The Angry Corrie 55: Oct-Nov 2002
Just to follow up my note about poorly-fitted hired crampons from Tiso (TAC54, p16), readers should know that I got a letter from Chris Tiso [Tiso Chief Exec] passed through via the magazine. He was pretty concerned and annoyed about what had happened to me, and couldn't have made his disappointment clearer. It was obvious that he sees Tiso as the kind of place you can get good advice and service as well as gear, and I must admit to being impressed by a genuine commitment to customer service. If only all his staff shared that view.
Anyway, a proper apology, a promise that it won't happen again and a wee voucher were more than I had hoped for.
Gordon Struth, Linlithgow
Can anyone help me get a shoe up a mountain, take a photo of it and return it to me? I appreciate that this sounds extremely odd, but let me explain. Last year, a friend and I "borrowed" another friend's shoe (a Dunlop Green Flash trainer to be precise). We took the shoe around London, taking photos of it in front of various landmarks and sending the photos back to him in the form of postcards. We then decided to try further afield and soon the shoe had visited Scotland and Ireland.
To date, the shoe has been to: London, the first tee at St Andrews, Edinburgh Castle, a pub in Dublin with some sailors, Toronto, Calgary, Las Vegas, New York, Mauritius, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Melbourne, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Barbados - and has just returned from the North Pole with the Scott Polar Research team!
I would love to get the now-famous shoe up a mountain, as we are fast running out of interesting locations. Any expenses would be covered. I can assure you that I'm not mad.
Ed. - You're mad.
I am grateful to you for your sympathetic, if not entirely accurate, piece about my book Isles of the West in TAC54 (p2). The inaccuracies are mostly trivial except for your uncritical repetition of the points made in an appallingly misleading article in Sunday Herald some time ago which purported to reveal my "links" with the right-wing historian David Irving.
The truth is the opposite of what was presented. My point is that, as a profound critic of the landowning conservation agencies, like SNH, RSPB, NTS et al, I am accusing them of Nazi-style behaviour insofar as they put conservation before people. Your articles about the threat to the freedom to roam on St Kilda, for example (TAC54, p20), precisely mirror my own views. It might be helpful to your readers if you were to point out to them that People Too, the new organisation founded to defend rural communities from the imposts of centralised bureaucracy, has drawn attention to precisely this point in relation to the Land Reform Bill which is currently before parliament.
That Bill apparently seeks to open up the hills but will actually have the effect of closing many of them as one of the key provisions is that the new right of responsible access can be revoked on any ground for "conservation" purposes. Who will take advantage of that? Every loutish laird, questionable quango and chancy charity which would rather not see hillwalkers on their ground.
This precisely reflects the Nazi approach which was masterminded by the Reichsmarschall, Hermann Goering, and intended to create national parks where the Volkswagen driver could go to see nature, thereby leaving the rest of the country for "conservation" and shooting (which Goering called "conservation by rifle"). The Reichsmarschall even suggested in what one hopes was a frivolous moment that different races should have their own national parks where they could go to see animals resembling themselves. The moose reserve would be exclusively for Jews, he said.
The nastiness of the Nazi approach becomes more apparent when one investigates their behaviour in a place like Norway, where I am writing this, as I am currently researching a follow-up book to Isles of the West, to be called Isles of the North. The way the Germans treated the Norwegians bears an unpleasant similarity with the way some conservation charities treat crofters in the Hebrides - as likeable dunces whose lives need to be organised by the master race for their own good.
I hope the mountaineering community today will do as much to resist the insidious new imperialism as the Norwegians did to resist the more obvious and violent imperialism of half a century ago. Certainly that is the aim of People Too. If any of your readers would like to know more about this organisation, in order to make up their own minds, then they should write to PO Box 8002, Spean Bridge, Inverness-shire PH34 4EP for an info sheet.
With best wishes,
Ian Mitchell, Lagavulin
Rowland Bowker (TAC54, p15) mentioned the cover illustration on older Irish maps - a car parked in the middle of the road with a couple studying a map spread over the bonnet. On some of the half-inch sheets in my possession (purchased in the 1980s) the cover illustration is similar, but rather than a couple looking at the map it's a lone woman.
I had often assumed the illustration was designed to demonstrate the value of maps as route-finders, but after a recent cycling trip "across the border", I now know the real reason behind that picture: utter confusion caused by distances given on road signs.
