THE LETTERS PAGES of this issue include the latest observations in an occasional discussion of long hill views. The subject has cropped up in a variety of places over the decades - Guy Barlow's 1956 SMC Journal article, a June 1967 Tom Waghorn Climber piece entitled "The Magnificent Seven Views", and various comments in TAC, eg Grant Hutchison's "Norway - Nul Points?" in TAC39.
All very interesting and enlightening and no doubt likely to continue, here and elsewhere, for years to come. But has there ever been discussion of the companion piece to long hill views: distant sounds heard from hilltops? A few ground rules would need to be set for this, one being literally a ground rule, namely that airliner noise rumbling down from 30,000ft doesn't count. Nor, for that matter, does the distant meteorological soundtrack of thunder. Pretty much everything else does qualify however, and the question could be couched thus: what is the furthest-flung noise heard by anyone from a hilltop or an upper hillslope, where the noise has been humanly generated from ground level?
The obvious marker would be the familiar scream of an accelerating motorbike engine. A whole variety of British hills can be climbed to the occasional accompaniment of Hondas or Kawasakis, most notably the big-ridge western hills of Kintail or Torridon or the Coe. If a walker standing on top of Sgurr Fhuaran hears a bike on the A87, say as the rider accelerates out of the big corner just east of little Loch Shiel, then the sound will have carried around 3km horizontally and close to 1060m vertically. The editor recently heard a bike on the A85 near Luib from high on Stob Binnein - a carry of 6km with 1000m of rise - but this didn't feel unduly notable as the whole straggle of Crianlarich Munros is routinely "noisy".
The extreme example of this type of noise would involve the summit of Ben Nevis and a bike on the A82 near Torlundy or somewhere similar. This must surely have been heard, but it would be good to receive confirmation from someone. More interesting however would be bike noise heard on hills which don't link with line-of-sight roads: has anyone heard an engine roar carrying over the ridges (or more likely through a gap) in the upper Affric area, or from deep in the Cairngorms? This could lead to a new definition of remoteness or even of that dread term "wilderness quality": a hill is only truly remote if a motorbike has never been heard from it. If someone has heard faint revving while on top of A'Mhaighdean or Lurg Mhor, then maybe these hills aren't as remote as they're often claimed to be. Slioch is an interesting example of this: allegedly fairly remote, and a long walk in for sure, but very open to A832 noise a mere 3km away and 960m below across Loch Maree.
There are plenty of sounds other than those from motorbikes, and it could be that one of these holds the record for the furthest carry. Explosions are a good bet: quarrying of various kinds takes place, almost by definition, in rocky and therefore hilly areas, and the enclosed mini-corrie nature of quarries could, on occasion, focus the boom and project it a surprising distance. Then there is the demolition-explosion: on 21 September 2000, just a few seconds after midday (ie just long enough for the bang-on-midday boom to have carried across), the editor was settling down to his tinned mackerel on top of Ben Cleuch when there was an almighty rumble from the south. It was a warm day with a background fear of thunder, so the noise prompted a don't-bother-to-pack-the-sack scurry to the relative safety of the first col to the east. Here another walker was met, and he explained that Kincardine power station on the north shore of the Forth had just been demolished - presumably triggered by some specially chosen small child plunging the plunger. This was just 700m below the top of Ben Cleuch, but a healthy 13km distant.
A much more common Ochils noise is the tune wafting to the tops (although "tune" should be used advisedly) from the Tillicoultry/Alva ice cream van. This is utterly normal - part of the scenery, even - when on the southern spurs of the Law and Wood Hill, but the sound becomes muffled and lost once the plateau levels off, such that it's rare to hear the jingle of commerce from the very top of Ben Cleuch.
There are other angles to this: the pop and crackle of a big-city fireworks display deserves to be mentioned, with particular attention paid to the point at which this becomes a silent, visuals-only event. Then there is the annual autumn soundfest of "slaughterin' guns", to quote Burns, with high-velocity anti-deer rifles presumably carrying further than the grouse-blasting pop of the shotgun. And what of sound carrying across water, as it is purported to do very well? What mainland sounds have been heard from, say, Skye or Mull? And how far has the bellow of a CalMac horn carried? Also - on a more localised basis - what is the furthest a human voice has been known to carry across a glen or a corrie? Does anyone have yodelling experience?
Anyway, that's enough in terms of outline and examples. What is the furthest-flung noise anyone has heard on any (a) Scottish, (b) British, (c) world hill? Input, please.
TAC 59 Index