The Terminator Chronicles

The Ultimate Guide to the Munros, Ralph Storer

Volume 1: Southern Highlands; Volume 2: Central Highlands South Luath Press, 2008, 2009; each book xxiv+232pp, £14.99

ISBN(10) 1 906307 57 1; 1 906817 20 0; ISBN(13) 978 1 906307 57 8; 978 1 906817 20 6

101 Best Hill Walks in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, by Graeme Cornwallis Fort Publishing, 2009, ISBN(13) 978 1 905769 16 2, 224pp, £9.99

AS I WRITE THIS, my laptop gently plays “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” by the Low Anthem. Over the course of a single album, mellifluous übermelodic folkiness (the Roches meet Simon and Garfunkel) gives way to raw subterranean homesickness.

Ralph Storer is the Low Anthem of the Munro- guidebook world. The author’s back-cover picture shows him in base-layer, specs and Caledonian pine- forest backdrop. But a quick google informs me that after “a stimulating evening with a good film”, Storer likes to end it with a “night out at a Goth/Industrial club”.

Not only that, but he has authored a “sex trivia book” entitled The Rumpy Pumpy Quiz Book. Forgive me dear reader for yet again bringing up Phil Stacey’s “10 reasons why hillwalking is a pish idea” (TAC6 p13), but you will recall that at no.7 we had “Next to no sex takes place”. Storer must be the exception who proves the rule.

And indeed his books are exceptional. One flips open a Munro guidebook expecting photos, maps and a bit of waffle about not descending Clachaig Gully or respecting the stalking season. Storer, however, sub- verts the guidebook genre completely. Among his many weapons are the opinions of a posse (do we still use such a term now Chris Evans only has Moira “bool in her mooth” Stewart to laugh at his japes?). The posse — or “The Go-Take-a-Hike Mountaineering Club”, to give its full name — includes such figures as Terminator, Baffies and GiGi. Terminator is the bad- ass demanding that some death-defying scramble is “not to be missed under any circumstances”, or en- thusing about Eagle’s Fall on Beinn Bhuidhe with “Fan- cy a spot of canyoneering?” Here s/he is on Curved Ridge: “Only experienced scramblers inured to expo- sure should tackle it”. “Inured to exposure” — I love it!

In antithesis to Terminator is Baffies. S/he opines on what the Ed and I used to call “villages and towns” — what to do if you don’t want a day on the high summits. Here is Baffies on Meall a’Bhuiridh: “Don’t tell Termina- tor but, if the ski centre access charlift is running, you can reach a height of 670m/2200ft in Coire Pollach in a seated position.”

The contributions from the posse litter the text in col- oured boxes. Terminator’s boxes are black font against purple, giving almost zero contrast. I can’t imagine ly-

Review: Perkin Warbeck

ing in my tent making this out by head-torch. The main text is black-on-white and many of the other boxes are high contrast, but Terminator is difficult. Let’s leave that for now, as you may be reading The Ultimate Guide in the midsummer sun or a brightly lit library.

Yet more members of the posse with quirky names — F-Stop and Chilly Willy — dispense photo tips and win- ter advice respectively. You get the idea. Being a hater of puns (how do I cope with the Ed?, I hear you ask), the only one I take exception to is Needlepoint, who deals with navigation.

By including “Ultimate” in the title, Storer runs the risk of making himself a hostage to reviewers, but it is quite easily justified purely on arithmetic. These two volumes both clock in at 230 pages. One covers 46 Munros and the other 36. Simple extrapolation would imply that the full series is going to run to about seven volumes. Rucksack-sized each one may be, but the full series is going to fill a Berghaus Freeflow.

The task of spinning out each book to around 40 Munros is achieved mainly by offering between one and five routes up each hill. “Normal” Munro guide- books tend to be premised (quite correctly) on the no- tion that the owner just wants to get the bugger knocked off as easily as possible. Not so here.

The maps are tiny cut-and-pastes from the OS canon and the illustrations are the author’s photos.

