I was interested to read the article on guiding (or not) on Skye (TAC70 pp3-5). My Skye Munros were spread over about four or five visits, in weather ranging from baking to desperate, and done with my regular climbing/walking partner Dave Owen. We didn't hire guides but used ropes and pitched things when necessary. Our last one was Sgurr Dubh Mor, which I reckon will be the last for many as it's off the main ridge and doesn't fit into a natural traverse of the ridge, which many seem to think is the only way to do the thing. We climbed that by staying at Camasunary bothy, walking around to Coruisk and climbing the Dubhs ridge on a day of hammering heat which broiled us nicely on the slabs. I had maybe my worst moment on Skye at the abseil just before the final climb when the rope snagged then came free, dropping me a few feet whilst in free space - not funny! We returned to Camasunary over the Druim Hain spur from Coruisk after a 14-hour day, marvellous.
I've only ever had a guide once, on Nevis Peak on Nevis Island in the Caribbean (pronounced Neevis just like the Gaelic-speaking emigrants would have done). I can only really describe it as a 983m wall of mud held together by tree roots and rainforest creepers. An amazing climb; we took a guide as we wouldn't have even found the start of the trail without. There were lots of fixed-rope sections and we each lost an average of 2kg bodyweight in sweat over the six hours up and down.
Yours, Ian Johnston, Tullynessle
Ed. - Re the popularity of the various Skye Munros in actual round-completion terms, the following makes no claim to be anywhere near a definitive set of figures, but is based on knowing where the best part of 3000 Munro rounds have finished. (These comprise listed first rounds, repeat rounds, and unlisted rounds - of which there are a considerable number.) 71 Inaccessible Pinnacle, 61 Sgurr nan Gillean, 46 Bla Bheinn, 31 Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, 25 Am Basteir, 20 Sgurr Alasdair, 14 Sgurr Dubh Mor, 12 Sgurr nan Eag, 11 Bruach na Frithe, 7 Sgurr a'Mhadaidh, 6 Sgurr a'Ghreadhaidh, 3 Sgurr na Banachdich. The real figures will be higher each time - quite likely a lot higher in some cases, eg the In Pinn - but it does give some indication of relative popularity. Note that what is arguably the easiest main-ridge Munro appears to have seen the fewest completions - possibly because people "warm up" their Cuillin career on Sgurr na Banachdich.
In terms of the wider set of completions, the same piece of research suggests that the In Pinn lies in fourth place overall, behind Beinn na Lap 79, Ben Lomond 97 and - by several country miles - Ben More Mull 316. More in a future TAC about the breakdown of completion Munros. Incidentally, of the current 284 Munros, for 40 of them I don't know of any completions at all. Most remarkable is Ben Lawers: surely someone, at some stage, must have wrapped up a round there?
The least-climbed Munro (TAC70 pp12-13), that is a really interesting question, lots to think about, though TAC suggested five strong candidates. I'd go for Beinn nan Aighenan, myself. It's a pretty long trip down Etive, and after the slog up Starav, plus the tempting ridge along to Meall nan Eun, there can't be many non-baggers who deviate off for Aighenan. (Alan Blanco and I once did the Tulla-Etive traverse via Aighenan - quite enjoyable even though it rained most of the time. I've been back since then in clear weather and would say it's a better viewpoint than Starav - Ed.)
As a Top completer myself, I think the least-visited Top might be a bit easier to work out. We only really need to look at the small number of Tops promoted in 1997, since according to the SMC website a lot more Top completions took place pre-1997 (approx 300) than post-1997 (only 110, approx). I haven't gone through all the revisions that have ever taken place, and some of these Tops might have dropped in and out over the years, but it seems reasonable to assume that more pre-1997 Tops have been bagged than post-1997 ones.
TAC has already trailed the likely Top: TAC67 had a piece (pp9-10) on Stuc Fraoch Choire at the far end of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan's north ridge. Even the author of the piece failed to visit it pre-1997 when on the ridge, on the very reasonable grounds not just that it wasn't in the Tables at that stage, but that it didn't even have a spot height on the map. It reminded me of pimples on the northern Pennines when I was doing the England and Wales 2000-footers. I cannot see why anyone except a Top bagger would ever go there - it doesn't actually lead anywhere.
