The Angry Corrie 51: Sep-Nov 2001
Re the letter in TAC50 (p17) about number plates: seen in Spean Bridge on the morning of 18 July, as we set off for Strathpeffer, a metallic blue, left-hand-drive VW beetle bearing NEV 1S. I would hazard a guess that the smartly dressed driver has some connection with the Nevisport ski facility.
On car registrations, WYV 1S (or WYV 15) is on a people carrier belonging to the Wyvis Hotel - I saw it in Dingwall at the end of May.
Andrew Coleman (TAC50, pp16-17) gave the cosy official view on events at Spittal of Glenmuick. Readers should realise he cannot be perceived as impartial, for he is the official scheme's paid manager.
Demonstrating profound ignorance, he wrote: "For those of you who remember, the way in to Lochnagar used to be the long trudge from Easter Balmoral and over the Gelder Shiel. The introduction of the Spittal car park in Glen Muick transformed the situation in the 1970s, enabling visitors to get much closer by car." This is totally incorrect. For many decades before 1970, a public road ran to Spittal and many climbers went there by car, bus or cycle.
When the Spittal visitor centre was proposed in 1974, I wrote that it should be down by the Dee beside Ballater. Those in authority paid no attention and made the same error as the NTS at Ben Lawers. Leaflets and articles promoted Loch Muick heavily, and car congestion followed at peak periods. In 1995-96 the estate and several public bodies began to consider the congestion problem. The group produced inaccurate biased accounts and ignored my criticisms of the bias. Subsequently, they got £600,000 of money, mostly from taxpayers. They used much of it paying for Mr Coleman, his two assistants, and his office and other expenses.
The scene was now set for biased consultation options likely to lead to a phoney outcome. They never took seriously the idea of closing the road. Even on peak days, it could be open to cars in early morning or late evening, or late morning until the car park is full, a method that has worked well abroad. Or, close it except to residents, with a car park at Ballater, which would benefit local folk. Run a shuttle bus and cycle hire with either of these options. The official view ruled a shuttle bus too costly and impractical, requiring much public subsidy, but they gave no evidence that they explored the idea with local bus operators, even though my wife Councillor Jenny Watson wrote that they should. Her comments on this and on removing the visitor centre and other facilities were ignored.
Others who criticised were also ignored, eg the Scottish Countryside Activities Council, who firmly resisted parking charges. At a Ballater "workshop", probing questions by the North East Mountain Trust on why the bus option was dismissed, and by the Cycle Touring Club and particularly the Cairngorm Club on the official group's over-narrow aims, received inadequate, woolly answers. The official mind was set. The car park has since been increased, the group's single silliest act, and parking charges have begun.
In attempting to justify charges, the official view has claimed that cash from charges is needed for path repairs. This is incorrect and highly misleading. For many years before, the Countryside Commission for Scotland and later SNH paid most of the costs, as on other estates.
As in other fussy twee car parks designed by those who like to suburbanise the countryside, snow clearing has been made far more difficult and ineffective. If only these silly people had asked the local man who drives the snow plough and has cleared the car park for years, they would have learned some sense, but they knew best. Again as usual for twee car parks, there is room for only two buses and poor space for buses to turn, whereas an open car park as before would cope with several buses when the car park was not already full with cars.
Lessons from outside Scotland are clear: shut the Spittal visitor centre, remove all signs, picnic tables and footbridges, close bulldozed tracks and reinstate them to footpaths, don't increase the Spittal car park, shut the road partly or wholly as above, have a Ballater car park and visitor centre with a bus to Spittal, and stop paying staff, office and expenses. Simple and rational. But control-freak officialdom prefers to take the Muickey out of taxpayer and hill user, swelling the power of its bossy little empires.
I read the article about the Glen Muick traffic management scheme with a completely open mind. I accept that there'll be those bitterly opposed on principle and those who see this kind of way forward as inevitable.
Living in the bumpy bit of Albion's Plain means that it's a fair expense to travel to the hills I love. I pay that willingly in order to partake of my passion for those hills. On a purely financial basis, a modest parking fee isn't much of an additional burden. I do try to spend in the local economy, and would rather the parking was administered by a group like UDAT than by, say, the local authority. Having an attendant can be a bonus from both a security and a local information standpoint, as well as providing a job in the area.
I've parked at Glen Muick several times, and it has been busy at the popular times. I endorse the decision to plough back takings into mountain infrastructure, but with this proviso: could UDAT publicly announce, and adhere to, the "Unna Rules" presently being flouted by the NTS? That would be innovative and could fit in with path repair, while not easing access beyond that which is already there. A small info board showing where the money is going would also help.
