TAC 49 Index
Usually, neither knowing nor caring about the definition of a Marilyn, I simply yawn and flick past the mathematical fantasies that delight so many TAC contributors. But imagine the frisson as I skimmed Grant Hutchison's 'Too low for zero' (TAC48, pp14-15) - five minutes of fame for my little island home!
So I really do feel rotten telling you this - you can walk across the Clachan Sound at a spring ebb. You'll need wellies and an anticyclone, but there's no four-metre cleft, only mud.
Meall a'Chaise is still a lovely walk - meet you here any time.
Isle of Seil
A mid-February day out in search of spring and some Marilyns in Mid Lorn gave me the chance to confirm Grant Hutchison's fears that 'Even if the Atlantic withdrew right off the continental shelf, Seil still might not turn into a Marilyn'. Returning from the delightful Beinn Mhor, I splashed across the northern end of Clachan Sound with the water barely above my ankles - and it was not even a low spring tide.
Not that this detracts at all from Seil: the sunset view over Easdale was stunning. As for Beinn Mhor, the moss-covered screes of the bluebell woods below the summit cliffs far surpass many bigger hills for roughness and sense of isolation, shut off from the mainland with a clear sea-view to the Garvellachs and the wild south coast of Mull.
Ed. - I can confirm James' assessment of Beinn Mhor (194m, OS49/798215). I climbed lots of hills last year, but few lovelier than this.
Having read the piece on the Dumgoyne stone in TAC48 (p13), I began to wonder if the gentleman who bawled at me as I approached Dumgoyne Hill last August was in fact Sir Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath. Perhaps not. Anyway, he was dressed in a deer-stalker cap and the regulation plus-fours. 'I say! Where are you going?', roared the plummy voice. I informed him of my intention to climb Earl's Seat. He instructed me to keep clear of the woods since they were shooting there that day. I looked over to my left and noted several well armed individuals standing around a couple of Range Rovers. Flak jackets, green wellies and stylish flat caps were the order of the day.
I decided to skirt Dumgoyne Hill. For most of the walk I could hear the sound of sporadic shotgun fire from the woodlands below. I assumed that some species of wildlife was being cleanly and humanely obliterated.
On the way back from Earl's Seat I decided to avoid my route of ascent and any possible confrontation with the deer-stalkered one, by aiming for High Lettre Farm and then walking along the A875 Killearn road towards Dumgoyne Distillery. As I was passing a house noted on the OS map as 'Westerton', I was horrified to see an injured pheasant with wings trailing on the ground. It was struggling to get clear of the road and seek the sanctuary of a nearby hedgerow.
Another badly injured bird was frantically trying to escape my approach by struggling up the driveway of the Westerton residence. I saw a total of six pheasants on the walk back to my car. Four were terminally injured and two were stone dead - shapeless piles at my feet. All of the creatures were located at least two kilometres from Blairgar Wood where the 'sharp' shooters had been at work earlier in the day. A case of 'one for the pot' and goodness knows how many slowly dying in the surrounding countryside.
As regards the Dumgoyne stone, I have been on Dumgoyne many times, and without the benefit of a cairn or indicator. For the record I am totally opposed to the despoliation of its summit with plaques, indicators and concrete. My heart bleeds for those 'who struggle to the top' and are then unable to identify the surrounding landscape features. Get a map!
TAC48 (p15) speaks of maps and compasses as 'genuine essentials'. Yes, but I've recently been reminded when and why maps can mislead. It all depends on the terrain and the route. Maps are two-dimensional, obviously: a globe wouldn't be too handy in the average rucksack. Researching data for my recent Kili-manjaro walking book, I was puzzled to find huge discrepancies in the stated length of the Machame route, ranging from 80 to 130 kilometres.
After a few wasted hours with a trundle wheel and the three largest-scale maps I could find, I realised my stupid mistake: maps show a plan view, so will understate the distance travelled whenever the vertical distance is significant. The steeper the route, the greater the error. Since the Machame route has long stretches at an average gradient of 33% on loose scree which most people have to traverse from side to side, the map understates the lateral distance as well as ignoring the vertical dimension.
Maps are potentially unreliable even where gradients are not extreme: take our own dear West Highland Way, for example. Even the largest scale walking map would lead you to believe that the low-lying path along Loch Lomond-side, never rising above the 50m contour, is easier going than, say, the Devil's Staircase which takes you 260m above Altnafeadh before descending to Kinlochleven.
Those who have walked from Inversnaid to Ardleish know better. Especially in the wet, the rocky rise-and-fall of the lochside path is not only longer than the 'bird's eye view' map would suggest. It is also much more tiring because you are constantly ascending and descending, though not in large enough lumps to show up on a mere map.
Since your average walking speed is determined more by your slower stages than the faster ones, any attempt to estimate walking time from mapwork alone is prone to over-optimism. Don't get me wrong: I love maps and use them a lot. It's just taken me a while to work out how and why they can mislead.