Leaving Ballysadare we noted Sligo 9km on the first sign. A kilometre later the next sign also told us Sligo 9km. Two kilometres down the road it was Sligo 3km. Leaving Ballyshannon we noted Rossnowlagh 6km; a short distance along the road it was Rossnowlagh 7km and a little further it had increased to Rossnowlagh 9km. And yes, we were going in the right direction.
Distance confusion can result because older signs give miles, the new ones kilometres, but that didn't apply in our case. So apparently harmless cover illustrations on maps may be telling more than one story. I'm sure this isn't confined to Ireland; any examples from the UK or elsewhere?
Peter Wilson, Portstewart, NI
I've just read TAC54 and was interested to read the letters from Catherine Moorhead and Mike Thewlis (p19 and p15 respctively). I too am aware of many miles of unmarked Land Rover tracks. In Glen Esk, north of Tarfside there are miles of tracks which have been there for many years and they are not on any map that I know of. In Glen Lethnot there is a Land Rover track along the summit of Tamhilt which connects to a number of (marked) tracks lower down. I came across a new-looking one in Glen Shee recently - not on the Landranger 43.
I have also noticed the track to Beinn a'Chait that Catherine Moorhead mentions. I found a comment in the Allt Scheichachean bothy log to the effect that the track had been there for 14 years - and that was about a year ago. I also disagree with OS re the position of the path to the summit of Beinn Dearg. I am convinced (checked by GPS - one of the few times I have used one) that it is about 500 metres west of where it is shown on LR43.
On the other hand, I am also aware of a number of marked tracks which do not exist. The best known one (to me) is the path on LR44 which starts at NO353755 and is shown to go to Gleneffock via Muckle Cairn and Wester Skulley. The section from NO353755 to where it is shown to join the path from Inchgrundle does not exist. I used to supervise DofE expeditions in this area and, for safety reasons, made myself aware of all tracks and paths. Despite some searching by myself and others, this one was never found.
In the same area, I have read some correspondence in TAC re the Shieling of Saughs (TAC52, p14). It is not a bothy, just a three-sided shelter with a turf roof. I did once see a table and chairs in it: maybe the gentry were to have dinner served to them that day!
Having a keen interest in navigation I am also aware of many features which are not shown on OS maps - cliffs, outcrops, gullies, bridges, big holes in the ground, etc, and I do wonder when they are going to do a proper update.
Ron Anderson, Catterline
Mike Thewlis complains about things on the ground not being on the new Perthshire Explorer maps. It works the other way round, too. Pack Explorer 386 and take a walk north-west from Meall a'Charra, the easternmost 600m+ top of Farragon Hill (NN890575). The map's Land Rover track running up the east bank of the Allt Lochan Sgaradh Gobhar is, in reality, in its upper reaches, nothing more than a very sketchy set of tyre tracks through thick heather. Another glance at the map will show Netherton, a sizeable set of buildings by the look (NN870595). When you get to the spot you'll search long and hard because the buildings aren't there.
Do these examples or the lack of some tracks make the map no good? Of course not - more of a minor inconvenience, I'd say. Sure, I'd prefer the maps to be up-to-date, but to suggest that they aren't worth buying is overstating the case. The "rip-off OS" must produce one of the best value items it's possible to get. Think about the hours of enjoyment you get from anything you do for each pound you spent on that activity. Your average train journey or going to Scotland's away football games would give a figure marginally above zero. Would anything give a higher score than a map? (A copy of Wisden? The last Lambchop CD? - Ed.)
For a few quid you get hundreds of hours of enjoyment before, during and after walks. And if that isn't enough, you can get even better value by scrutinising them for mistakes until your brain aches.
Stuart Benn, Culloden
Ed. - For more on the pseudo-revision of OS maps, see page 8.
I was amused by the notion of the highest habitation (TAC54, p12) and would point out that the Glenshee Ski Company manager's flat is on the first floor above the café and thus three to four metres higher than you suggest. The Lecht man's house is at ground level and thus your suggestion is probably accurate.
On another subject, we are planning to put in a car park at the Keiloch (east of Braemar) to cater for visitors heading for Ben Avon and Beinn a'Bhuird etc. There will be a toilet block and a signed low-ground network of paths as well as a well-laid-out car park. I am suggesting a pay meter (say £2 per car as per Glen Muick) and all proceeds will be reinvested in path repairs, interpretation etc.
