The Angry Corrie 12: Apr-May 1993

The Great Sea Level Mystery...

Many readers will have heard of The Electric Brae - and if you haven't, it's high time you did. On this notable stretch of road near Girvan, uphill appears to be downhill and down UP. Quite what electricity has to do with it is another matter entirely. Anyway, it appears there may also be an Electric Loch, as Douglas Asland explains...

"I'd like to draw your attention to the strange omission of spot heights on the shore of Loch Shiel." The stranger leant back from his copy of Landranger Sheet 40 and addressed me across the otherwise empty carriage. The Glasgow train had just left Spean Bridge and I was looking forward to deer spotting across Rannoch. The last thing I fancied was a discussion of the failings of the Ordnance Survey. Mind you, I've my own obsession with the stupid way the Glen Nevis Mountainmaster hides the stalkers' paths in the Mamores. I said nothing - a mistake, as he took silence for encouragement.

"Loch Shiel is supposed to be an inland loch and has an outlet to the sea via the creatively named River Shiel, so it must be above sea level, if only just. But have you driven back towards Fort William from Glenfinnan?" I nodded silently.

"Well, remember climbing very steeply alongside a foaming river before matching the height of the railway to coming from the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct? Then the road runs beside the line roughly on the level before dropping only slightly to come out at the head of Loch Eil - which is a sea loch and surely must be at sea level!" I thought of the route in reverse. The road is just above the level of Loch Eil, climbs gently a little way then swoops down and round a long way to reach the Glenfinnan Monument on the shore of Loch Shiel. Blast the man, he's right.

"But it's no good looking at the contours" he went on, rattling his map, "the road runs very close to one contour line from Drumsalie at the head of Loch Eil to the watershed at 928795 then plunges into a wooded valley where the contour lines are masked by trees. And there are no spot heights on either loch!" He paused, conscious of making a major point. "That means that Loch Shiel is below sea level but runs out into the sea by Loch Moidart."

Thats's when I made the real mistake - I joined in: "But surely the sea level in Moidart isn't lower than the level in Loch Linnhe?"

"Congratulations: that would appear to be the conclusion. But why? And how is it maintained? Even the Scots cannot have independent physical laws, whatever happens in education and the law." He smiled, that knowing smile of the conspiracy theorist who feels justified in his paranoia. "Who issues these subtly misleading maps? OS - Ordnance Survey - Ordnance , the military!"

He was off. By Bridge of Orchy I'd heard the entire history of Commando training in the Highlands, and Ben Dorain went by unseen as he explained that the memorial above Spean Bridge was deliberately misleading - the men all had their backs turned to Arisaig. By the time he'd worked into the theory the fact that there's a Hydro House by Shiel Bridge, that no paths, tracks, Munros or even Corbetts overlook the centre of Loch Shiel, I'd stopped listening and was looking at Ben Lomond across the loch. So I missed the connection with the SSEB's huge nuclear baseload, and the location of the carefully concealed pumps keeping Loch Shiel artificially low.

I was unusually glad to see Dumbarton approach. "Very interesting" I said as I leapt onto the platform (keeping the "but stupid" to myself). But as I settled down in the local train the thought kept returning: just why do you go uphill from one sea level loch to another'?

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