Jacquetta Megarry, Dunblane
Ed. - Read Val Hamilton's review of Jacquetta's West Highland Way book on page 9.
I write having read with interest an announcement in your fanzine archive at http://bubl.ac.uk/org/tacit/tac/tac28/productr.htm, headed 'Product Recall Notice' and men-tioning our Outdoor Leisure Map No.38 covering Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. Although the item is somewhat old now, I'm sure you will agree with me that it is equally as accessible as any other current item on the Internet.
Although the recall announcement is a spoof, we accept it does raise an interesting issue about summits and which of them are shown and labelled on our maps. Readers may be interested to know that by March 2002, OLM38 will be updated and republished with new sheet lines. It is also intended to include all Munros on our new Ex-plorer series of maps. Unfortunately I cannot guarantee that the 'all important' summit heights will be added, but if they can, they will.
To help us with the task of map revision, it might be more beneficial for your readers and colleagues to pass on the type of information that is shown in your letters section to us here at Ordnance Survey Head Office. We appreciate that we are not perfect, and that from time to time errors will occur in our mapping. We also accept our responsibility as the national mapping agency and aim to provide our customers with the best possible products. Your correspondents could help us achieve this.
I hope you will feel able to assist us.
Ian Budd, OS, Southampton
Ed. - Good plan. Please don't write to Ian himself however - it's not really his field - but to: FAO Mapping Intelligence Section, Room C626, Romsey Rd, South-ampton, SO16 4GU. And keep TAC posted too, of course.
Just got the latest bumf from the OS. Looks like Outdoor Leisure sheet 39 is to be split in half to form Explorers 364 (Loch Lomond North) and 347 (South), released this spring. Arran is also changing from OL37 to Ex361 by summer, while it looks like OL3 (Cairngorms) will become Ex403 (Cairn Gorm and Macdui) and Ex404 (Braemar, Tomintoul, Glen Avon), again due in the spring. Are we to assume that Nevis/Coe and Cuillin/Torridon will go the same way? What are they doing? Is there is an implication that these areas do not conform to the requirements of Outdoor Leisure maps ('popular destinations ... ideal for outdoor activities ... walking, climbing ... areas of outstanding natural beauty', etc)? If so, I would tend to disagree. Of course a cynic (not me!) might argue that splitting a map in two is a good way of increasing sales. I'm sure this won't have crossed their minds.
That being said, there is no new topographical info on the new maps, just 'selected tourist inform-ation' (think purple). So why not stock up on the (relatively) better priced OLs while they're still around?
While we're at it, maybe someone could answer the following:
Kevin McGovern, Guildford
Ed. - Sounds like an immediate candidate for the OS request for input. Incidentally, Rob Woodall reports that there are a couple of non-OS Isle of Man 1:25k sheets, produced by the Department of Local Government and Environment. They're apparently of fairly poor quality with a contour interval of 100ft.
I remember reading correspondence a few years ago concerning Loch Loch and Beinn Ben. I have swum in Loch Loch (and in Loch Skeen for that matter), but am desperately trying to locate Beinn Ben. Please, please, where is Ben Ben, Beinn Ben, or whatever? Please.
Andrew R Nelson, Lanark
I think I may have discovered a previously unnoticed Munro. On the website of Lynwilg House (http://homepages.tesco.net/~lynwilghouse/) it states that 'Approximately two miles south of Aviemore, Lynwilg is situated on high ground overlooking [sic] the Cairngorm Mountains...'. Something to look out for the next time I zoom past on the A9.
Harry Hutchinson, Malvern
I was recently in Canada, at the Banff Mountain Literature Festival, and seized a couple of fine days to snatch a couple of local peaks. In so doing I came across an interesting example of cultural diffusion...
Readers will be aware of Harkabir Thapa, the Gurkha who ran up Glamaig in 1899 from the Sligachan Hotel and back in 75 minutes. His word was doubted by Macleod of Macleod (hazard a guess why...) and Harkabir set off again, doing the feat in 55 minutes. This record stood until the initiation of the now-annual Glamaig race in the 1980s, though no one has emulated Hark-abir's achievement of doing Glamaig in bare feet. (For more on this, see Ian's piece on Harkabir in Scotsman Outdoors, 3/7/99 - Ed.)
There is a mountain above Canmore in the Rockies which is as high in metres as is Glamaig in feet, but, since Canmore is at a greater altitude than the summit of Ben Nevis, the height gain for both peaks is not dissimilar. Until recently, the mountain was called Chinaman's Peak, but it has now been named after the man, Ha Ling, a local miner, who first ascended it a century ago. Ha Ling's word was doubted (again, speculate why...), and he set off once more, climbing the peak a second time and lighting a fire on the summit as proof .
We live in more enlightened days, but the coded language of doubt - in which, for example, Indian and Chinese claims of mountaineering success are still at times mentioned - shows that the reasons why the word of a Gurkha and a Chinaman were doubted have not entirely left us.