I have been carrying out a windscreen survey and all responses so far have been positive. In case anyone has missed the survey and would like to comment, please contact me by email. It will be interesting to see whether the National Park next year leads to hordes of extra visitors as some predict. With the wet early summer this year, many of the paths on the estate are showing signs of serious erosion. Fortunately we have the Upper Deeside Access Trust on hand to help!
No doubt you have heard about the consultation process currently being undertaken by Mr Blackett regarding a new "pay and display" car park at Keiloch. I came back from climbing in Garbh Choire on 14 July to find a document tucked under the windscreen wipers.
My stumbling thoughts emerged thus:
But the more I thought about it, the less it seemed necessary:
It is, however, a pleasant surprise to be consulted on such a matter and the above is virtually word-for-word the response sent back to the estate.
I would be interested to know the views of your mighty organ, not to mention conversant readers.
Ed. - As TAC goes to press there are rumours that the NTS is to charge at Linn of Dee. The thin wedge appears to be thickening.
Recently I was given two lots of maps as birthday presents. Maybe it is just anno domini, but in use I find the new 1:25000 Ordnance Survey maps pretty difficult. The purple is a bit irritating but I find the attempt to get as much detail as possible on the map, particularly all rocky bits, renders the contour lines (which are a poor contrast colour) very difficult to interpret quickly. The difference in use between them and the old 1:50000 maps is very marked.
The second set of maps were of the same 1:25000 scale but from Switzerland. The difference in clarity is very marked and greatly enhanced by the use of "hill shading" which gives an immediate feel for the ground.
Seems a pity that the OS could not reinstate this feature. In these days of computer-controlled printing it would surely be fairly easy to do.
Yours, Niall Macdonald, Bearsden
Ed. - Dewi Jones in Porthmadog has a copy of the experimental hill-shaded Landranger 124, dated 1995. He writes: "I'm pretty certain that it is also the first sheet to identify with a distinct symbol 'white' roads that are public roads. Before then there was no way of knowing from OS maps which of these were public and the introduction of the symbol caused a considerable furore among the farming/landowning community who obviously have an interest in keeping such information out of the public domain." The latest LR124 has dropped the shading but retains the road marking.
Could someone tell us how long the generator at Barrisdale has been there? I've never read anything about it in any of the books, but when I went to camp there in early August, it was banging away continuously from 7am to 1am every day.
I appreciate that those living in the stalker's cottage need facilities, but surely this level of industrial noise represents a gross intrusion into one of the very few real wilderness areas we've got.
In any event, this needs a bit of publicity so that people know what they are letting themselves in for. It's a terrific spot, but if I want that level of noise I'll stay at home under the Heathrow flight path.
Paul Ormerod, London
Caroline Tisdall, who is on the board of the Countryside Alliance, recently expressed her intention (West Highland Free Press 2/8/02) to "die in a ditch to defend hunting" - and for the CA this includes blood-sport hunting with hounds. While many readers of TAC would doubtless welcome the entire membership of the CA dying in any ditch, members of the John Muir Trust and the wider public might wonder why the same Dr Tisdall is also on the board of the JMT.
In her election address to the JMT in 2000, Ms Tisdall made no mention of her peculiar wish as to the disposal of her earthly remains - nor of her membership of the CA or her defence of blood sports. When questioned about these matters by the editor of the WHFP (9/8/02), JMT director Nigel Hawkins stated that in an election address of 300 words candidates "could not cover all their views and interests." Surely, however, something one was willing to die for could only be omitted from such an address by design?
On the lady's membership of the CA, Hawkins is quoted as saying: "I don't think the trust sees any particular problem with that," and he added that the trust was not against blood sports per se, but that, since hunting with hounds was now illegal "we'd always support the law."
What do JMT members make of this? What did they make of the JMT's policy of defending the interests of sheep farmers above those of their members who had paid for the purchase of such properties as Sandwood Bay during last year's Fear and Madness epidemic, and who were excluded for them without good grounds? (Unsurprising, since a not inconsiderable proportion of JMT income on its Skye properties comes from sheep subsidies. Sheep, which John Muir called "hooved locusts".)
Added to this we now have, apparently, an organisation which is happy to sit cheek-by-jowl with members of the shootin'/huntin'/fishin' fraternity, and to have defenders of subsidised rural privilege such as the CA on its board. Indeed, I am reliably informed by inside sources that the issue of the JMT actually joining the CA was raised from within the board of the organisation but dropped for fear of the reaction from the grassroots. Could the fact that members of the board of the JMT have been privately helicoptered into the Letterewe Estate for meetings, and sampled the delights of the hospitality of Paul van Vlissingen (fortune £400 million - and who just happens to be Dr Tisdall's current partner) have anything to do with all this?
