TAC 46 Index
With relatively little in this TAC about the categorisation of hills into lists, now seems a good time for an esoteric query to be aired. It's a bit difficult to explain concisely, as it includes at least two variables, but is basically this: which is the most popular / much-loved / well-known hill in Scotland (or even Britain) not to appear in any hill list? A corollary could even be added: which of these hills is the furthest from ever appearing in any future hill list?
Some examples are required, by way of explanation. By "lists", we're not just talking Munros or even Corbetts. The term should be taken to include Munros, Munro Tops, Corbetts, Corbett Tops, Grahams, Docharties, New Donalds, Old Donalds and Tops, Hewitts, Nuttalls, Deweys, county tops, plus of course Marilyns and the even more rigorously inclusive Yeamans. "Sub" lists, too, those hills less than 10 metres short of any category. Small single-summit islands might well suggest them- selves as easy winners of the prize, but not if Haswell-Smith's The Scottish Islands is regarded as a hill list - which it is, sort of, as it has strict inclusion criteria, albeit of area rather than height. And if this is a hill list, then all manner of sea stacks - which Haswell-Smith invariably mentions - are subsidiary tops. (Off-mainland stacks such as Am Buachaille could however be considered.)
Various unpublished "extreme" lists would be excluded from the canon, notably John Kirk's Big Mountain List (500m height with 20m drop, 4538 summits total) and Andrew Allum's British Hills, Volume One: The Islands of Scotland (30m height, 10m drop, 6566 summits).
So what are the contenders? Three Scottish hills immediately spring to mind: Ben A'n, Mither Tap of Bennachie, and Clachnaben. It is of course impossible to objectively assess which of these is the "best loved", or "most well-known", although your editor's view would be that Mither Tap is one of the ten best loved summits in the country, regardless of lists and such like. However, the "near-miss" aspect can be cartographically tested. Ben A'n, 461m high, is prevented from being both a Marilyn and a Yeaman by 564m Meall Gainmheich to the north. The drop to the col lacks a spot height on either the Landranger or Superwalker, but is small, of the order of 15m.
The great north-eastern landmark of Mither Tap, 518m, is "cancelled out" by 528m Oxen Craig to the west, and here the drop is a more substantial 90m or so. Clachnaben (which, along with Mither Tap, appears in Kirk's list) is a tricky customer: it is the near-summit tor that makes it so prominent, rather than the 589m hilltop. (There is also a trig, at 579m.) Here the drop to the next top, Hill of Edendocher, is just over 50m, but Hill of Edendocher is itself unlisted and the ridge undulates for around 7km until finally rising to a cancelling Corbett, Mount Battock.
Get the idea? Another major contender is Dumgoyne, the "thumb" on the end of the Campsies (and recently trashed - see page 19 for more on this). Then there is Tom Weir's hill, Duncryne aka the Dumpling. Simply too small at 142m to be anything other than a SubMarilyn (which it isn't), but much loved and very prominent all the same. Or what about 397m Beinn a'Bhragaidh, the statuesque hill above Golspie? Although hardly "loved", this has a drop of under 50m to the rarely climbed (but pleasant) parent summit of Beinn Lunndaidh.
And what of An Stac on Skye's Cuillin ridge, or the Old Man of Storr (both of course in Allum)? Or Dundee Law? Or the lower two Eildons? Or, down on the Plain, hills such as Parlick, the scenic arm of Fair Snape Fell? The - er - list is endless, but what could and should come top?
And while on the subject, what should "Ben A'n" be called? It never seems quite right to write that - like a lingering relic of Victoriana - and while Ben An and Ben A'an are also seen, they never seem satisfactory, either. Should there be a return to the pre-Scott Am Binnein?
Speaking of the great Tom, an interesting piece entitled "The Map Makers", in the April issue of The Scots Magazine shows that the old campaigner still has his finger on various pulses. TAC45 discussed the recent outbreak of "monument" plaques on selected Ordnance Survey trig points and fundamental bench marks and wondered as to the identity of "the OS's crack plaque-fixing outfit". Well, Tom has met the fella: "I had just arrived on top of the same wee hill with the wide panoramic view [Duncryne, of course], when I was joined by a man who dumped his heavy rucksack at the pillar, and as he looked around while getting his breath back, he explained that he was an Ordnance Surveyor and his job was to bore four holes on the east side of the pillar and screw on a plaque. He had come from Southampton, and would be going to some of the remote islands to do the same job."
Well, well. Annoyingly, Tom doesn't mention the man's name - very out of character, that. But all the same, scoop is the word. There is immediately a new mystery. Does the plaqueman always screw his plaque to the east side of the trig, as implied by the article? If so, what's that all about? Is it a Muslim thing, some kind of homage to Mecca?
The question of trig plaques first hit these pages in the context of the annual quiz, and there has been a development with regard to an earlier quiz question - from the 1997/8 torment. In TAC35, p5, we asked quizzers to complete a quotation, said to be from Ernest Hemingway: "There are only three true sports: bull-fighting, mountain- climbing, and -; the rest are merely games." The answer was motor-racing - the quote had cropped up during the previous year in a newspaper article about Formula One - and TAC36 duly suggested that it came from Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway's 1932 book on bull-fighting.
Your editor, in his youth, read all Hemingway's published work, including Death in the Afternoon, but must admit that this quote was not seen on a swiftish flick through in the aftermath of the quiz. Over two years on, it's hard to recall the exact circumstances, but the "1932" attribution was almost certainly made on the basis that the newspaper source mentioned the book.
Slipshod research has a habit of coming back to haunt you, so there was an air of "I know what this is about" when Josh Silverstein's out-of-the-blue email appeared. Silverstein, of the Massachusetts-based website Timeless Hemingway, had seen TAC's website and wrote: "I am wondering if you possibly have a source for this quotation. I am intrigued because you have included a date on the quote. Death in the Afternoon was published in 1932, but I do not believe the quote can be found there. Any enlightenment you can offer would be greatly appreciated."
A couple of mail-swaps later, he added: "This particular quotation has eluded me for years, so any time I see the slightest clue, I immediately follow up on it. The quote is so intriguing for it doesn't sound like Hemingway, at least not the early Hemingway, who did not believe bullfighting was a sport. He clearly states this in his 1923 article 'Bull Fighting - a Tragedy' and reiterates the belief throughout Death in the Afternoon. I can honestly say that this is the most widely received query at my Hemingway quote-finder service. I just can't place it. Whatever measures you can take to find a source are extremely appreciated."
So, does anyone know where the words originate? Some obscure-but-genuine Hemingway source, or an urban-myth-type false attribution? Contact TAC, or mail Josh Silverstein direct at email@example.com
TAC 46 Index