With best wishes,
Ian R Mitchell, Glasgow
Despite not being an expert on ovine psychology, I'd take issue with Warbeck's comment (TAC47, p19): 'The child-sheep, which should have been the stupider...'. I would suggest that in areas like this the ewe actually teaches the lamb stupidity, eg last year I was in the common situation of walking along a track with sheep in front. As usual, they ran off down the track, repeatedly stopping and staring, then racing along again. One lamb appeared to be saying (by edging off the side) 'all we need to do is stand aside until he walks past', only to be told 'don't be silly, if we keep running and staring back he will go away.' Eventually the lambs seem to lose such wisdom.
Ken Stewart, Coatbridge
I'd like to visit Barra and its satellite islands this summer. The focus of the trip would be to spend two days visiting the five small Marilyn islands to the south. I envisage two boat-days (not necessarily consec-utive): one would involve Muldoanich, Sandray and Pabbay, the other Mingu-lay and Berneray, aka Barra Head.
I've made a firm booking (as firm as things get in the Hebrides) with John Allan MacNeil of Castlebay for Sun 29 and Mon 30 July. Nine places (of 12) are definitely taken, with several other folk interested. A full boatload would cost £20 per person per day.
The trip will be subject to the weather - so, while we ought to get one day's sailing, two might not prove possible. If the weather is poor and JAM is not fully booked, we can hopefully juggle days. I don't think there's a way of making it more certain. Going for all five islands in a day is unlikely to succeed, and anyway they deserve better. (Also, as the islands are rarely visited, the Outer Hebridean plant recorder is keen to get an update on the flora.)
The most efficient mode of travel is probably a CalMac Hopscotch (Oban-Barra-South Uist-Skye). In 2000 this cost £121/car + £29/ person. I would reckon to take the Saturday 1450 sailing from Oban to Barra. As regards accommodation, the options are camping, car/van, B&B, self-catering. As six of the nine booked so far tend to use wheeled accommodation, and I might sneak off to Uist on the Wed, I'm not sure how viable self-catering would be; but if someone fancied feeding back info, please do so.
Anyone keen to come should contact me asap: email@example.com, or 73 Muskham, Bretton, Peterborough PE3 9XX.
Ed. - I spent a wonderful few days in these parts last April, and stayed in a fine B&B: Chrissie and Niall MacPherson, Aros Cottage, Buaile nam Bodach, Barra, HS9 5UT, 01871 890355, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please allow me to make two apol-ogies regarding my review in TAC47 of Richard Gilbert's Lonely Hills and Wilderness Trails: firstly, to TAC readers for the inaccuracy of the second paragraph of the review; secondly, to Mr Gilbert himself, whose distress and anguish at being mistaken for a maths teacher are completely understandable.
I must, however, take issue with some of the assertions Mr Gilbert makes in his rather intemperate response (TAC48, p16). He claims, for example, that the dust cover of his tome reveals that he was a chemistry teacher: without wishing to excuse my error, or hide behind a cloak of pedantry, I would submit that it does no such thing. (It says that he 'read chemistry at Oxford' - Ed.)
He says that my review is 'largely an unpleasant and ill informed diatribe against maths teachers'; now, I'm (obviously) no mathematician, but a couple of clicks on the computer word-count reveal that only circa 18% of the review is an unpleasant and ill-informed diatribe against maths teachers; 15% of it is a pernicious and bigoted attack on cairn-kickers; and 66% is serious and, I believe, fair comment on the content, style and opinions of the book. Mr Gilbert may well disagree with what I say, but he can have little complaint about the length at which I say it: roughly 650 words of serious review is more than he would get in most magazines.
Mr Gilbert's complaint regarding my failure to appreciate his comedy writing is interesting, given that my review specifically pointed out and praised a 'really good gag'. Perhaps I have, however, underestimated Mr Gilbert's skill with irony: his trumpeting of his own self-deprecation is masterly. In his response Mr Gilbert also, helpfully, provides a list of all the funny bits in his book: TAC readers will doubtless wish to cut this out and keep it (perhaps as a bookmark) for reference when reading their own copy of Lonely Hills.
As for the tone of Mr Gilbert's response, I must accept that I am a big boy, and cannot really complain when I am the subject of auctorial retaliation: I would however point out that the only ad hominem comments I made on Mr Gilbert himself were that he was (a) a maths teacher, and (b) inconsistent in his policy regarding paint-marks on hills. In response he calls me monumentally ignorant, arrogant, a hypocrite, bigoted and pernicious. This seems an extreme reaction to a tongue-in-cheek attack on mathematicians: perhaps it was the more serious analysis which stung him?
Ah well, what can you expect from bloody chemistry teachers, with their god-awful smelly liquids and white coats with peculiar stains and experiments that never bloody work and their wee bits of litmus paper that are supposed to turn blue or red or some bloody colour but don't; why don't they do something useful like alchemy... (contd, page 94).
Gordon Smith, Kilmarnock
PS - I don't know what happened to the other 1%.
TAC 49 Index