the trauma of foot and mouth...".

Could this be the same John Donohoe who in June 2001 declined an invitation from the foot-and- mouth reclaimers to join them for a stroll up Dumgoyne, his local hill? (See TAC51, p16.)


Graham Benny


Dear TAC,

While sorting out some old books, I came across a copy of With Nature and a Camera by Richard Kearton, published in 1897 and presented to my father as a school prize in 1905. I was surprised to discover that the first 134 pages describe a visit to St Kilda. The author sailed on the Dunara Castle from Glasgow on 11 June 1896. It seems that at that time St Kilda was regularly visited by large passenger ships in the summer.

Kearton and his companions lived in one of the cottages in the village for two weeks. His main interest was bird photography but he did do some walking and climbing, often with St Kildans.

There were no restrictions, but he describes the great difficulty of landings due to heavy seas and the tough rock climbs which were necessary. He climbed Conagher several times (I have retained his spellings of the hills) and sailed under its cliffs. There is a good picture of the ridge of Doon which they reached by climbing down into the gap with Hirta and jumping into a boat provided by one of the inhabitants.

On "calmer days" he visited Borerra and Soa, both of which involved very difficult landings followed by rock climbs and even more perilous departures. He makes no mention of visiting the summits since most of their interest lay in the cliffs where they photographed the birds and watched them being hunted and captured by the locals. It is well known that the St Kildans climbed to most of the tops including the stacks without the use of ropes and that tens of thousands of eggs were collected and eaten in the season, as well as many hundreds of adult birds. This apparently did little harm to the breeding population, so it seems most unlikely that a few Marilynbaggers would cause harm.

Kearton considered Biorrach near Soa to be the most difficult stack, although this too had been scaled by the local inhabitants. He thought it to be between 400 and 500 feet high, but the SMC guide gives a height of 236 feet, so it does not even achieve Yeaman status. They left St Kilda on the Hebridean on 24 June, and after calling at Benbecula, Tiree and Coll Kearton disembarked in Oban 64 hours later. It might have taken less time had not the ship hit a rock off Coll which fortunately did not cause a leak.


Rowland Bowker, Portinscale

Dear TAC,

The cover of TAC55 would seem to sadly apply to most national parks in the world unless very strict regulations are enforced. What's "The jewel in the crown" of Banff National Park? Is it Peyto Lake? The Bald Eagle? The mighty Mount Temple? No, it's shopping. And mega hotel development.

The Bow Valley Study in 1995 was initiated mainly because people considered that there was too much development in Banff. Fortunately the National Parks Act now forbids any development in the Park other than in established townsites. The act also says that the townsites should only provide visitors with "basic and essential" services. This part of the act is not enforced. A shop on Banff Avenue just sells Christmas stuff!

I hope that the inevitable development that comes with National Park status is confined strictly to certain areas, otherwise the place will just go from bad to worse.


Alistair Des Moulins, Calgary, Canada

Dear TAC,

On a walk with friends from Wasdale we were astonished and disheartened to witness to a most inconsiderate, barbaric act. A group of motorcyclists raced towards us from Haycock then darted off over Scoat Fell. The horrendous unearthly noise from the bikes was appalling, and brought the pleasant, peaceful day to an abrupt end.

We continued our walk uninterrupted for a while until we came to descend Nether Beck, where the motorcyclists appeared again. They crossed the beck and started to climb the steep slope on to Haycock. For those unfamiliar with this area of the Lakes, it is a remote, beautiful, picturesque landscape with rolling grass banks and a scattering of boulders. In a matter of minutes the slope that the motorcyclists were attempting to climb was churned up, exposing a wide tract of soil with the turf removed completely.

I recognise that everyone has an equal right to visit and enjoy these places of natural beauty and tranquillity, but I fail to see how we can justify this selfish act. Although, admittedly, fellwalkers cause erosion, the scale of destruction is much less, and providing people stick to paths and avoid going out in large groups the effects are kept to a minimum.

