The Angry Corrie 59: Oct-Dec 2003

Stob Press

Here's something that doesn't often get mentioned, never mind discussed, in hill magazines these days: the serious decline in the number of pipesmokers, and by definition of pipes themselves, seen in the outdoor context. Quite apart from the alleged pleasure imparted to the smoker, there was a time when pipesmoking served to indicate the pensive, meditative, manly mood supposedly engendered by walking, climbing and mountaineering. Alfred Wainwright has a pipe in his mouth in several of his delightful sitting-on-a-boulder self-portraits - eg see Grasmoor 15 from The North-Western Fells for one where he does, and Scafell 9 from The Southern Fells for one where he doesn't. And by way of further example, take the photographs reproduced here, unearthed by Peter Drummond and originally printed in the August 1965 and July 1966 issues of The Climber.

The "Nentile anorak and over trousers" picture below illustrated an article, by J Rivers-Smith, entitled simply "Clothing". Rivers-Smith appears to have been the Chris Townsend of that era, and he (or she) carefully and seriously listed the various items of kit required to fend off "exposure, the mountaineer's most subtle and dangerous adversary". Quite how the pipe jammed in the mouth aided this or even fitted with the rest of the 1960s "hill-walker's wardrobe" is unclear, and it could have been that the picture was intended as a subtle editorial joke against the over-serious writer. But there's no scope for confusion in the second picture, above right, which carried the caption "Achievement" and won the considerable-for-1966 sum of 5 for one Keith Hartley of Blackburn. The satisfaction-of-the-summit nature of Hartley's handiwork leaves no room for doubt that pipes were not only prevalent in those days, but that they also sent out a readily identifiable and unequivocally positive message.

image from TAC59

In our own shiny happy era, when glossy magazines often seem little more than the outer carapace of the savvy and PC-conscious advertising beast, off-message tobacco pipes have vanished from the pages, along with those scantily clad blondes busting (sorry, bursting) out of three-quarters-unzipped thermal jackets who made 1970s hill mags resemble Biker Monthly. (The eventual husband of one TAC regular used to have a poster of one such lovely, the Javelin girl, on his wall.) Mags tend to be PC-conscious, however, only if it boosts profits, so at the same time that girlie pics are reckoned to discourage sales among hillgoers, ever more skimpy/pouting stuff is plastered across the lad-mag market. (Note for instance that EMAP, publisher of the trendy-but-staid Trail, also produces the very unstaid FHM.)

The editorial emphasis of hill mags, mind/body/spirit twaddle notwithstanding, has also largely shifted from hills as meditation sanctuaries to hills as health and fitness playgrounds - a move which in itself, all PCism aside, has inevitably led to pipes being ushered out of every advertising pitch in every mag, just as cutaway TV snooker shots of Jimmy White taking a quick drag while waiting to play a shot have come to be replaced by infinitely less entertaining camerawork showing him looking unsure what to do with a bottle of Evian water.

The particularly grim forms of oral cancer that pipes are prone to produce (with even more hellish surgical consequences than normal fag-smoking, as anyone who has known someone succumb in this way will testify) mean that this decline in the portrayal of pipery is both understandable and, perhaps, entirely justifiable. But leaving pictures and adverts and even increased health awareness to one side, there remains a question: have real-life pipesmokers vanished entirely from our hills? It would appear not, as Roger Squires writes in to report an encounter on top of the quiet Ladylea Hill on Donside (37/343168), where he was startled to meet "a retired couple from Stockport, he pipe-smoking, she drinking from their flask" - an old-fashioned outdoor scene if ever there was one. And in April, during what has become an annual expedition to Wales, the editor and his local guide Bev Barratt were descending the north side of the wonderful Cadair Idris when, just at the point where the path begins to flatten out before the Ty Nant car park, a middle-aged male walker was encountered literally puffing his way up the hill.

image from TAC59

So is this the start of a revival - pipesmoke remains one of the most reliable of midge-deterrents, after all - or are these simply two unconnected instances of a dying art? If there are any recent on-hill pipe converts out there (or, more likely, any stubborn never-give-up smokers) then it would be interesting to hear whether they feel like isolated pariahs or happily empowered rebels. Or maybe they just routinely light up and never think twice about it. Also: how come smoking on the hoof, as per the Cadair man, doesn't completely disable the respiratory functions necessary for hillclimbing? And - more importantly - is it true that pausing for a puff on some summit slab does indeed improve the quality of the overall experience? Oh, and finally, has anyone ever encountered these three things in close mutual proximity: a woman, a hill and a pipe?

