The Angry Corrie 54: Jul-Aug 2002
Dear Auntie Corrie,
(Hey, less of that - Uncle Ed.)
Whilst watching the very agreeable new print of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 - A Space Odyssey at our local arthouse cinema a few months ago, I was startled by an amazing flash of déjà vu during the famous psychedelic sequence (the bit which is supposed to depict Astronaut Dave's entry into the Jovian atmosphere in his shuttle craft). Out of the stygian clouds I could have sworn I witnessed the summit of a funkily tinted Ben Nevis, together with Tower and Castle Ridges and the purple and orange magnificence of the Allt a'Mhuillin. The last time I saw the Ben in this hallucinogenic condition was after 15 hours on the Orion Face with only half a maltloaf for sustenance. On this occasion I swear I hadn't dropped any acid, hadn't puffed the mildest of recreational narcotics, nor even so much as sniffed a freshly unwrapped Soreen.
So the only conclusion I could reach was that Kubrick was a secret bagger - and that the much-debated "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" section of the film was in fact the famously eremitical auteur's special way of coming out of the closet. Sadly, no one seems to have noticed. Perhaps other films in Kubrick's canon might repay closer inspection for similarly masonic hill references.
On a related note, has anyone ever noticed the familiar hill profile filling the perspex cockpit bubble of the Lancaster bombers as each aircraft pulls up steeply from its bombing run on the Ruhr Dams during the climax of The Dam Busters? It's the Langdale Pikes. No wonder Barnes Wallis failed to shorten the war - he must have been bouncing his bombs down Windermere instead of Germany's industrial heart (although some would say that if this resulted in the destruction of Ambleside's new outdoor retail mall complex it could only be a good thing). Interestingly, the special effects team brought together for The Dam Busters also worked on 2001.
And another thing: 633 Squadron. Is it Glen Avon that the Mosquitoes keep crashing into while practising? And does anyone know of other celebrity hill locations posing as extras in blockbusters?
Colin Wells, Dyce
David "Kermode" McVey replies:
I would refer the Honourable Member for Dyce to the estimable article "Munros in the Movies" from TAC16 - this will answer some of his questions. Indeed, Kubrick did use footage of the Ben for the Jupiter landing sequence of 2001 - A Space Odyssey, along with some of Rannoch Moor, the Outer Hebrides and bits of Arizona. You can also see Rannoch Moor standing in for the Adriatic Coast in the helicopter action sequence of From Russia With Love (with, later, Loch Linnhe as the Adriatic itself: and you thought the Bond movies were big budget?)
I don't know if Kubrick was a Munrobagger per se. However, for his commitment to mountain conservation, see his stinging satire on NTS practices on Ben Lawers, Paths of Glaur, with Kirk Douglas.
There are many examples of Scottish hills acting in film and TV. The Buachaille Etive Mor played the Andes in Ripping Yarns: Across the Andes by Frog, Slackdhu in the Campsies was Zululand in Monty Python's Meaning of Life and the happily drug-free Leum Uilleim played itself in Trainspotting.
Glen Avon in 633 Squadron? That I can't confirm. But it's a grand excuse to dig out the video again. All together now, dada dada dada...
Chris Tyler adds: My brother Paul (who lived in Harris for 20-odd years) says that part of 2001 was filmed in Glen Cravadale, LR13/0213.
I enjoyed reading Dewi Jones' article on maps (TAC53, p2). It brought back good memories. Most of my first Munro ascents were done 20-30 years ago using the one-inch maps. The hills looked easier on these: fewer cliffs were shown. For example, compare Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan on the one-inch sheet 26 with it on Landranger 25. It looks much easier on the one-inch map. So, some 30 years ago, I had no hesitation in setting out, alone, from Loch Affric to climb it under appalling weather conditions. The wind and heavy rain continued all day and it was only on the way down from the summit that I met another walker. I'll never forget his greeting: "Och, you're another bloody masochist." Also, the one-inch maps fitted better into a pocket.
