Oh dear, I seem to have upset Davie Cunningham (TAC71 p20) on Ben Challum on 3/3/07. I had suggested Ben Challum the evening before as being suitable for a revisit by the Munro Society. Shortly after our group of seven arrived at the cairn, three lads appeared, so I asked one of them to take our photo. I probably did get a bit carried away as this was my first outing with the Society. The photo came out very well considering the weather conditions, and can be viewed at http://www.themunrosociety.com/, events, page 7. I do hope that if I ever meet Mr Cunningham again, he won't pull my beard.
Charles Murray, Munroist 3213
David McVey's article, Campsie carnage? (TAC71 p5), reminded me of an incident in May of this year. While descending Holehead Hill east of Fin Glen in the Campsie Fells I met a man on his way to the top. We stopped to chat and it turned out that he was up from London on business and taking the opportunity to briefly explore a small section of the Campsies. His original plan had been to walk up Fin Glen. On consulting the map it seemed obvious that the best plan would be to park the car in Clachan of Campsie and then proceed west through the yard of Knowehead farm. To do this it would perhaps be necessary to suppress feelings of apprehension created by a bold sign marked "Knowehead Road - Private."
David McVey rightly criticises the Forestry Commission's crude two-mile road, but he adds that it makes the Campsies' longest glen "easier of access". This is indeed the case providing you can slip past Knowehead farm unseen. According to our man from London, he was challenged by the farmer, who declared that walkers were not permitted to come through this way and suggested an alternative route. In attempting to find this, he went up a dark tree-lined avenue just outside the village. Approaching a large building (Ballencleroch House), he was again challenged, this time by a friendly, smiling nun. The hillwalker had stumbled upon Schoenstatt, a German-founded Catholic retreat centre run by the Sisters of Mary. On learning of his hillwalking intentions, the sister led him into a room where he was invited to wait while she made enquiries. The room was in fact a chapel. He reverently sat down in one of the pews, placing his rucksack on his lap. In the dim light he became aware of a dozen white-robed nuns seated close to him, barely audible voices chanting prayers in unison - a novel way to get psyched-up for a day on the hills. Tired of waiting for the sister to return, he slipped out into the sunlight, drove up the Crow Road and parked west of Muir Toll for a walk on Holehead.
On a recent visit to Fin Glen, not wishing to disturb the farmer or the nuns at prayer, I walked up the Fin Glen's western side. On the opposite hill-slopes the scooped-out road looked very ugly indeed. With two other recent and crudely constructed roads - one leading to a new radar weather station (Holehead), the other leading from Todholes Farm to Cringate Law (to access 15 wind turbines), the Campsies are at last succumbing to the hi-tech developments seen elsewhere.
Bryan Cromwell, East Kilbride
Paul Gardner's review of Hutton's Arse (TAC71 p8) included the comment, "I am a wind-turbine engineer". Well, I am a retired schoolteacher trying to counteract the profit-induced propaganda of the windfarm companies. Many people and elected representatives now think that windfarms can replace coal, gas and nuclear generation of electricity. They can't, and Scottish Renewables has said so - "windfarms will not form the base load for electricity". We all know why not: it's intermittent, variable and unpredictable. Not much use if you want to make the dinner for seven and then watch River City.
I have yet to see a windfarm application which doesn't claim that "every MW of electricity produced by this windfarm will displace a MW of coal-generated electricity". The truth is different. The Sustainable Development Commission has said that the greater the proportion of wind on the grid, the lower the quantities of conventional technologies it displaces. The 2004 Scottish Executive report on energy said: "the greater the percentage of electricity generated from an intermittent source, the greater the amount of spinning reserve plant required to be on standby for backup purposes."
If linked into the grid, wind turbines, whether you call them community, industrial or whatever, need constant power station backup. They are not an answer to CO2 emissions, nor to a reliable electricity supply.
As far as archaeology is concerned, the only surveys are desk-based and will not reveal undiscovered sites. Environmental Impact Assessments are written by consultants who present the evidence to favour the windfarm application. There is nothing objective about that, and individual objectors are left to present a case to the best of their ability. Even councils that object can be financially overwhelmed by the venture-capital backing of the windfarm companies.
The environmental and landscape effects are all detrimental.
