The Angry Corrie 60: Jan-Feb 2004

Letter You

Dear TAC,

Dougie Lockhart's article (TAC57, p2) reminded me of my experience in the Cairngorms on 20 October 1978. I was leading a group of eight youths from the Drumchapel youth centre on a very windy, sleety day. We had been to the top of Ben Macdui, and heading back towards Fiacaill a'Choire Chais we were skirting the rim of Coire an t-Sneachda. Our attention was suddenly drawn (despite the noise of the wind) by a loud whooshing noise ahead and to our left, and we saw a cylindrical projectile about the size and shape of a large tin of beans hurtling at high speed vertically upwards out of the mist about 30ft away and vanishing into the mist above.

I assumed it was some kind of distress signal, and when we got to the point near where we had seen it emerge we tried shouting for quite some time, but with no response. We descended to the car park and I phoned the details to Glenmore Lodge. I later gave a statement to the police.

The next day I phoned the lodge and was told they had sent someone to do a quick search of the area, with no success. There were no overdue parties, hence no need for them to take further action.

Everyone in my group saw and heard the "thing"; nevertheless, I have always felt slightly embarrassed about causing a needless callout. Dougie's article makes me wonder however if there is something "out there" still to be explained...


Ian Smith, Lochgair

image from TAC60

Dear TAC,

On a recent trip to the Cairngorms I was appalled to find that the National Trust for Scotland had installed pay and display parking meters in the Linn of Dee car park. In one fell swoop the NTS - holding the land in trust for the people of Scotland - has done what none of the previous private landlords dared try: started charging for access to the mountains.

The NTS claims justification for the charge by saying the money goes for upkeep of the car park and support for its conservation work on the Mar Lodge estate. In fact, as it admits itself, the car park was paid for by Scottish Natural Heritage and grants from the EU. Upkeep is minimal.

As for the NTS's work on the estate: so far its policy on footpaths is inconsistent and highly questionable. While work to correct erosion on some stretches of path was necessary, other sections which displayed no erosion have been renewed with the currently in-vogue, over-wide, bright red grit paths which are visible from miles off. (I have personal experience of these paths over a period of some 35 years.) The climbing and walking world is also rife with rumours of long-term plans to remove all the mountain bothies in the area, despite their integral role in Scotland's climbing heritage.

Neither of these policies - indiscriminate path-meddling or bothy removal - are ones which I wish to support, and reaction to the NTS's past mismanagement of Glen Coe suggests I am not alone. I and many others have been raised to look on the mountains as our heritage and birthright, despite occasional attempts at obstruction from landlords. I do not think I have abused that right and I have no intention of helping fund a body whose record with mountain properties is far worse than my own.

As a footnote, since these meters were not there several weeks ago, I assume that national park status has streamlined the process of obtaining planning permission for modern intrusions into this protected area.


Neil Reid, Kirkcaldy

Dear TAC,

Is it at all possible that the entire universe has gone mad? From its inception, the John Muir Trust professed to follow its mentor's guiding principle to "do something for the wild places and make the mountains glad". With the enthusiastic backing of the local Schiehallion group, the JMT approved a plan to allow widespread natural regeneration on the mountain without any preconceptions as to how it should turn out.

Part of the idea was to act as an exemplar for the fraudulently named Cairngorms National Park as to what a national park should be all about, recognising the importance of a unique natural wonder for its own integral worth and not as a souped-up tourism initiative / economic development authority for Peter Peacock's old cronies on Highland Council. Putting that lot in charge of a national park is rather like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a home for distressed gentlewomen. These are, after all, the same people who enthusiastically backed a purple train-set (to pinch Jim Crumley's evocative phrase) being put up the side of one of the most vulnerable mountains in the country.

So what is the response of the JMT, defender of the wild places, to all this? Simple: it puts on an exhibition at the day lodge on the Cairn Gorm funicular. Perhaps it's an attempt at conscious irony. Perhaps it's an attempt to proselytise in the camp of the heathen. Whatever the intention, the obvious conclusion is already being drawn on Speyside that the JMT is quite happy with what is going on in the Cairngorms and is wholeheartedly behind the workings of the park board and the ski company.

It all makes me wonder what is the point of trying to return the control of Schiehallion to the mountain itself when the organisation that is supposed to be in the vanguard of our efforts can undermine them in this way. The JMT trustees, in approving this insensitive exhibition, have done the mountains of Scotland a grave disservice.