Some bits and bags:

Steven Fallon became the first person known to have completed 11 rounds of Munros when he reached the summit of Sgurr Mhor of Beinn Alligin on Sunday 29 June 2003, having traversed the Aonach Eagach that same morning, as you do. It was evidently a good day for it: "Superb conditions with masses of butterflies in the heather lower down." Having taken a notion to finish the round in June, his final week was "a wee bit hectic": Sgurr nan Eag to Sgurr a'Mhadaidh on the Wednesday, then Ben More on Mull followed by Gulvain on the Saturday. For details of his previous rounds, the last of which had finished less than ten months earlier, see TAC55, page 7. (Fallon also reports having found a bit of the notorious Maol Chean-dearg cross during an ascent in June - see TAC53, p17 for some of the earlier stuff about this.)

None of the other Big Three Multi-Munroists (Stewart Logan 10 rounds, Robin Howie 8, Hamish Brown 7) have added any completions of late, but Stuchd an Lochain on 28 June did see Howie complete ascents of every one of the 284 Munros since having undergone a hip replacement on 7/2/00.

Elsewhere, the bold Charlie Campbell - see TAC47, pp4-5 for an account of his prodigious Munro run/cycle/swim in 2000 - has had a go at beating his own record for most Munros in a week (self-propelled, no repeats). This stood at 54, achieved on 15-21 June during that 2000 epic, and broke down as follows:

Day 1 - Beinn Ghlas and all Lawers Munros east from there, plus the Cairn Mairg group and Schiehallion (10 Munros)

Day 2 - Beinn a'Ghlo plus the four Ring of Tarf Munros (7)

Day 3 - west of Glen Shee (8)

Day 4 - the Glas Maol six plus Mayar and Driesh (8)

Day 5 - the Lochnagar five plus Mount Keen, then cycling to the Linn of Quoich (6)

Day 6 - "Didn't go to plan", but still managed seven east-Cairngorms summits (7)

Day 7 - "A sweep through to Glen Feshie" (8). The 54th Munro was Mullach Clach a'Bhlair.

Campbell also had a 53-Munro week during that trip - the 11 main-ridge Cuillin Munros followed by Kintail/Affric/Strathfarrar - but 54 was the target when he jogged up Ben Avon at the start of a Cairngorms-to-Lochaber binge on 19 July 2003. The 18 Cairngorms Munros came in two days (10/8), after which a cycle link to Fersit brought Stob Coire Sgriodain, Chno Dearg, Beinn Eibhinn, Aonach Beag, Geal Charn, Stob Gaibhre and Carn Dearg on day three. A recurrence of an old left knee injury - which had caused him to lose a day during the 2000 trip - became an increasing factor however, and prompted a low-level walk through to the Glen Nevis road on day four. A final effort saw him "only crawl" over five of the western Mamores before giving up on An Gearanach after 30 Munros in 41/2 days including one Munroless day - still a decent haul, with over 35000ft of ascent, 116 miles on foot and 50 miles on the bike. "So it looks like this 'most Munros in a week' thing is going to be a tough nut to crack," Campbell comments, "but I've already been thinking how I can tweak things for next year, not including knee surgery..."

The highest non-Campbell figure appears to be 50, in an unsupported attempt covering 61/2 days by Jamie Thin in July 2001. He set off with the intention of linking a Broxap Round (in Kintail) with an extended Ramsay Round (in Lochaber) and then throwing in a wodge of Cairngorms, but poor weather meant he never made it across to the east of the A9 (see and TAC54 p16).

