TAC 38 Index
It happened like this. A couple of years back I climbed Hare Cairn, looked across to Crock, and suppressed a shudder - it was a little bald knob of a summit, surrounded by deep forestry. On my Landranger there was nothing but a pointless scribble of a path marked on the west side, going nowhere. So when I got home I e-mailed our esteemed Ed: Ed, I said, I've just seen your dream hill, and my worst nightmare. Because our Ed is a man who loves nothing better than burrowing through jaggy undergrowth - "I've just been on the hill with Dave Hewitt" is a well-known phrase in Casualty departments up and down the country, generally uttered by folk who are having splintered branches picked out of their faces, or pine needles extracted from under their eyelids.
I, on the other hand, fear and detest the forest: the ludicrously muddy paths that loop around on themselves; the big daft insects that try to fly up your nose; the complete absence of any landmark to navigate by. (I once dived into the forest on Strathfinella Hill in an effort to find the trig point - I walked about twenty yards in what seemed to be a straight line, and then burst back out within a few feet of my entry point.)
So then nothing happened for a while, until the Ed called to say: I need a couple of hundred words on Crock for the next TAC, and you're the man to do it. And so I was, although I did let my forestryphobia run amok slightly: that line about never getting out alive probably wasn't strictly accurate (TAC36, p19). But at least it got it out of my system.
And then I was taken to task by Clem Clements (TAC37, p19). Clearly, he said, I didn't have a Pathfinder of Crock, which showed what looked like easy access from the NNW. Well, no, I don't have a Pathfinder of Crock - I don't have a Pathfinder of anywhere. I fondly imagine that the redoubtable Clem (who authored TACit's Irish Tables) has a map-lined room somewhere, featuring full sets of large-scale OS maps going back to the 1930s. Me, I have a roomful of maps, too, but they're all less relevant to the present problem: I have a tourist map of Mongolia, with Cyrillic labels; I have a map of a valley in Kashmir which consists of a single squiggly line, three place names and the word "brij"; and I have the legendary Icelandic 1:100,000 Sheet 86, which is almost entirely white except for the word Vatnajökull written in very large letters across the middle. But nothing actually useful, like a local Pathfinder.
The problem is that outdoor shops in Dundee seem to disapprove of the Pathfinder series, to the extent of not stocking it at all. But eventually I found the relevant Sheet 296 in a chaotic stack in Waterstone's (immediately under Loch Snizort, for some reason).
Of course Clem is right - there are (appropriately enough) more paths marked on the Pathfinder. But he was wise enough to say that access looked easy "from the map, anyway." For he knows, and I know, and you, Gentle Reader, know full well, how closely these paths are likely to match the real paths on the real hill; and that is ... not at all. They are but a random selection from the firebreaks and tracks that the OS spotted the last time they were in the vicinity (1980, in this case).
Only one resolution was possible, and I did not flinch from it: I went and climbed Crock myself. And I got out alive.
It was nice to find a carpark (grid NO224608), apparently provided for those who enjoy Nordic skiing. (Me, I've always been left with the feeling that I'd get on faster if I didn't have to wear the damn skis.) Then the first bit was a breezy stride along the broad forestry path that runs by the house at Tulloch (equipped with a rather spiffy gazebo looking out over Loch Shandia, I jealously noted). I scared up a heron, too, at pleasingly close quarters. But at almost every step, there were paths of a more-or-less tempting nature cutting off uphill to the right - these would have drawn our Ed away, as the ferret is called by the rabbit-hole. And perhaps one or two of them might get to the top more quickly - but that way lies madness, and a protracted disorientated ramble like something out of an old text-based computer game: "You are in a forest clearing. From here you can go N, NW, W, S, SSE or ENE. You are weeping. Thorin sits down and sings of gold."
Instead, I applied Hutchison's First Law of Forest Survival: Never go anywhere that requires you to crouch to make forward progress. I kept going until 224644, where the Pathfinder marked something fairly substantial - it turned out to be a muddy rut full of hoof-prints, slanting away backwards and upwards. Hutchison's Second Law: Hoof-prints are good - if a horse can get through, you can get through. Onwards.
Well, the damn thing zagged along for a few hundred metres, spawning various other tracks and firebreaks, few of them marked on the map. Then another fairly substantial track crossed it. Could this be the spot that was marked as a T-junction at 228644? I began to pine (no pun intended) for my GPS receiver. But someone had tied a bit of red plastic tape to a branch at the entrance to the right-hand path - at head height. Horse-people had been this way! Onwards again, and the trees closed in on both sides.
I was just formulating Hutchison's Third Law (If the trees tug at your garments, and begin to mutter among themselves with strange words of necromantic power ... flee!) when I tottered out into the sunlight. And, praise be, I was on top of the hill. And that was it.
But perhaps I'm just one of the lucky ones ...
TAC 38 Index