Among my valued possessions are a few of the wonderful cloth folded maps costing 2/6 (121/2p). I have the 1918 edition of Llandudno and Denbigh which had been my grandfather's, and the 1932 edition of the Stoke on Trent area, my father's local map.
Times have changed. Each of these maps, on their front cover, shows a cyclist studying a map while smoking his pipe. On some of the older Irish maps, the front cover shows a car parked in the middle of the road with a couple studying a map spread over the bonnet.
Rowland Bowker, Portinscale
I was just about to buy a full set of the "new" OS Explorer maps for Perthshire, available from January 2002, to replace my tattty torn specimens. It was only then that I discovered these are based on the last survey of 1979, and therefore all bulldozed tracks made in the last 20-odd years are not included. I checked this with one or two tracks I have been tripping over for some years now, and complained to OS, who confirmed my findings. This applies to the Landranger maps as well. At £6.99 per Explorer it looks like a rip-off to me. I told the OS that I am not buying them.
There could be many miles of uncharted tracks, eg Glen Lyon, Glen Quaich, Glen Tilt, to name but a few. It looks like a horror story. The maps claim to be revised, but this could mean a new picnic site has been added to the previous printed map version. This could mean that the whole of Scotland has not been resurveyed since 1979. It would be interesting to know what is going on at OS, or what is not going on, as the case may be.
Mike Thewlis, Perth
Dr McSharkie's illuminating article (TAC53, p5) brought back fond (if distant) memories. Acid has a long pedigree in the hills. Back in 1974 I attended Keele University for a bit - until they threw me out for some pettifogging bureaucratic reason involving exams. As a dedicated "freak", the "rugger buggers" were mostly mortal enemies, but I got on well with one giant Welsh bloke who told me that he and his friends used to drop a few tabs and then whizz up the Brecon Beacons for a laugh. The image of running into a great mob of huge, totally tripped-out rugby players on top of a hill has stayed with and kept me off the Beacons ever since. Other friends took acid and met hobbits on the top of Scafell Pike. At least they thought they did - I always suspected they met some very small hippies, myself.
In the interests of encouraging responsible outdoor behaviour, I should share this cautionary tale told to me over a very good burgundy (Robert Sirague's Grands Echezeaux 1989, since you ask). The teller of the tale works as an editor for a beardie bloke not unconnected with trains that don't work, so I will conceal his identity under the name of Sid.
New to the Highlands, last August Sid decided to sample the delights of the West Highland Way. He had a great time until starting the Rannoch Moor stretch on a particularly sweltering day. The Way had just started to skirt the moor when he espied the familiar shape of psilocybe semilanceata. Not a chap to waste nature's bounty, Sid picked all that he could see with the intention of drying them for later. Unfortunately, he only found 40 or so. Thinking a measly 40 magic mushrooms hardly worth the bother of drying, he promptly necked the lot and carried on along the Way.
A little later, the mushrooms began to work. A stream tumbled from the Blackmount and crossed his path. Sid decided to strip and wash away the sweat of his long walk, and it seemed to him that he was washing away his old life. He emerged from the waters of Rannoch physically cleansed and psychologically reborn. He felt fantastic; a new man utterly at one with nature.
I expect you can guess what happened next. Rannoch Moor, August, a sultry day. The reborn Sid had about 30 seconds of mushroom-induced bliss before the first squadrons arrived. Soon he was running around Rannoch Moor, stark naked, pursued by clouds of midges and, by now, completely out of his head on psychedelic fungi.
Or almost completely. The one bit of his brain still working remembered that the one thing to keep midges at bay is chilli. Better yet, he had some tabasco sauce in his pack. Salvation was at hand! Sid made haste to grab the sauce and spread it over his face.
When pursued by midges on a broiling hot day one does tend to sweat. In no time flat the sweat had caused the excess sauce to drip into his eyes. Now he was completely tripped out, was being eaten alive, his eyes were boiling in his skull and he could not see.
Sid somehow made it back to the water and began washing. This was when the still-functioning part of his mind remembered something else: chilli sauce is not soluble in water...