I suppose the only rival is Stob an Duine Ruaidh on Ben Starav's south ridge, but it isn't very far from Meall Cruidh, a Top in the Tables from the beginning, so I guess some people will have gone on to bag it pre-1997.
On a slightly different point but staying with the Tops, is the most remote 3000-footer of all Meall Mor, Lurg Mhor's subsidiary Top? Lurg Mhor itself is a candidate for most remote Munro, and it's a bit of a slog to go even further out, across the scrambly ridge to the Top.
Best wishes, Paul Ormerod, London
Am I wrong, or have I discovered a new way of restricting access? While heading for my local lump Ballageich on the Eaglesham Moor (not directly from the Eaglesham Moor road but "the hard way" via the Moorhouse Farms), I came across a very makeshift squinty notice attached to a gate and marked "Footpath". The problem for me was that it was directing walkers away from the regular track. In addition, it seemed to be leading me into a field containing (in Perkin Warbeck's words from long ago) some "dubious cows".
Just then, I noticed the farmer coming out of another gate driving his off-road vehicle in my direction. I asked about the notice and he informed me in a perfectly friendly manner that he was paid "by the government" to put the notice up. All part of some scheme to combine farming with conservation. He also told me that he is given public money to improve wildlife habitat by clearing away "these freshies" - he pointed to an area of juncus rush. After a fairly long chat, it turned out that he had no objection to my continuing along the traditional path to Ballageich. So where, you may ask, does the restricted access come in?
A week or so later, while taking the path from Ballochleam Farm up to the Spout of Ballochleam in the Gargunnock hills, I spotted two new-looking notices attached to an equally new-looking wooden barrier. A pronounced grassy track beyond led eventually to Stronend. The first notice instructed me to "Keep off. Nesting birds." (The month was October and in any case the area beyond the barrier was full of sheep.) The second notice declared "Keep out. Wildlife Conservation." The notices did not indicate who or what organisation was responsible for the instruction, so it struck me that this could be a crafty way of restricting public access, put up by the farmer or landowner as a grant-aided supposed conservation measure.
I could be wrong. Could anyone advise? I have to admit that I did not have the nerve to call in at Ballochleam Farm and simply ask, but it's all very suspicious.
Yours, Bryan Cromwell, East Kilbride
Ed. - The current best way to restrict access, in Scotland at least, seems to be: (a) acquire lots of money (eg by establishing a successful bus company, or by running a waste-management firm during the foot and mouth crisis while also donating to the Labour Party), (b) harp on about worries with regard to "personal security", (c) put up a big fence, and then (d) watch as the executive, judiciary and assorted land-related agencies get into a complete fankle trying to sort it all out.
I was interested to read in the Grauniad (14 May, financial section p24), about the Pond District National Park's efforts to "embrace trendy metropolitan types looking for a 'funky' weekend in its chic bars and bistros." I was particularly enlightened by a quote from their well-paid advertising consultants: "The Lake District is not only a beautiful landscape famous for its amelioration qualities which soothe the soul but also it is a high-ground destination with chic boutiques, restaurants, accommodation and spas - as well as funky bars, beer cafes and bistros."
While having never doubted Pondland's premier status amongst high-ground destinations on the periphery of Albion's Plain, and having never failed to appreciate the soul-soothing experience of sharing each fell with thousands of other people, I believe that this is indeed ground-breaking. By redefining "high ground" in terms of the high price of a latte or a bottle of imported beer, we can escape forever from endless squabbles about how-high-is-high? While this sort of discourse about elevations may have filled many a dark bothy night, it is not attractive to trendy metropolitan types.
This marketing initiative cannot have gone unnoticed by our own national park authorities, and I await the inevitable rebranding of the Cairngorms to appeal to a more fashionable set.
Yours, Gordon Crawford
In the foothills of the Lammermuirs
Not sure how Bill Taylor (TAC70 p12) believed I had not been to the top of a Munro! Just for the record, and responding to your request, as a young lad I toddled up Schiehallion in 1951 and was up two Munros in Lochaber very recently. And in between...?