Andrew Nelson, Lanark
Watching TV coverage of the World Mountain Biking Championships at Aonach Mor, I recalled a visit there in May this year. It had been my first visit for quite a few years and I was surprised to find that a mountain bike track had been constructed. So much hype was put out about the environmentally friendly method of constructing the ski development, using helicopters so that the fragile mountain environment would not be damaged by machinery and with no roads or tracks scarring the mountainside. Why, then, have the planners permitted the construction of this eyesore of a track, which will probably channel water and cause erosion of the hillside? Surely Highland Council, or whoever agreed to this, has not forgotten the very principles they insisted upon when the application was made for the ski development - or has the environment been sacrificed in the name of tourism and its associated financial benefits?
I have no gripes with mountain biking, so long as they keep off mountains. It's great to watch the riders charging down the track, but all this could have been achieved below the treeline. My other complaint about Aonach Mor is that when our group went to use the toilet facilities, these had been abused by mountain bikers (yes, I saw them) and were awash with mud. The cubicles were so filthy as to be unusable. Maybe there's a need for separate facilities.
Also, I was browsing through various Cairngorms-related websites the other week and found an account of a "bike trail" from Corrour over Cairn Toul, Angel's Peak and Braeriach - see http://www.winterhighland.info/mtb/index.php?20,NCG I am so angry that such a fragile and ecologically important environment is being abused this way. I emailed the NTS and Rothiemurchus Estates, who I think were unaware of this, although Rothiemurchus have noticed bike-track erosion on the Sgoran Dubh ridge.
Since then, I've looked into the Winterhighland forum some more and have found accounts of rides across Carn a'Chlamain, the Feshie hills, Glas Maol, the Loch Muick hills and so on. It seems that it's an increasing trend for "thrill seekers" to test their skills on the mountain tops. I personally believe it has to be stopped before irreparable damage is done to our mountains, and I would urge anyone who sees this happening to inform the landowners. I would also advocate shoving a walking pole into their front spokes if they come close enough.
Angus Robson, County Durham
I'm afraid I must draw your attention to a glaring Gaelic glitch in "The Freewheelin' Murdo Munro" cartoon strip (TAC70 p7). You have used the word "ealan" for "swan". The word you actually want is "eala". Unfortunately, this mistake renders incomprehensible the link to "eilean", the word for "island". Unless you're rekindling a prehistoric form of Stirlingshire Gaelic, this rather irritates the eye!
Speaking of eyes, I must also point out that there's no "i" in "ordnance". Perhaps there are none in the head of your proof-reader, either?
It's a serious lapse from the high standards TAC has set over the years, so I just had to speak up!
Beathas Anna Dàil (Sophia Dale)
Lochs, An t-Eilean Lẹdhais (Lewis)
Ed. - Re "ordinance", I refer the honourable lady to the reply I gave earlier, on p18 of TAC70. Re "ealan", the Swan has been prodded with a stick and has this to say for himself:
Dear Mr Editor Sir - The terms under which you employ me in the bowels of Corrie Towers specify that in return for a few crusts of stale bread I must produce "sketches to order". At no time was it required that I must undertake posh spellings in a range of Indo-European lingos.
I am sure your correspondent, Ms Sophie Dahl, writes in with the best of intentions: I am a big fan of the curvy lady herself. However since I was not one of those who complained about her own "questionable" appearance in that Opium perfume ad (in fact I spent some time on my own "enjoying" it), I cannot see how she feels she has the right to take the meticulous moral high ground over this linguistic issue.
Your humble servant,
PS - If Ms Dahl has any further unpublished shots from the Opium session, I would be happy to peruse them from an artistic point of view.
I recently had the good fortune to spend a couple of nights at perhaps the most prestigious address in the Scottish hills, the CIC Hut. Knowing of the hut's reputation for exclusivity, my climbing chums and I became intrigued by the darkly ambiguous wording of the hut information sheet. This warns that attempts to enter the hut by "casual visitors or unauthorised persons" should be "resisted", and adds helpfully that the lock on the door "can be closed from the inside".
Suitably forewarned, we retired for the night reassured by the presence of two hefty shovels placed strategically just inside the hut entrance, and I took care to ensure that my trekking poles were never more than an arm's length away. Sentries were posted on a two-hourly rota.
Happily, Johnny Casual Visitor didn't have the stomach for a fight and the weekend passed without incident, leaving the chaps and I to ponder whether any TAC readers might have stirring tales to relate of doughty encounters with any casual visitors or unauthorised persons either inside or outside the hallowed lintels of the CIC.
Andy Beaton, Dingwall
Ed. - Seemingly the SMC have planning permission to double the size of the CIC: the work will be done next year. No doubt it will become twice as welcoming.
