TAC 41 Index
It is a little-known fact that the inventor of the Scottish hills, Sir H Munro, had a sister. It was during research for an Introduction, when rather than plunder the depths of Hamish Brown once more I decided that the only way forward was to read at the Bodleian, that I first encountered this intrepid and thoroughly Victorian lady.
In common with most unmarried Victorian ladies of a certain temperament, Sir H's sister was a rampant traveller, who appears in the course of a longish life to have been everywhere that mattered, often in later years encountering Dame Freya going in while she was coming out. Amazingly, very little of her travels were recorded; whether this was through disinterest in posterity or because her MSs were otherwise used, we shall never know.
It is only where her career impinges on that of her brother that some degree of certainty over her exploits can be entertained. She is likely to have been the last, perhaps the only, to climb Carn Cloche Merle before its deletion. There is a suggestion that she was the first woman to ride her Old Retainer on top of the Ben; there must, however, be some doubt over this, not through any lack of faith in her physical ability, but because of the skirts. The "benefits of a good thick skirt", so much proclaimed by others of her ilk, would have been a positive disadvantage in these circumstances.
What can be said with some certainty is that she was the first to take Sir H to task over his choice of mountains. In one strongly worded note she makes her objection quite clear: "Why, in Heaven's name", she cries, "have you included so many of those Mounth pillocks in your list?" There may be, I think, a mis- reading here, but her intention is clear.
However, what this intrepid lady was undoubtedly best at was propelling boats. This pastime she evidently saw as her prime pleasure, and she is believed to have participated on waters as far and wide as Loch nan Eun and Lochan Uaine, and on rivers from Ae to Exe. Indeed the sole reason I have any idea of her appearance is because, although she got around, there is only one blurred sepia print of a shape standing on another shape. This might have been a photograph of a Loch Ness monster, were it not for the scribbled message on the back: Aunty Mun - rowing.
Not a lot to work from perhaps, but, found early in my researches, enough to give that frisson the true academic needs to push on into strange new worlds. As an interim measure, to establish my credentials (and my claim), I wrote a small paper and placed it in one or two climbing journals. Here was where the problem arose, proof-reading not always being such periodicals' strong point, and it is the consequence of this which exercises me today.
A few weeks after publication I began to get some feedback when slipping into hostelries for a well- earned half, and letting slip who I was. But it was a strange sort of feedback, not at all what I had hoped for. People kept coming up, slapping me on the back, insisting on buying me another half, and telling me what a wonderful idea I'd had, and how it had changed their whole outlook to a day on the hill. I was of course mystified, but grateful for the drinks (if slightly befuddled), and not overly concerned, at least for a time.
But now I know what is going on, and it has to stop. At once, before the whole ethos of the hill is lost forever. It was on a Geal Charn that I first noticed it, then on another, and most recently on Creag Pitridh and Tom Buidhe. Thank Munro it cannot happen on all hills, only those which are the proper (or, in the circumstances, improper) shape. It would be difficult, for instance, on Schiehallion or Macdui - though not, I suppose, if things became bad enough, impossible. What is it? It takes the form of small groups climbing to within three hundred feet of a summit, apparently intent upon capture, then carefully contouring, making no further effort to gain height, before moving on after perhaps a quarter or a half circuit, without a backward glance, with not even the pretence of a tick!
It was this repeated sight that sent me anxiously back to my copy of The Periodical. And there it was, another example of appalling proof-readign, and an example to us all that those who wish to destroy valued traditions will stoop to anything, even to the extent of disregarding the whole tenor of an article and clamping on to one wayward line. There, beneath an awful reproduction of my admittedly awful photograph, is the misprint that has set in being this dreadful pastime I now find on hill after hill. One line, that's all it takes, one small line reading, instead of Aunty Mun - rowing, the terrible Anti-Munroing.
TAC 41 Index