I like the premise of Storer’s series — the posse, the humour, the next-to-no-sex. My only carp would be leg- ibility in a tent. The detail is exhaustive — much of it one may never use — but good to know it is there.

AND SO TO Graeme Cornwallis, and 101 Best Hill Walks in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. One can see why the B-word is invoked. When the Guardian claimed to tell me the 100 Best Albums of 2009, I gave it a bit more credence than I might had they just said, “You might wish to consider these worthy offerings from

abunch of soulful indie-looking boys or these two Swedish guys in tank tops”. In fact, the credence usu- ally only lasts about five minutes until I realise their list is comprised of indie boys in tank tops through and through, but by then the title has done its job and caught my attention.

Cameron McNeish delivered Scotland’s 100 Best Walks in 1999, and Storer himself selected his 100 Best Routes on Scottish Mountains in 1997, so the podium is

alittle cluttered. Just in case the reader is interested, at the time of writing Storer was lying 9,184th on Ama- zon, McNeish (whose book is the most expensive of the three) 228,950th and Cornwallis 92,988th. I have no idea what, if anything, these numbers tell us. One as- sumes Dan Brown is somewhat nearer to no.1 than is Hamish Brown.

Let’s start with the plusses for Cornwallis. I like the 3D route drawings. Time was when the OS shaded to- pology in an old-fashioned way. Doubtless cartograph- ers hated it — I can hear them chanting “One should

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be able to picture the topology from the contours

inclining to their position in the face of the Cornwallis

alone”. Well, I can’t. My geography teacher, Mr Griffith

onslaught. This difference between the two authors can

“Tex” Williams, taught me so I could recognise an es-

be discerned merely from the jacket biogs. Storer is

carpment from the contours, but I haven’t got much

“a dedicated Munro bagger”; Cornwallis is “a highly

better in the graduation from short to long trousers.

experienced climber and walker, with an unrivalled

101 Best Hill Walks doesn’t have a single “normal”

knowledge of Scotland’s magnificent Highlands and Is-

map in it. This may of course be a matter of a fiscal

lands”.

nature between Cornwallis, Fort Publishing and the

Here is a wee near-random comparison. Each writer

OS, but I like it. The reader will already have the OS

discusses the western approach to Ben Lui. Cornwallis:

map, so why replicate it in a book? (Which is what

“The standard route from the A85 in Glen Lochy is rela-

Storer has done, now I think of it … arrgghh, showers

tively short but it is muddy and lacks interest compared

of tricouni nails rain down on Warbeck’s head.)

to the recommended walk from the A82 via Cononish.”

Where was I? Ah, the 3D maps. They are not the

Storer: “We give it [the western approach] a three-star

freeze-frame off Google Earth CGI techie type one is

rating for the summit environs, but only if you promise

getting used to. Rather, they look hand-drawn and as

to sit awhile at the cairn and meditate on why you

such must represent significant labour by someone. (I

came up this way.” (My italics.)

can’t quite find the credit — maybe it’s the author him-

There is also the issue of arguing with Cornwallis over

self.) One does not have the impression Homer Simp-

his choice of 101 Best Hill Walks. Doubtless the

son had in Treehouse of Horror VI — when he was in a

scheme is to set up just such a pub debate, but I don’t

relativistic virtual reality scene — of it costing thou-

intend to do much debating here … except Ben Ledi?

sands of dollars per minute. But that doesn’t matter.

Now I like Ben Ledi as much as the next person, but I

The Cornwallis maps give an impression of the topo-

wouldn’t have it in my 101. Ditto Goatfell. Are these

logy, which is all I am asking. In fact, more than that,

perhaps nods to populism?

they have a nice homely feel.