Very interested in the piece about the Sgurr nan Gillean gendarme in latest Aggy C. (TAC71 p2) The High Mountains was published in late 1986 and I recall that the first amendment concerned the disappearance of the gendarme. This was probably 3-4 months after publication, which sets the date around December 1986 - Jan/Feb 1987. Unfortunately I don't have the correspondence as this was recently cleared out of my files. What I do know is that I managed to text the amendment in exactly the right number of words to fit the layout of the book. Of such are the trials of guidebook writers. (Crikey, texting in 1986 - well ahead of the rest of us - Ed.)
Thoughts returned to this recently when faced with the possibility of the heighting correction for Foinaven. A turn up for the book which wasn't exactly a cause for rejoicing for some, but was a relief for me and publisher Ken Wilson!
Irvine Butterfield, Pitcairngreen
Attitudes to the possible upgrading of Foinaven and Beinn Dearg smack of smug complacency among completionistas, together with protectionism by those glens that currently benefit from the Munro £Millions. In order to counter the sheer stubborn intransigence of geological processes, I propose that Munros, Corbetts and Grahams are subject to a three-up, three-down promotion and relegation system at the end of each year. If this was determined on the basis of the number of ascents in the previous season, it would avoid the "West Bromwich Question" of immediate relegation a year later. The Cheviot, presumably, would choose to take part in the Scottish system and take its place as a Corbett.
On the theme of the ephemeral nature of human life given added poignancy by the apparent permanence of mountains, I was on the In Pinn recently. I was aware of TAC's report (TAC71 p12) that the top of this particularly masculine summit had been trimmed by a thunderbolt, but I must confess that my mind was on other things (my lack of sleep, the yawning drop, and how far I still had to go to Blaven). I didn't notice any fresh rockfall scars (for which I wasn't looking), nor any loose rock (for which I definitely was). I did notice that the bolster stone now appears to be marginally the highest point, whereas on previous visits I have gratefully observed that it was not. On this occasion, with a twinge of guilt, I took the slapdash approach to summiting. Of course, it won't affect those who call "climbing the In Pinn" being top-roped up the short side to tag the chain and then be lowered off.
I didn't reach Blaven that day. It was just too daunting to be alone in life-threatening situations for such a length of time. It's nearly interesting that some years earlier I had done the main ridge with three near-novices: stressful enough, but in such a situation I didn't consider the danger to myself. This time - no mates, no banter, no rope - I considered nothing else for hours on end. I have since discovered that T Howard Somervell, the "first to solo the main ridge", was alone only from Banachdich, whereas J Menlove Edwards, first to solo the Greater Traverse, had an altogether different approach to life from most of us. So I came down from Bidein Druim nan Ramh, possibly the best hill to appear on no list at all. (Well, it's both a Yeaman and a Corbett Top - Ed.)
Andy Heald, Torrance
I recently returned to TGO after a gap of several years, mainly because it has started turning up free with my NTS membership. Things seemed to have improved somewhat in my absence (which was also punctuated by an ill-advised flirtation with Trail - but you can only take so many stories of jolly japes featuring wacky adventurers bombing up to Scotland from Peterborough each weekend to try and turn Corbetts into Munros), particularly on the gear front.
Sadly, the reactionary old bigots were still in residence on the letters pages. I foolishly entered the climate-change debate, and found sadly little support from the other correspondents (and they edited out the best bit of my letter). I know that filling the Highlands with pylons might have its downside (though I really can't get that worked up about the view through Drumochter), but it would be nice if people at least acknowledged that climate change was (a) happening, (b) largely humanity's fault, (c) on the whole a bad thing and (d) wouldn't it be nice to try and do something about it?
Anyway, I presume TGO are losing money while they're sending it to me, so I'm content to continue to read it (with gritted teeth). Meanwhile I'm finally shelling out to get non-virtual hard copy TAC, and I hope I can hereby shame all you other long-time virtual readers into doing the same.
Richard Maxey, Cambridge
Ed. - There was a really good bit in the middle of this letter - provocative, incisive, witty - but I edited it out.
Can you help me to get a copy of Alps 4000 video (see TAC21 p16), to borrow or buy? I know it's past its debut date! No joy from the Chris Film number - it's dead!
Thanking you in anticipation,
Tony Cox, Folkestone
Re naked-ish walking (TAC passim), on 2/4/07 on a lovely warm day, just after leaving the top of Beinn Bhuidhe, I saw a really nice pert young lady coming up the path wearing boots, briefs and a rucksack. When she saw me she stopped, put on a top and, on passing, said: "I thought I had the hill to myself." Made my day.
Trevor Dearnley, Carlisle
TAC 72 Index