One last thing. Andrew Coleman says that there are 40,000 cars per annum. Given the prices charged, that amounts to (in very broad terms) £75,000 when season tickets are considered. So where does the figure of "up to £20,000 per annum" in takings come in? I can't imagine that UDAT members are paid for their trouble ... so the car-parkie's wages must be good. Gizza job!
All the best,
Arabian Gulf just now
Ed. - I should add my own observations of Glen Muick, as although I've only been up there occasionally these past few years, Deeside was where I started my hillgoing when based in Aberdeen 1981-85. I must have been up the glen around dozen times during that period, mostly at weekends, and although the car park usually contained several cars, neither it nor the road was ever remotely clogged as far as I can recall. I can well imagine that it's considerably busier now - everywhere Munro-linked is, of course - but there didn't seem to be any particular traffic-management problem back in the early 1980s.
Proof-reader adds: I was there at Easter 1993 - no problems.
Back in February, I found myself obstructed on the hill in quite a novel way. I had decided to go for a short walk from Kames at Muirkirk. The plan was to go up the right of way (a Roman road) to the high point, thence cut right up Wardlaw Hill to investigate the memorial marked by the OS [71/688225].
At the top of the road, just as I was about to stride out across the heather, a pickup truck appeared and two guys jumped out. One tooled himself up with a flamethrower and proceeded to set fire to Wardlaw Hill! It was very reminiscent of Duvall's scene in Apocalypse Now.
They apologised for the smoke, but I was somewhat put off the notion of going up the hill not knowing what the flames would be like on the way down. Perhaps TAC readers could contribute other tales of obstacles and obstructions. Napalm strike, for example?
I was shocked and appalled by the scribblings of Gordon "Smith" - clearly not his real name. Before writing this, I swallowed a packet of anti-nausea pills and re-read his original soi-disant book review (TAC47, p3).
It's difficult to relate to the musings of someone who is clearly only marginally more than dimly aware of his own existence, but surprisingly there is one way in which I find myself agreeing with "Smith". He will be reassured to know that he is indeed sad and puerile.
I note that "Smith" believes that "cairns, posts ..." are there to "help people avoid getting lost and dying". As the hills would benefit greatly if certain people would get lost and die, surely this is an argument in favour of removing said artefacts.
I quite like the game of guessing someone's occupation from their writing. Can anyone take part? If so, my guess is that "Smith" serves things in a bun at Burger King.
I have discovered a new way of passing time this summer, while access to the hills is problematic with feet and mouths everywhere. All you have to do is break a leg, which makes the issue of academic interest until such time as you might regain the ability to walk.
While laid up in my sick bed, I have had even more time than usual for pointless mental activity, and have been looking at Ordnance Survey crap (sorry, promotional literature). Has anybody else noticed the new touring maps? For years, the tourist/touring maps have been the last surviving representatives of the one-inch map (a species which otherwise became extinct in 1976). Their numbers were few but have declined steadily even from this low level as some areas were ruthlessly culled (eg all Scottish editions during the 1980s: the old Cairngorms one-inch was a prize specimen which is sadly missed). Dartmoor and Exmoor seem to have become extinct during the 1990s, leaving only a few hardy souls in northern England.
Now, it seems, the last few survivors are on their way out. The new editions of the Lake District and Peak District touring maps are road maps at a scale far reduced from the one-inch, and of far less use to hillwalkers. Surely the North York Moors and those interlopers of curiously recent vintage, the Cotswolds and the Yorkshire Dales, cannot survive much longer.
I know that progress is inevitable and that the Landranger and new Explorer maps should more than compensate for the demise of these grizzled veterans, but am I alone in feeling sad at the loss of such faithful friends without even a decent send-off?
I was fascinated by Chris Pearson's article about "Treble Zero" grid references - combining, as it does, my interests in maps, maths, and tramping around the countryside. My own tally of TZ locations visited is low (zero). The nearest I've got to one is a toss-up between the SK TZ, driving past on the M5, or the TQ TZ (which isn't even on land!) while paddling at the low water mark near Bognor.
Some research has enabled me to pinpoint the positions of two special TZ locations. Firstly, the systematic nature in which the 100km squares of the National Grid are labelled means that it is possible to deduce the grid reference of places beyond the area mapped by the OS. In particular there would be a 100km grid square labelled TZ. A bit of maths and an Excel spreadsheet reveals that the TZ TZ (ie TZ000000) lies at latitude 49 degrees 41 minutes and 30 seconds north, longitude 4 degrees 56 minutes and 10 seconds east. This turns out to be about two miles south of Sedan in France.