If it is starting to sound like I am slagging off the

Although Cornwallis is treading a fairly familiar path

Cornwallis effort, I should say that I would definitely take

with his 101 Best, he does at least wander off into the

it on holiday and use it like a traditional guidebook. Just

thicket by offering some fairly unexpected routes. Ben

romp up the route he suggests, rather than dither over

Lomond, for example, is to be done from Loch Chon

which of Storer’s five routes to take while studying the

via Comer, and Stuc a’Chroin without having to brave

various Terminator warnings. But Storer’s effort would

the dreadful scree that links it with Ben Vorlich. Mind

be the bedtime reading, the one where I might laugh

you — Stuccy in the top 101?

out loud, and it contains the passages to quote to the

Where this book suffers in comparison with the two

fearful Mrs Warbeck — who would of course be memo-

Storers is in the writing. Cornwallis may be a photo-

rising every pronouncement by Baffies.

grapher, geographer and traveller of note, but compar-

Cornwallis has produced the prettier book. Storer is

ed with Storer he’s a more limited writer. The Ed has

too busy jamming detail into every corner and being

long been an opponent of purple prose (although how

postmodern (Ed — check out if this means what I think

does one castigate it, given that “purple prose” itself is

it does). Storer has more photos, but I found them too

a form of purple prose?), and Cornwallis litters his opus

small — this seems to be the second reference to

with the stuff. Magnificent, superb, dramatic, thrilling. It

my failing-with-age eyesight — and are painted with

is the 101 Best Hill Walks and thus hyperbole may be

red arrows à la Poucher. (Surely Poucher was painted

required — but a thesaurus is, too.

with green eyeshadow, not red arrows? — Ed.)

Mrs Warbeck is currently under the insidious influence

Before closing, I must nod to Cornwallis for the inclu-

of the Plain Language Commission, and I find myself

sion of Ben Tianavaig, possibly my favourite little hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe’s High Points — Reaching the summit of

Having climbed only 17 of the hills listed, I cannot comment

on all the routes and the grades given, but some are open to

every country in Europe

 

 

question. Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Carrauntoohil are

by Carl McKeating and Rachel Crolla

all given grade 2, representing a simple hill hike, but Snow-

Cicerone, 2009, ISBN-13: 978 1 85284 577 3,

don gets grade 3, which seems to be because the authors

253pp, £14.95

Review: Rowland Bowker

choose to recommend an ascent over Crib Goch. Although

 

 

Europe’s High Points describes the ascent of the highest

they do mention alternative routes, this seems misleading, as

point of what the authors consider to be all the independent

by its gentlest approach Snowdon is probably the easiest

countries of Europe, a total of 50. What is an independent

of these summits. Most baggers would probably prefer an

country is open to debate. They have divided the UK into

easy route for a first ascent.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. One won-

The bagger will have to decide how much use of cable cars

ders why the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not

and mountain railways can be allowed. As an extreme case,

included, the latter not even being part of the EU. Grant

the Zugspitze can be reduced from grade 4 to grade 1 by

Hutchison’s World Tops and Bottoms, published by TACit

using the cable car all the way to the top.

Press in 1996, also listed 50 countries in Europe, but not

Some summits — such as St Peter’s Dome in Vatican City

quite the same 50.

 

— may raise eyebrows. Those intending to complete the

The hills offer a wide range of difficulty and character, from

list should pencil into their diaries the first Sunday of Sep-

grade 5 (Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc), to grade 1 for 16 hills

tember, the only day of the year when a climb is permitted

where it is possible to drive within a few minutes’ stroll of

of Mount Korab, on the border of Macedonia and Albania.

the summit. This brings to mind many HuMPs (Hundred

Thousands of walkers take this opportunity to enter the mili-

Metre Prominences) and a few Marilyns in central and south-

tary border zone.

ern England. Often a more interesting route can be found,

The book is well produced, with fine photographs and

or weather conditions can cause a bit more effort. In Feb-

diagramatic maps, and will tempt the devoted bagger with

ruary 1983, for example, I was pleased to be forced, by

time and money to spare. The authors are to be congratulated

snow, to abandon my rented car some two miles short of the

on their achievement, especially as they make it clear that

summit of Mount Olympus on Cyprus.

they have climbed all the hills.

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