Spencer Woodcock, Archway
Last summer, I tried to see how many Munros I could run up in a week (foot and bike). I reached 50 Munros in 61/2 days before my shoes fell apart. On my last day, switching from one map to the next, I noticed that my 41st Munro of the week - Beinn na Lap - was on Landranger 41 and the next hill I was heading to (Carn Dearg, by Loch Ossian) was on Landranger 42.
The mind works in mysterious ways if you have just spent the last few days running about 150 miles - but I began to wonder how many of these "points of intersection" you could match on a big Munro round. After the Munros on foot, the Munros north-to-south, the Munros by order of height - you could have a new Munro round in Ordnance Survey sheet number order!
Bye for now,
Jamie Thin, Edinburgh
On a winter Sunday, wishing to make the best possible use of a short, dark and misty afternoon, my wife and I decided to make the short trip up Kirkland Hill (Section 27C in The Relative Hills of Britain) from the road nearby. About a mile from the nearest point we were brought to a halt by a free-standing metal sign which read: DANGER TO LIFE - XXXX ON ROAD. The middle word was illegible, but didn't look like the obvious STAY. Maybe it was MINES or TANKS, though there is no indication on the Landranger of any military activity.
Anyway, the combination of this disturbing message, together with the swirling mist and the baleful stare from the single yokel passed on the road up, led my wife to put her foot down and refuse to go a inch further; I was in no position to object as she was the driver. Does anyone know if any sensible justification lies behind the sign in question, or is it just an unusually direct Get Off My Land tactic?
Bernie Hughes, East Kilbride
Idly surfing through TAC35 online, as you do when you have better things you should be doing at work, I saw Roger Bell's letter about transposed images of Glen Coe. This brought back a strange, wrong-way-round incident in Glen Coe a few years ago. It was just before the devolution referendum when I took part in a "Scotland Forward / Yes-Yes" campaign stunt to have people on the top of all the newly-elevated Munros simultaneously. Our summit was the one at the front of the wee bookle, Stob Coire Raineach.
We arrived late and caught up with the party, Lord Watson et al, and were a little disturbed to find them heading up the wrong way. Apparently, at the wee send-off at the bottom with the Daily Record photographer (who was emphatically not coming with us), Hamish MacInnes told them to go up Stob Dubh, the original Munro at the back. Needless to say it was a bit of a job persuading people that one of Scotland's leading mountaineers was wrong about a hill in the glen where he lived, and that a whipper-snapper in a Gola tracksuit was right. However, I think they quickly recognised my dorkiness and believed me - but most did the other one just to be sure. Can there be some weird image-warping science thingy going on that reverses things in Glen Coe? Sounds a bit Murdo Munro to me.
Gordon Struth, Linlithgow
PS - Watch out if you're hiring crampons. I hired a pair from Tiso and both sprung off on steep icy snow at the head of the corrie on the usual way up the big bookle. Very dodgy. Make sure they fit the fixing bolt - and thanks again to the guy who cut steps for me.
Re flipped pics, Richard Webb adds:
Have just seen an advert for "cheap" British Airways fares from Southland to Scotland. They use a rather fetching photo of Eilean Donan Castle, with Sgurr Mhic Bharraich where Skye should be. Nice erutcip, though.
Ed. - When a version of Gordon's note about dodgy crampons appeared in the shiny relaunched TGO in June, the name Tiso was replaced by "an outdoor store". We can't go antagonising advertisers in the interests of safety, can we now?
Some well-intended comment by Richard Gilbert in High Mountain Sports has triggered an unusually robust response even by TAC standards (TAC52, p17), leading to what I believe to have been unintended deep personal damage which then avalanched into ill-advised fallout in the right-to-reply space (TAC53, pp14-16). I feel embarrassed to have read some of the exchange, and in hindsight wish that the latter stages had been done offline.
TAC's many merits include an absolute lack of deference to the dubious authority of quangos such as Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland over public assets, eg St Kilda, and no fear of stating a negative opinion. Anodyne never-critical journalism may have a place in celebrity or whisky magazines, but fortunately not here. Sometimes however it can tend to be over-analytical and under-considerate of correspondents who lack the emotional hide of a rhino.