On lower hills, congratulations go to Rhona Fraser and John Barrowman, who became the 21st and 22nd known Grahamists when they completed on Druim na Sgriodain (22 May) and Stob Mhic Bheathain (16 July) respectively. The full list is at

In terms of linear expeditions, a postcard arrived at TAC Towers at the start of September. It was from James Gordon, who had just finished his epic Gilbraltar-Nordkapp hike: from the southern extremity of mainland Europe to the northern. Just 66 weeks it took him, for the 6633 miles - a doddle. He doubtless has hundreds of tales to tell, but here's one for starters: the English version of the menu at the Hotel Bristol [sic] in Oslo, visited in May, included "Baked catfish in a Farragon sauce". An Dun to a turn, it was Fara and away the best thing on offer. (That's enough Corbett food jokes - Ed.)

And finally, congratulations must also go to Tom Webster of the Oban MC - Bert and Anna MacKenzie spotted him standing on the summit block of the Cobbler on 30 August "conducting his 'choir' in a round of Happy Birthday To You" - he had reached the grand age of 80 three days earlier.

image from TAC59

Speaking of the bold Hamish Brown, as we were a minute ago, TAC's proofreader spotted this most TAC-friendly but technophobic of hill men in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square Gardens on 13 August with his ears plugged into what looked suspiciously like a Walkman. More needs to be gleaned about this, for sure. Next thing we know he'll be seen with a laptop in his rucksack.

And speaking of Strathfarrar, TAC58's appeal for information on the history of the glen's gate has prompted a couple of responses. Les Cunningham writes: "I have heard that, when construction of the Strathfarrar hydro scheme was finished, the road was offered to the county council, but they were unwilling to accept financial responsibility for its maintenance and it was therefore handed over to the local landowners. At least the present arrangement allows one day a week when it is possible to cycle on this road without meeting many cars. What annoys me more is the situation with the tarred road from Bridge of Ericht to Loch Ericht, which passes close to Stob an Aonaich Mhoir. I assume this was built in connection with the hydro scheme, but it is closed with a high gate and it looks as though that estate is trying to discourage any access."

Ken Stewart adds: "I've just finished reading Isolation Shepherd, by Iain R Thomson (Bidean Books, 1983). The epilogue describes the hydro coming to Strathfarrar (the author's house went under the loch): 'As part of the negotiated agreement it should be noted that that the Hydro Board undertook to build and maintain a road from Struy up to the Monar dam [...] On completion of the project it was agreed by the Board that the road should return to the private ownership of the Estates involved. Public outrage developed when at the end of all work in connection with the Scheme, a gate was replaced on the glen road at Struy. Marked "Private" it was duly locked and a gate-keeper installed with instructions to check all admissions. A system of day passes operated. Whatever wider view may be taken, the Proprietors acted within their legal rights in terms of common law and in accordance with the agreement drawn up between themselves and the Hydro Board. Whether or not a public body should have powers to draw up such terms without wider reference is another matter.'"

In TAC35, Roger Bell noted a Royal Bank of Scotland Mastercard decorated with the famous view from Signal Rock in Glen Coe, but flipped into a mirror image. Now Edward Grattan reports encountering a packet of Safeway-branded Canadian mature cheddar (strength 5), on which the label depicts two of the Three Sisters of Glen Coe. He contacted Safeway HQ about this, suggesting that the connection must be either that "the cheese is in stores in Scotland" or that there is an absolutely identical place in Canada. Thus far no one from Safeway has replied.

TGO (Sept, p13) and various Scottish newspapers (eg the Daily Record 16 Aug, p29) devoted space to a May ascent of Dun Dubh on Skye by 41-year-old Chris Dale, a Strathspey-based "international mountain guide". Dale's effort was claimed as a first ascent of possibly the last "green" summit in the UK to be climbed. This may well be true - but then again Dun Dubh, while awkward of access (it's a Trotternish offshoot, near Bioda Buidhe) isn't exactly in the absolute back of beyond. Has anyone else been up it? Let TAC know if so. And the other way to look at this is that there might well be other unclimbed summits around - eg various precipitous grassy pillars at the southern end of Islay, in the coastal stretch near the Mull of Oa, can't have seen much human traffic, if any at all.

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