TAC 28: Aug-Sep96

TAC 28 Index

Rhum, Sodhail and Lamlash: 3000 Plus - The Munros

A map compiled / published by Gordon Henderson, ISBN 0 9527381 0 4, #7.95, March 1996.

Reviewed by Alan Blanco

First impressions count for a lot, with maps and books as with people. Slide map out of folder. Feels quite hefty. Ooh, pretty blue colour. Open first fold of map, read first bit of text. It says, "First coulour edition published 1982". Hey, a joke. I'm impressed. But hang on, this isn't TAC, this guy is probably serious. Coulours are things you find in the Alps aren't they? - we only have gullies. And shouldn't it be couloir not coulour? So it's a blunder, right up there at the top, in big letters. And so before I've even opened the second fold, it's lost some credibility. If he can't even get that right, then...

But let's try to be fair. It looks good I reckon, compared to the faded-looking old edition which sways on the wall behind my shoulder as I type this. Details are neat and precise, the coulours are okay, roads and towns are marked. Even the dark-brown shading of the hills is not bad. Aesthetically it seems fine to me. But there's a but coming, and it's going to be a very big one. I start to read a few names from the map. Beinn Alldhobhar. What? Never heard of it. Could it be the name of a bothy? - these are controversially shown as big green houses. Hang on, it couldn't be...? Another name leaps out at me. Beinn Nibheis. That rings a vague bell somewhere. What? Ben Mhurlaig and Stuc a'Chroin? Cruach Ard-roinn? Pull the other one. Beinn Sheasgarnich? Then I see the daftest one of all - Beinn Laomuinn, on the bonny banks of Loch Laomuinn. Is this guy taking the piss? Sadly not. I fear that someone has been taking Gaelic lessons and is keen to share their studies. My own Gaelic is minimal, so I can't comment on the legitimacy of the inventions. However, some things are very clear:

  1. It's not even internally consistent: we get Cairn Toul on the map but Carn an t-sabhail (sic) on the key.
  2. There are so many mistakes in the rest that I have no confidence in the Gaelic translations.
  3. It's half-hearted. Why Ben More Assynt, Ben Mhor on Mull, yet Beinn Mhor and Stob Binnein? Why not go the whole pig and have Glaschu, Dunedin and the rest?
  4. It's a bloody daft thing to do in the first place.

The target audience are surely not Gaelic scholars but Munro baggers who are largely Gaelic-illiterate. Efforts such as this will surely be counter-productive. For once I begin to empathise with the poor Welsh punters who woke up one day to discover they lived in Abertawe, not Swansea as they'd previously thought. Now political correctness has reached new heights, and created a fharcical mhunstrositaidh.

Perhaps I should make my own position clear. I actually make the effort with Scottish hill names. I much prefer Sgor an Lochain Uaine to the out-of-place and English-sounding Angel's Peak. Given time I could probably name almost all the Munros, maybe even spell them, whereas 95% of the baggers I know haven't a clue: they might have done the South Cluanie Ridge, but ask them the names of the hills and they'll look daft at you. "Er ... Craig something?" I'll even have a go at pronouncing BCCB and the like. But Beinn Nibheis? Beinn Laomuinn? Surely Scots are secure enough about keeping their own identity without stupidly imposing it where it doesn't belong.

So I open out the whole map and search for an explanation. There is none, but there is more stupidness. Incredibly, the heights are given only in feet. Yes, it's only about 25 years since the Ordnance Survey started producing metric maps. How many people outside the SMC still use the old one-inch series? Predictably, many of the heights are wrong. Old favourites like Sgiath Chuil and Spidean Coire nan Clach are wrong by the usual 14 and 21 metres. The proliferation of silly names is ridiculous. My antipathy is now running wild and I'm eager to find more stuff to criticise. It's not difficult. I realise that deleted tops are shown on the map, yet they are indistinguishable from other tops unless you happen to have Superperson vision or an X-ray spectrometer or something. They seem to be called "Declassified Munros" which is just wrong. Most have never been Munros; they're deleted tops. They are shown in some arbitrary order which allocates the Monadh Liath to the "South West Area". They are apparently "included for the Munro enthousiast" (sic). The key to symbols talks about "Munro Mountains" - a strange phrase. Then there is "Area Reference" B52 stuff like you get in A-Zs. I wonder what's wrong with using a system based on grid references.

There is some helpful advice on using bothies: "N.B. The existence and condition of bothies change continually. Please check carefully before setting out." So how do we do that then? Phone up Bothy Central help desk for the latest status report?

All right, so I'm a nit-picking perfectionist, a member of the Premier League of cartographic pedants. After all, the map looks nice and could possibly be some use to someone. But it is only a single sheet of paper. Is it too much to expect the author or publisher to check the thing before printing thousands of expensive full-colour copies? It's clearly a competitive market, as this is the third of these things I've seen recently. All three get their heights wrong (can't blame them, they believed the SMC), but this one is by far the most irritating and error-strewn, and at #7.95 by far the most expensive. Although 50p is promised to the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, this good cause is being used to sell a poor product. Don't fall for it. If you want a Munros-and-Tops map, buy the Bartholomew's one for #3.99 and stick a couple of pounds in the next mountain rescue tin you come across. If you want the Corbetts as well, buy the Harveys one for #5.99 and you'll still have enough left for a donation. If you really do want one with peculiar names, with deleted tops looking the same as current tops, with heights only in feet not metres, and with the Monadh Liath in the South West, then I reckon your name is Gordon Henderson.

By the way Gordon, should you ever read this, I'd like to make clear that it's nothing personal. I just think you've made a bit of an arse of your map, that's all. It doesn't mean I think you're a bhad person.

TAC 28 Index