Richard Gilbert's strong qualities include a pioneering role in establishing the diverse hill book/mag/web scene we all now enjoy. Would this have developed so fast or in as interesting a form without people like Mr Gilbert proving that there is a hungry readership out there?
Others have rightly cited Richard Gilbert's many other contributions to the hill scene, and his introduction of hundreds to its joys. I don't agree with him on a number of issues, but still very much respect the guy and the fact that his views have formed through a wide hill and life experience.
On the substantive point of this access versus wildlife-interests debate, a balance is clearly achievable. Thousands visit the Bass Rock and Isle of May annually, smack in the middle of the nesting season, and much the same sea bird species as cling to the Hebridean stacks are doing just great there in very large numbers.
Friends and I recently [mid-May] spent several hours within feet of completely unconcerned nesting kittiwakes, shags, and burrowing puffins on the Isle of May. We saw numerous gannets and gulls from the nearby Bass. SNH was aware of and absolutely relaxed about our presence, so why the double standard with St Kilda?
The GOYOL (get orf your own land) lobby would also do well to remember that the vanished society they now cherish on St Kilda only clung on by eating as much of the local fauna as it could get its hands on. Again this doesn't seem to have held the birds back much in the long run.
Marilynbaggers are relatively very few in number, and only a small subset of even the most obsessive have ever even reached Hirta. Of these, a further very small fraction have the rock skills to even contemplate accessing Soay, Boreray or the stacks or have the time and resources to wait out the sea and weather long enough to make an attempt. We're a pretty feeble threat, probably not worth stoking by a keep-off letter to High.
Asking people not to visit, or invoking GOYOL agencies, makes the islands more of a magnet to independent hill types. Perhaps it would have been better to stay silent this time? Anyhow, we all love the wild places. Let's get the focus back out there.
Yours, Jon Metcalf, Inverurie
Write to TAC: 3 Ferry Orchard, Cambuskenneth, Stirling, FK9 5ND
"Bizarre", "character assassination", "offensive", "package of lies". The war of words between the Ed and Richard Gilbert in TAC52/53 made me feel young again: I was learning English and trying to decipher chapter one of The Pickwick Papers, with its vitriolic exchange between Messrs Pickwick and Blotton that follows a remark about bursting boilers.
I'm unfamiliar with Richard Gilbert's writings except the letter quoted in TAC53, which was a bit grumpy because baggers might disturb gannets on those sea stacks. For which the Ed took him to task. Now it may well be that RG himself disturbed birds in the 1970s, but why drag books and attitudes of those days into it? And if you make a link to discussions about Catch-22 and King Lear, then admittedly the Bard was called an "upstart crow" by one Robert Greene in, I believe, 1592 - but on the whole the tone is more academic.
I don't know what the gannets themselves think about rock climbing. I understand that on occasion they graciously make way for visitors, and given the technical and approach difficulties it seems unlikely there will ever be many of those. The Ed made it clear in TAC52 that he is in favour of keeping people off the stacks during the breeding season, and I certainly would not attribute a "gung-ho attitude to wildlife" (RG) to the man who wrote Walking the Water-shed and whom I have personally seen remove a worm from his path, lest he tread on it. RG's own impressive list of activities for nature and hillwalking might in a different context be an enrichment of this list-loving mag; using it to bombard an imagined adversary is rather a waste.
From a distance, a mountain looks like a molehill. I hope that in this case the mountain will actually turn out to be a Pickwickian construction.
"Mr BLOTTON had no hesitation in saying ... that, personally, he had the highest regard and esteem for the honourable gentleman; he had merely considered him a humbug in a Pickwickian point of view. ('Hear, hear.')
Mr PICKWICK felt much gratified by the fair, candid and full explanation of his honourable friend. He begged it to be at once understood, that his own observations had been merely intended to bear a Pickwickian construction. ('Cheers')".