For everyone to enjoy the Lake District then there has to be consideration for all seeking the pleasure of such an environment. Respect for the environment is paramount and, in my opinion, should be exercised at all times.

I am not implying that motorcyclists should be physically banned from riding over the fells, rather that there is an unwritten code of conduct and ethical practice which should be adhered to. Motorcyclists should follow a more sympathetic approach to allow themselves and others to continue enjoying the Lake District mountains.

"From the beginning think what may be the end" - Edward Whymper.


M Walker

Ed. - See Parkwatch, p3.

image from TAC57

Dear TAC,

The story of Fiona Wilkie's mountaineering moggie on Beinn Eighe (TAC56, p12) reminds me of what must surely be the highest unassisted cat ascent anywhere. I remember reading a well-documented account of a cat that climbed the Matterhorn. It apparently followed a party of Swiss climbers from the Hornli hut to the summit cross. There it shared their lunch before being carried back down in a rucksack. One wonders whether that cat made a habit of following parties up the ridge. Any further confirmation would be welcome.

On the subject of mountaineering mammals, I can add a sideline to Ian Johnston's letter about cattle high on Cruachan (TAC44, p19). Many readers will be familiar with the superbly built drystane dyke on the Bealach Mor, lowest point of the ridge of Suilven. I had always assumed that this was placed there to stop deer from grazing on the flat, grassy summit and possibly falling down the steep face. Not so. When staying with retired police chief Cathel MacLeod in Lochinver a few years ago, I was told that the wall was constructed to keep out cattle. You can still see the remains of shielings below Suilven. Apparently cattle grazed here during the summer and sometimes climbed the two steepish gullies to reach the grass on the summit.

Cathel MacLeod told me that the stonework was quarried and shaped on the spot, not carried from Lochinver. It would be interesting to know who built the dyke (with that specially created gateway), and when.


Tom Waghorn, Manchester

Dear TAC,

Recent correspondence concerning Munrobagging pussy cats sprang to mind after a foray to a wintry Ben Wyvis, on which some friends and I found possible evidence of the presence of a larger and, one suspects, somewhat less cuddly feline friend.

Entering Coire nan Feith Riabhach on the southern end of the mountain, we found a large (about the size of my adult male hand) paw-shaped print in the snow. It was significantly larger than that of a dog or fox, both of whose prints I have often seen in the hills. The print included what appeared to be the mark of four claws. The snow in the area was patchy and thawing and we could only find one print. The local weather situation suggested that the print was, at most, a few hours old.

That's it. I'm not claiming a confirmed "big cat" encounter and, sadly, none of us had a camera. The only other detail of possible relevance concerns the behaviour of a large (about 100) herd of deer which we noticed ten minutes prior to finding the print. At the time, we remarked how the deer seemed even more timid than usual. They were grouped tightly and seemed more spooked by our presence than one would normally expect.

I may of course be wide of the mark here - but, as I personally know of two confirmed sightings of large, non-native cats in the Highlands, I thought my experience might be of interest.

Best wishes, "Badger Bill", Dingwall

Ed. - Have other readers had "big cat" incidents in the British hills?

Dear TAC,

I recently heard a story from a reliable informant and wondered if any readers might be able to cast light on the events described. While spending an extended summer break in the Cairngorms during the 1960s, a friend based himself at Ryvoan bothy. Repeatedly during his stay - indeed, so often that it became commonplace - he was disturbed at night and in the evening by the sound of a dog walking around the bothy, its claws ticking on the floor.

There was no dog in the place, nor was the sound caused by any other creature, wind or other identifiable source. The sound was, apparently, unmistakably that of a dog pacing from one part of the room to another. Indeed, so real was the phenomenon that it was possible to tell at any particular time during its occurrence exactly where in the room the dog was, despite its being invisible.

The sound only ever occurred when the informant was alone in the bothy, never when other folk were visiting. He claims not to have been particularly frightened by it, more confused and at times irritated. I know the area around the bothy pretty well, but have never heard this story before. Has anyone else?

All the best,

Andy Beaton, Inverness

TAC 57 Index