It has been my fortune to have worked in the hills and mountains of Scotland all my life. Going to the summit has seldom been the main purpose. I have done so with friends, but most of the time the purpose of gaining the high-ground summits and ridges was and is to get a greater appreciation of the surrounding hills and to spy wildlife with minimum disturbance.
As Munros and red deer go together, my interests and working experience took me to most, if not all, but summiting was seldom the driving force. We are so well endowed with hills/mountains in Scotland, and with the seasons and weather and diversity we have experiences to be gained from visiting wild places. The effort is always worthwhile.
Mind you, with tectonic plates moving the hills upwards, I am increasingly aware of how much steeper they are today than when I surveyed them from the end of Loch Rannoch as a boy!
Yours, Dick Balharry, Newtonmore
Following on from the correspondence about "accessible" paths (TAC69 p16), access to the countryside is important for lots of people - to see the birds and insects, smell the woodland scents, marvel at the glories of the countryside. Those of us with good levels of fitness and mobility can get out into the wilds. That's great, but there are lots of people who cannot: they may be too old, too young, too frail, too timid or too unfit. Some may have a disability. Improving access to the countryside improves life for lots of people - not just those who are officially disabled.
The admirable "BT Countryside for all" guide suggests four categories of accessibility. At one end of the scale are city parks, which should be quite rightly fully accessible with minimal gradients, solid surfaces, benches for people who can't walk far and so on. At the other end is wild country which should not, and cannot, be made accessible. The area of debate concerns the intermediate zones: urban fringe, mild countryside, rolling woodland. In places like that, replacing stiles with gates, improving path surfaces and so on can make a lot of difference.
When I can no longer tramp the hills, I don't want to take the train up Cairn Gorm, but it would be nice if someone could maintain the path from Glenmore Lodge to Bynack Stable and maybe put in a few benches so I can catch my breath.
Yours, Derek Stuart, Derbyshire
Congratulations on TAC69. It is always a rare treat when it lands on the mat - all the rarer for being unpredictable. I think the behaviourists call it a variable-interval reinforcement schedule - the most addictive sort. Long may it continue. (Thank you kindly sir. Good to hear you have a mat - Ed.)
I particularly enjoyed the Elvis to Presley walk (TAC69 pp10-12). We've nothing to touch that down here. The nearest thing is the walk from Sandy in Bedfordshire to Shaw near Oldham. Obviously, this has to be completed barefoot and as yet no one has taken up the challenge.
You do right to point out that Elvis had only the most passing acquaintance with Scotland. However, his Welsh roots are far less well known. For many years it remained a closely guarded secret that the young Elddis Preseli was born on a smallholding at the edge of the Preseli Mountains in south-west Wales. When he began his musical career at the age of eight at Llandovery Eisteddfod he adopted the bardic name of Elddis ap Elddis, or Elddis son of Elddis. After the family moved the United States this was changed to the more familiar version at the insistence of Memphis Studios.
Yours, Andrew Holder, Witherley
There is a new aspect of baggerism rife in the hills. It involves announcing bagger status. It can be "This is my tenth-last", or it can be announcement of completion. It doesn't involve being in a conversation where it's a logical follow-on. We met a couple from Arbroath as we arrived on Cam Chreag from Meall Buidhe. "We've done all the Munros," they announced. "Have you? Are you just doing the Corbetts at the same time?" My companion retaliated with the near-complete status of his second round. And a couple of months ago three of us arrived on Beinn Challum from another Cam Chreag to find a big group at the cairn. One white-bearded member got me to photograph them and I said something trivial about hoping they could tell one photograph of a no-visibility snow-covered cairn from another. He looked at me disdainfully and said "We're all compleatists, you know." I've honestly never heard anyone use that word before.
This charabanc party had reached the summit by the baggers' path whereas we'd had a snowy scramble up the steep side, but as far as he was concerned I was looking as hapless as Alan Rough with the ball stretching the onion-bag behind me. In fact, I was just suppressing the urge to pull his beard.
I met someone at a party recently who, fairly unprovoked (we'd talked about hills but not the M-word), announced that he'd done 270. He also volunteered that he'd not even one doubler in that lot. That was the first moment I thought "Amazing".
Anyway, I'll be coy about my total.
Regards, Davie Cunningham
TAC 71 Index