Kind regards,

Roderick Manson, Blairgowrie

Ed. - For more on the JMT and the funicular, see page 2. Re Schiehallion, the latest news is that one of the local graziers has returned his sheep (at least 74 were counted one morning in mid-November) to a hillside that had been cleared of the woolly locusts. Quite what, if anything, the JMT will do about this remains to be seen.

Dear TAC,

I noticed your interest in Dun Dubh on Skye expressed in the Stob Press section of TAC59, and felt I had to write. You may have seen my letters on this subject in the Sunday Herald of 7 September, or in November's TGO. My letter to the Sunday Herald read as follows:

I don't wish to be a spoilsport, but I have to report that I climbed to the top of Dun Dubh (Sunday Herald, 10 August 2003) back in September 1979. I lived in nearby Staffin at the time and came to know the Trotternish Ridge extremely well, climbing, walking and fishing there regularly. Dun Dubh was quite difficult due to its soft and loose rock, and I'm afraid I only succeeded because I was willing to take risks that I wouldn't take now. Once on the summit, I sat with one leg either side, surveying the extraordinary landscape in that area, with no idea that I might be the first person to do so.

Whilst I lived in Staffin (1978-81), I spent every spare minute climbing almost every lump along the whole Trotternish Ridge that didn't require ropes!

There is a story behind this letter, which might be of interest. On 10 August the Sunday Herald printed an article entitled "Last Unclimbed 'Mountain' Conquered". On 20 August I wrote to the editor to correct the information in their article. Much to my disappointment, my letter did not appear in the following week's paper.

On Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 August I made numerous attempts to ring the editor, but could only get through to an answering machine. I asked that my call be returned, but it was not. On Wednesday 27 I rang again, and managed to speak to a journalist who agreed to pass a copy of my original letter to the editor of the Seven Days section, in which letters to the editor normally appear.

Alas, my letter still did not appear in the Sunday Herald of 31 August. I therefore wrote to the Press Complaints Commission, as I believed that my opportunity to reply had not been honoured. As a keen hillwalker and climber, I felt that it was important to me, and for the climbing fraternity, that facts regarding first ascents were accurate. I believed that the Sunday Herald had failed in its obligation to put the matter right.

The PCC was quick to respond, and my letter subsequently appeared in the Sunday Herald of 7 September, though I never received an apology from the paper, or even an explanation. The letter to TGO had been written before the letter to the Sunday Herald, but because of their long lead-in time it didn't appear until the November edition.

Considering my last letter to you (re the merits of "not-bagging", TAC59, p16), it may seem contradictory for me publicly to be claiming a "first ascent". My climb of Dun Dubh owed much to youthful enthusiasm, mixed with a good dose of naivety. A circumnavigation was feasible 20 feet down from the top - but certainly not without ropes, and certainly not by me! The rock consists of basalt and some kind of sedimentary stuff full of shells and geodes that turns into something akin to loose garden soil when touched - not nice when you're exposed. I remember, on reaching the top, peering over the other side and being shocked as to how vertical it was - a real shark's fin. I'm ashamed to admit that without my brother shouting instructions about where to put my feet on the descent, my bones would still be there.

"Not-bagging" remains my guiding philosophy, although I have to admit that I'm rather proud of the T-shirt my wife had printed for me, which reads: Dun Dubh, Skye '79, First Ascent.


Max McCance, Collessie

The unclimber

(re Max McCance's TAC59 letter)

This month I did not climb the Eiger,
last month I did not climb the Dru:
regard me well, I was a tiger
last year unclimbing on K2!
There's hardly anywhere you ken
where I have ever climbed - the best
was without aid of oxygen,
not climbing mighty Everest!
I have not written any book,
too diffident I am by far,
in Hall of Fame, though long you look,
there is no glimmer of my star!
But if in mountains high and heady
to local folks you questions drop,
then they will point with fingers steady
to where I have not reached the top!
Across the world great expeditions
search on in vain for any scene
where I upon my own great missions
ever previously have been!
And now unclimbing I'm preparing
Eight-thousand-metre peaks entire;
support I seek, the skill and daring
of top unclimbers - please enquire!


Tom Rix, Blairgowrie

The Ed. endeavours to reply in kind...