The same van Vlissingen has just produced an expensive piece of vanity publishing entitled A Highland Deer Herd and its Habitat, which advocates "a controlled expansion in Scottish deer numbers" to make hunting by foreign businessmen more attractive. As my auld grannie used to say, "Ye need a lang speen tae sup wi the Deil". The JMT spoon is a very short one, indeed it is bent.
The powers behind the CA, and those of its membership who own Highland shooting estates, are the very people who have damaged the environment of Scotland so much in the last century. That the JMT is unable to take a stance of opposition towards them, as it was unable to oppose the sheep farming interest during the FMD epidemic, shows that it cannot be seen as part of the solution to Scotland's environmental issues, but as part of the problem.
I resigned my membership after FMD; the way the JMT is going, my namesake on Islay (see TAC54, p2, and here, pp16-17) will soon be applying to join.
Ian R Mitchell, Glasgow
TAC54 included three descriptions of places people had long wanted to visit but which proved disappointing when they eventually got there. Can I add my own offering: Letterewe. It is always described as Scotland's Last Wilderness. There are even signs to that effect (thus reducing the unspoilt nature) on the path alongside Loch Maree. I don't dispute the grandeur of the interior overlooking Lochan Fada, although I could offer many comparable areas (much of Sutherland, Knoydart, the threatened Shieldaig area across Loch Maree). What disappointed me was the lochside walk.
I did the Fisherfield Six from the Shenavall side several years ago and was disappointed not to get the classic view from A'Mhaighdean. I promised myself that when the Munros and Tops had been completed, Beinn Lair would be a priority Corbett to get the view from the other side. This July, I walked from Kinlochewe to Letterewe House and then up to Bealach Mheinnidh. The path is a few hundred metres away from and above the loch and runs through patchy natural woodland. It is pleasant enough but hardly a wilderness. The impression is not helped by the constant traffic noise from across the loch. Frankly, it reminded me of the Lakes where there are many such woodland paths through equally soaking bracken.
Letterewe House has more than its share of roughly painted "Keep Out" and "Path" notices. I was delighted to eventually climb away from the house and the bracken and traffic noise into open country. Letterewe is no more a wilderness than much of the north-west and less so than many less feted areas.
My day continued to disappoint. The forecast was for it to brighten in the afternoon but it didn't happen. Beinn Lair was reached in mist and rain, so no classic view. I continued over its two Corbett Tops before striking south to Loch Maree past Loch Garbhaig. The estate owner (still Herr van Vlissingen, I assume) has a locked bothy there with every mod con. I could even see a can of shaving foam through the window. (So no beardie baggers there - Ed.)
Andrew Hyams, Thirsk
I'm in a Kirkcaldy café reading TAC, having picked up my mail on the way out and unable to resist quick dipping. A female at the next table has just mentioned a shop being at the "east end of the High Street", and I'm sure 99% of the town believes the High Street runs east-west whereas it really runs north-south. One to bet on, perhaps: I've often won (honorary) bets stating Edinburgh is west of Carlisle and west of Liverpool. But that's a diversion.
Matters arising. Rowland de Bagger (TAC54, p15) mentioned treasuring prewar cloth folding OS maps with price-tabs of half a crown. When I began wandering the hills just after the war, that was often all there was available. Using one, I headed north from Glen Affric, planning to cut through between Loch Mullardoch and Loch Lungard. You can guess what happened: the hydro and the forestry were in their first expansionist phase and a big dam had run the two lochs into one, entailing a long, nasty diversion. Not for nothing do the locals call Loch Mullardoch "the Atlantic". The irony came decades on when I decided to make use of this provision to canoe to the west end for some days' camping and ticking. Launching was a messy game as the loch's level was low - so low it proved that Mullardoch and Lungard had separated, with a rushing, rocky stream between. Some you lose, some you lose.
The St Kilda correspondence rather gave the impression that if access was made easy the rush would be on to tick the stacks whereas, in truth, the argument will remain speculative and theoretical. I doubt if many in the Marhofn 1000-up club will ever climb Stac an Armin or Stac Lee, unless helicopter-assisted. With tremendous exposure, guano-painted holds, poor belays and extreme weather, Stac Lee is a testing climb. And permitted or not, any attempt would be gannet-resisted in season. Being dead right is only a step (or a slide) from being right dead.