Secondly, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland uses a system similar to the British national grid except that their 100km squares are designated by just one letter. A quick scan through the AA Road Atlas of Ireland reveals nine TZ locations on land. One is the bottom left corner of the 100km grid square labelled by the letter O. Consequently there is, at about 1200ft on the northern slopes of Lugnaquillia, a TZ location whose grid reference is O000000.
I know that in these dark times it is sometimes hard to get out and verify facts, what with SNH etc having all these rules (and buckets). But I thought everyone knew that the nice row of stone cottages was built on St Kilda in 1860. And as you claim (TAC50, front cover) that the residents of said cottages clubbed the last great auk to death in 1840, there is a slight historical anomaly.
Another aspect that has caught my attention about these islands is the amount of attention they get. There have been 216 books written about St Kilda, with more being published constantly. There are currently 20 books listed by amazon.co.uk and four maps. This is approximately one book per six feet of Conachair. There must be more books per foot of hill here than anywhere else with the possible exception of Holland.
In my book, truth, accuracy and credibility have always been the foundations on which TAC has been built. I was, therefore, dismayed to see the blatantly revisionist version of history portrayed on the latest cover regarding the demise of the so-called last great auk in Britain. We see the auk about to be clubbed to death on Hirta in the year 1840. In fact the incident actually happened on Stac an Armin and both the year and method of killing are uncertain (the event wasn't documented until the 1880s). There is even some dubiety that it was, in fact, a great auk at all.
The last indisputable great auk to be taken from St Kilda was in 1821. This beast was destined for a museum in Edinburgh and had been kept alive for the journey. Unfortunately for the museum the bird made good its escape in the Firth of Clyde when it slipped from the grasp of the light-house keeper on Pladda. Shortly afterwards, a bird said to be a great auk was found washed up dead at Gourock and it is likely to have been this bird.
Ed. - The washed-up-at-Gourock creature wasn't any kind of auk, great or little; it was Jimmy Johnstone. Easy mistake to make. With regard to the historical/geographical situation on Hirta, Nick Warren had a piece on this in the April 2001 Fortean Times (p48): "The encounter took place in July 1840. They [Malcolm McDonald and a man named McKinnon] found the bird asleep on a ledge of rock and tied its legs together, taking the unfortunate creature back home with them. The size of the bird and the noise it made convinced the men it was a witch. When, on the third day, a great storm arose, they feared it was the witch's vengeance, and decided to kill it. The bird was immensely strong, with a sharp beak, so they had to beat it for an hour with two large stones before it died." Warren adds that the last great auks of all - a breeding pair with a single egg - were killed on 3 June 1844 on Eldey Island off Iceland by Jon Brandsson and Sigourer Isleffson.
Perhaps Andrew McCloy (TAC50, p11) could explain in what Nordic orthography exactly is "Roineval", or does he just prefer it over Gaelic orthography because it is: a) non-Gaelic, or b) in English orthography and thus fitting in with the natural order of things (please quote historical or religious sources).
Stiuiriche/Director, Cli - Na Gaidheil Ura / The New Gaels, Invergordon
I live in one of the current (July/ August) FMD hotspots. In June, the area was swept by rumours that FMD would be with us in a month even though the nearest cases were 40 miles away and they had peaked much earlier in the outbreak. Events were cancelled (including our village sports day) and, sure enough, FMD arrived on schedule. Curious!
I've made many trips to the Highlands this year. Depressingly, I've heard similar rumours that FMD will be found among the upland sheep in October - so as not to affect the stalking season and to allow slaughter and compensation before winter sets in. You have been warned.
TAC50 praised Invercauld Estate for opening early after the blanket shutdown when FMD first appeared. Can I put them back in the black book?
Every time I go to the Cairngorms, I am depressed at the extension of Land Rover tracks. This year's abomination is being pushed down to the Gairn from the Bealach Dearg. It parallels - and at the bottom end takes over - the delightful stalker's path that follows the Allt na Claise Moire. Surely stalkers could leave their vehicles at the hut on the bealach?
I accept that securing and extending access is the most important battle, but if/when that is won, we must press that all existing vehicle tracks are officially logged and new ones can only be cut with planning permission after a proper public consultation exercise.
Distressed to read (TAC49, p15) that the Soil Hill pair of trigs have been broken up - one of them anyway. A fairly close English pair is on Landranger 185: Farleigh Wallop, SU616473 and Farleigh Hill, SU622478 - about 800 metres apart. For the greatest density, how about the cluster north of Spurn Head, inland from Withernsea on Landranger 107?
Where is the most isolated trig - the furthest from another on the mainland? And the largest trig-free zone? - for partners of trigo-maniacs, perhaps.
The Angry Corrie: Could you arrange that your distribution department take our magazine off the list for receiving a complimentary copy of the above. We are having to cut down the amount of unnecessary mail being sent to us.
TAC52: due in December