The Alpine heights might be unclimbed,
the hills of Messner too,
but Tom has huddled by some cairns
while missing out the Dru.
He has climbed all the Munros,
ending up in braw Assynt:
it was in the May of '80
that he finished off his stint.
And Corbetts, too, it's there in print:
a summer's day in '94.
He sneaked his bevvy on the ferry
and took it up an Oir.
Maybe he's changed - the Grahams unclimbed?
Maybe - but no, alack!
I'm sure I heard that recently
he went and climbed Ben Stack.

image from TAC60

Dear TAC,

The observation in TAC57 (p12) that the Moel-y-gest trig was not on the summit prompted me to look into the situation as best I could. I went first to look at my maps and found that on the first edition one-inch map the summit is marked by a (no dot) and that on the six-inch map of 1887 there is a symbol and the height of 861ft. The symbol appears on the rocky dome that is the highest point and suggests it was a station in the first triangulation. Such points are marked in some way, often by a small bronze stud. Glyder Fach - where there are three on one of the highest boulders - is a good example, so I went back up Moel-y-gest to see whether I'd missed something over the countless visits.

On the highest point I found a drill hole with the remains of some cement in it - no stud, but there might once have been one there. It is very easy to miss this hole as there are a couple of rock cannons on the top and hence many drill holes about the place. Anyway, this seems to confirm that the height of 861ft does relate to the highest point on the hill.

I then went back to the map history. The one-inch map of 1922 shows the symbol and a height of 861ft. By 1953 there is only a spot height and 861, then in 1960 the symbol reappears in a new position, doubtless representing the pillar of the retriangulation but still showing the height of 861ft. Meanwhile, on the provisional 1:25000 map, a spot height of 861ft was given. Then I looked at the old-style Outdoor Leisure map of 1982 and to my surprise noticed that the symbol had appeared in the position of the present pillar with the height of 858ft. I'd never noticed this before. The only subsequent change has come with metrication and a given height of 262m which converts to 859ft.

Another visit to the top was called for and this time I measured the difference in height between the benchmark symbol on the pillar and the high point as 39 inches. As the given height at a trig point is that of the benchmark, it confirms the height difference mentioned above.

A couple of thoughts arise from this. One is that I thought I knew all there was to know about Moel-y-gest - how wrong I was! The other is to contemplate the evidence in the story about the absolute reliability of OS map information when it comes to identifying the height and position of summits.


Dewi Jones, Porthmadog

PS - Rock cannons: a series of shot holes which were filled with gunpowder then fused to fire in succession, thus sounding like gunfire. They were set off at special occasions such as the landowner's birthday or his daughter's wedding. There are lots of them in the quarrying areas of North Wales, but do they occur in other British hill areas?

Dear TAC,

As the author, it came as a bit of a shock to read Grant Hutchison's review of GPS The Easy Way in TAC59 (p19). I did carry out the North Luffenham exercise in Chapter 4 but did not keep the digital records. Grant has correctly identified my error on p25 when showing how the first waypoint is input with your GPS set to OSGB datum and British Grid display, where I should have dropped the first (smaller) figures from the full numerical grid reference, these numbers being replaced by the SK OS reference square.

The error occurred while I was in Spain writing the book from my UK notes and exercises. The OS system of using letters replaces the first number of a normal UTM [Universal Transverse Mercator] grid reference. On p24 the grid references given are the full numeric UTM grid references, but in translating the first of these into a GPS waypoint for p25 I forgot to adopt the OS system of dropping the first number when inputting the grid reference. My apologies to anyone inconvenienced, or confused, by my error. Nobody else, including myself, had noticed the error, nor would they have been able to repeat the exact exercise as North Luffenham airfield is a restricted area. I have now corrected p25 to correctly show how the list of grid references on p24 would be input to your GPS.

My thanks to Grant for going into so much detail to produce his review. While it makes for painful reading by myself, it did alert me to this error, and enable me to correct it, before any damage was done. Our own mailbag has been easier reading as it contains several letters praising GPS The EasyWay for the way it has helped our readers to become GPS-accomplished.

Wishing you all the best,

David Brawn, Discovery Walking Guides Ltd, Northampton

Dear TAC,

I'd like to suggest a new Most Pointless Item of Fellwalking Equipment award. My entry is as follows. During a recent trip to the Ponds, I was fascinated to overhear the conversation of a couple sitting next to us outside a pub who had recently purchased little, cute, quilted covers to go over their Sigg water bottles, thus protecting them from unsightly knocks and blemishes. Is it just me? Perhaps you could go one step further and take your bottle in for some panel-beating and a respray every now and again. Please tell me it isn't just me.


Sam Harney, Reading

PS - On the access issue, can anyone explain why the Wainwright route off Seat Sandal (down the south ridge to Grasmere) sports a "no public access" sign and a firmly closed gate for the last 200-300 yards (across marginal, sheep-grazing land), thus entailing a long traverse round through neck-high bracken to get back on to the Grisedale Hause bridleway?

