The Angry Corrie 49: Apr-May 2001

TAC 49 Index

Nor any drop to drink: Val Hamilton reviews The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way by Jacquetta Megarry.

Published by Rucksack Readers, 2000, 64pp, ISBN 1 898481 09 1, 9.99

A WALKERS' GUIDEBOOK which states that a map is an optional extra is not aimed at me. But the walk that this guidebook describes is probably not for me either, except that a couple of miles of it make up my scenic route to the shop these days. In fact, this Rucksack Reader is not really for walkers at all, it is for West Highland Wayers and no assumption is made that such folk even possess a pair of boots, never mind know how to read a map. Over half of WHWers come from outwith Scotland and many of these will be from beyond the UK. A handy single volume obviat-ing the need to buy maps could be very attractive to this market. So, looked at it in these terms, does this guide deliver?

Made from waterproof paper and ring-bound, it is a bit larger than an OS map, so will not fit in a standard map pocket. The cover is a dingy orange colour: it looks as though it has been left in a shop window too long or maybe the photo was taken during a lunar eclipse. Strangely, if the market is European, measurements are solely imperial. As one of that confused generation who do height in feet but distance in kilometres, I found this surprisingly frustrating and certainly old-fashioned. (I'm the other way around: height in metres, distance in miles - Ed.)

The first half is background - basic, standard stuff on gear and accommodation, potted history and wildlife. TGO's photo editor will be disappointed to learn that 'dress among hikers is always informal'. While map, com-pass and torch are merely desirable, I was startled to see water purification tablets listed as essential. It seems that 'Don't drink the water' is the official advice appearing on the WHW website. This concerns me: I would have thought the risk of dehydration would outweigh that of stomach bugs. I have never been ill after drinking water on the hill, though I always make sure I take it from a burn with a reasonable flow. Have I just been lucky or is the situation changing? Or are we seeing an over-application of the pre-cautionary principle with the nanny state reaching the hills?

The other half of the book is a 'step-by-step' guide to the route, and there is a fold-out 1:100,000 strip-map at the back. Given the absence of contours, I would expect more from 'step-by-step' instructions than to read that the ascent of Conic Hill is: 'a climb of perhaps 500 feet'. The guidance on the far-from-obvious route out of the fleshpots of Balmaha and back on to the path is of limited use: 'Follow the B road past the bay until it gives out.' Gives out what? A subtle signal from the tarmac that on the OS map (which you don't have) it has changed from brown to yellow?

I was also puzzled by the advice that the less confident should avoid the section north from Inversnaid by walking up the west coast. Once I realised this meant the west side of Loch Lomond along the A82 rather than a major expedi-tion round Argyll, I felt that a hint that there is no footpath along this busy road would have been helpful.

Under normal circumstances I would not get involved in the TAC debate on teachers, but the issue is relevant. Having carefully read the back cover biog, I note that Ms Megarry's career has 'focused on education and training'. I was therefore shocked to read the following: 'Note on pronunciation: the 'y' in Drymen is short (Drimmen), whereas the 'y' in Tyndrum is long (Tine-drum): don't ask why.' Don't ask why? Ours but to do the WHW and die? I thought that attitude to life went out with the tawse. I know space is tight in a work like this, but the explanation is quite neat, with the 'Drym' and the 'drum' both deriving from druim, ridge, while 'Ty' is the familiar taigh for house. Not hard to grasp, surely. But perhaps those who follow the waymarks of the WHW want exercise only for their legs not their brains, and maybe the author does indeed know her target audience - which probably won't include many TAC readers.

TAC 49 Index