In the autumn of 1759 a party of ten from Hirta were bird-fowling on Boreray when the boat (the only boat) turned turtle on the occupants. They were marooned on Boreray through the winter and only discovered when the factor's boat came out in June. Thinking of the islands' weather and the men's lack of everything except what they stood in, I've always thought this a remarkable survival story. They must have been heartily sick of eating gannets by the end. There were sheep too, from which they made clothes (à la Robinson Crusoe) and were none the worse though reported to be "much out of humour".
Lastly, can anyone produce a name for the pass north of Tyndrum on the A82? This bealach is on the Scottish watershed, is the meeting of Argyll and Perthshire, was long a drovers' route and a Caulfeild military road and has today's road, rail and West Highland Way traffic - yet no name. I've spent hours searching for one. Help?
In Kinlochleven I notice signs to the waterfall are given both Gray and Grey spellings for the Mare's Tail. Why do the guides, especially those for the WHW, ignore both this and the Sput Ban above Rowardennan when Stott (the aquatic equivalent of Munro) calls them "outstanding"?
Not many magazines get read cover-to-cover these days. Tak that as a compliment, TAC.
Hamish Brown, Burntisland
Ed. - Re Loch Mullardoch as "the Atlantic", when TAC Towers was in Alva my old landlord said that the Wood Hill slope above the village used to be called America, "because once it got the first snow of autumn, the village would get snow three weeks later."
And re unexpectedly unjoined lochs, one of my earliest Munroing outings, in August 1983, was to the west end of Glen Lyon with three experienced friends. There was a discussion at the dam as to whether we should climb Meall Buidhe or Stuchd an Lochain: it felt too hot for the out-and-back to both. Meall Buidhe was the choice, but from high up we could see that the waters had receded and that the old Loch an Daimh / Loch Giorra division had resurfaced. So down the south ridge we went, straight across via the little island and a very brief squelchy bit, then up the north ridge of Stuchd an Lochain. That can't often have been done in the subsequent 19 years.
Before we all carry our love of wind farms too far (TAC54, p3), let us look at a few facts. Wind farms provide little energy compared to other sources of supply and we would need thousands of them to make much difference. Such a number could not be accommodated in Britain without compromising our finest landscapes.
The construction of wind farms in my neck of the woods is subsidised by the taxpayer. The companies continue to receive subsidies from the taxpayer when they are up and running. Only public subsidy makes wind farms the least bit efficient.
It has been calculated that spending an equivalent amount on house insulation could save more electricity than the present generation of wind farms might produce. In Cornwall, the local people most enthusiastic in the beginning are now the most critical of the noise and visual intrusion.
The answer to our energy problem would be better found by investing the equivalent amount of money in deep water tidal power.
Those readers brave enough to stray outdoors during the summer monsoon, and to have exposed any bare flesh, will have noticed the great number of midges and other nasty biting insects.
Are they really worse than in previous years? Before reaching for the DDT I suggest you examine what is biting you. I'm able to report that our native biting insects have been added to by at least three new guests this summer.
I have it on excellent authority from the highest academic sources within Edinburgh University that the Super Midge has been sighted this year. This delightful beastie is capable of reproducing three times during the summer, increasing in numbers at a rapid rate.
A new, much larger, biting insect is also suspected to have arrived in Scotland. This is being code-named the "Eurognat". I have no more details at present, but attempts to capture some specimens are going on at present.
Finally, the latest revelation is a new people-biting insect in the Aviemore area, apparently driving away tourists in droves. Is this a modern-day plague of locusts? Divine intervention for the building of the funicular railway?
With these new beasties savaging any bare flesh into which they can sink their teeth (or proboscis?), how long before our native bog-standard midgie becomes an endangered species and we are desperately trying to preserve a part of Scotland where it can survive in a safe habitat?
Jonathan Whitehead, West Linton
Re TAC52, p18: midge or midgie. As a native of the Highlands, I inherited from my parents (also natives) the usage of "midgie". During my 1970s childhood I always associated "midge" with posh people and Lowland Scots, although the latter have a habit of adding an "e" syllable to other plurals (boxees, housees). Thus, many Jimmies say "midgies" when they mean "midges".
Yours, "Badger Bill"