Ed. - When I first started climbing hills, I bought two of the red Siggs and tended to alternate them. Very quickly they became battered - my habit of sitting on rucksacks means that stuff is always getting bashed - but I quite liked the worn effect this produced. As with scratched axes and crampons, the damage made it obvious that the bottles had seen some hill action. Inverse vanity, I know, but that's the way I am. Indeed had the bottles come equipped with little jackets, I'd have taken them off. These days - and for years now - I've just used ordinary supermarket water bottles. These cost around 50p, are sturdy so long as the sitting-on-them process isn't too sudden, and last for a year or so before needing replaced. Plus they're transparent, so it's easy to see what grot lurks within, as compared with a tenner's worth of opaque Sigg.

Dear TAC,

I note on TAC59, p9, that Ian R Mitchell's solo ascent of Ben Aden, his final Corbett, did not endear him to his several regular hill companions who were expecting to be invited to the climb and then to the subsequent festivities. I happened to arrive on the summit of Ben Aden (my third-last Corbett) a few minutes after Ian and, when he announced that this was his final one and that he was now heading off to celebrate on his own at the Tomdoun Hotel, I must confess that the words skate and cheap came immediately to mind! In contrast, a few weeks later, the party at Newton Cottage to celebrate my own completion on Sgurr a'Chaorachain was a fairly rowdy and energetic affair with the last pair falling into bed at around 4:15am. Still, I suppose that you can expect this kind of riotous and uninhibited behaviour when the majority of the participants are of pensionable age.


Findlay Swinton, Monikie

PS - When will the OS get round to correcting the spelling of Sgurr a'Chaorachain on Landranger 24?

Ed. - It appears to have been corrected - the latest edition of LR24 calls the Corbett Sgurr a'Chaorachain. But it's a good question, as it raises the issue of whether Sgurr a'Ghaorachain is/was wrong. It looks wrong, and the Gaelic hardliners will no doubt swear blind that it is wrong, but there was surely a case for the guidebooks to start calling it Sgurr a'Ghaorachain if that's what the maps had continued to call it. There's the similar instance of the Munro Top on Creag Meagaidh currently listed as Sron a'Choire. This is (still) mapped as Sron a'Ghoire, and the G-name was given in a footnote in the 1981 Munro's Tables (but not the 1997 edition). Again this seems like a straight correction, but the 1891 tables have Sron a'Ghaothair which looks, to my non-Gaelic eyes, as potentially correct as Sron a'Choire. Also, given that the OS now seems to be taking its lead from the SMC on some summit-identity matters (see the piece re the other Sgurr an Doire Leathain, TAC57, p10, qn 4b), it's possible that a wrong name could reach the maps via the tables, thus completing the circle of error.

Language evolves, and there are plenty of manglements of once-correct words already in use on the hills (just look at Galloway or the Angus glens), and Sgurr a'Ghaorachain could just be another example. Are all the various forms of Geal Charn (Geal Charn itself, Geal-Charn and Geal-charn) strictly correct, for instance? Probably not, but it's handy - and fun - to have the variation, just as with Garbh Bheinn and Garbh-bheinn, Maol Chinn-dearg and Meall Chean-dearg, Tyrebagger Hill and Tire Beggar Hill and so on. It would be a terrible world if everything was rigidly put right the minute it was reckoned to have gone "wrong".

Dear TAC,

Following the recent TAC debate on the SMC Corbetts book (TAC57, pp4-5; TAC58, p15), one more point could be made, about the Cobbler. The new edition, unlike its predecessor, makes no mention of the historic name Ben Arthur. Hamish Brown tells me that the decision was made because it's universally known to walkers as the Cobbler. Leaving aside the fact that Ben Nevis is universally called the Ben, and you wouldn't erase Nevis from its name, the name Arthur is of significance for two reasons. Geographically, the Cobbler is simply the central (highest) peak, named in Gaelic An Greasaiche Crom from its shape resembling a cobbler bent over his last - Ben Arthur is the name for the whole triple-peaked mountain. And historically, it was originally Suidhe Artair (it appears on Pont's 16th-century map as Suy Arthire, a phonetic transcription), literally Arthur's Seat ... and, like the famous Edinburgh hill of the same name, it was named for the legendary British king. Both hills were surely chosen because of their dramatic skylines. The old name should remain: the king is erased, long live the king.


Pete Drummond, Coatbridge

For more on bens Arthur, see qn 1g on page 8 and Dido's musings on p15.

TAC 60 Index