Yours, Paul Hesp, Vienna
There was a time in the past when I'd read TAC cover-to-cover within two or three days of receiving it. Not so in the last year or so, though, so it was with increasing bemusement and intrigue that I belatedly read the RG Bargy of Richard Gilbert's right to reply in TAC53. Obviously a pretty upset guy. Having not read the piece by Dave Hewitt, I went back to TAC52 to see what all the fuss was about. I was appalled. It was a bit like reading a bit of gutter journalism from the Sun or News of the World from some ignorant bigoted reporter. No wonder Gilbert was upset. What on earth was Hewitt up to going into such a vehement attack? Don't get me wrong, I don't agree at all with Gilbert's letter in High; but that's not the point. I think his letter was perhaps foolish or naive but was hardly warranting such personal libelling.
I would be very surprised if either Alan Dawson or Ann Bowker felt personally attacked by his letter, yet Hewitt is acting like a swarm of bees has gone down his neck and the interesting side-issue here, apart from the access debate, is the psychology that it has triggered in his head. I love a great deal of the innovative and creative stuff he has written, so it is extra puzzling to see stuff like this. Come on Dave, stick to positive creative stuff. Yes, things need to be criticised sometimes, but not in this way.
The further editorial comment from Hewitt in TAC53 was particularly revealing and he finally got himself knee-deep with both feet in a bog when he started ranting about "Gilbert using the health card". I don't think it was any such thing and I suspect that Gilbert simply mentioned it in passing as part of the letter he wrote which he expected would be edited out and with no thought about trying to attract any sympathy vote. That is purely Hewitt's cynicism and pretty low of him to suggest it. (Ed. - Not so. RG was offered right-to-reply space and his piece was submitted with, as I recall, a comment about it being "the full works". Apart from routine tidying re spelling etc, it would have been wrong of me to have substantivally changed anything. RG wished the piece printed in its entirity and would have had a legitimate grievance had I removed the "health" bit.)
He drives the final nail into his own coffin (a tough task, I know) when he simpers with self-justification about the publishing format of the Walking the Watershed book. Did I detect the slightest hint of jealousy here? It seemed very much like he was trying to vigorously retain his membership of the proletariat and keep the socialist flat cap in place. I'd much rather have had a copy of the WtW that was bound well and perhaps a few glossy pictures as well as the excellent line drawings from Chris Tyler instead of the poorly and cheaply bound version that broke apart when I was a third of the way through it. Could Hewitt really be jealous of Gilbert's high-quality successful books and be making a case for low-quality book format and binding as a means of keeping Socialist Worker-type street cred? His comment really made me feel that the last time he went up Coire Lagan a lump of the Cioch had fallen and landed firmly on his shoulder and he'd been carrying it around ever since. This of course may be wholly unfair to Hewitt but that's the feeling I was left with.
To re-touch briefly on the access debate that it all referred to, I for one have no time for any access restrictions and don't think birds or other wildlife should have total priority over humans. We both share this planet and I have as much right to stand on top of those six St Kilda summits as the birds do, given sensible access guidelines and a passionate wish to do so.
Returning to the RG Bargy, I'd like to see Hewitt be the big man that I think he is irrespective of his height! Such a piece of vociferous and venomous vitriol was quite out of order. He should eat a large slice of humble pie, recognise that he went unnecessarily totally overboard and issue RG with an unreserved and unconditional apology.
Charles Everett, York
No one likes being criticised, but maybe one can learn something about people and organisations from the way they react to criticism. I cite TAC53 as evidence. Best response by far was from John Donohoe of the MCofS (p16). He seemed prepared to accept that part of TAC's role is to take pot-shots at those who ask for it, and fought back robustly with a twinkle in his pen. Three points to the MCofS. Worst effort was (predictably) from McNeish, who declined to respond and thereby invites us to conclude that the criticism of his plagiarism and evasiveness is entirely justified. No points.
A poor effort too from the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (also p16), with an arrogant self-righteous tone that confirms they are concerned with signposts and rights of way but care little for access in general or those who defend it (whereas for many of us, rights of way are largely irrelevant except in the stalking season). The signposts are OK, but I'd swap the lot of them for better OS maps, without the purple crap. One point to the SRoWaAS, for writing in. And so we come to the touchy subject of Richard Gilbert, who spent a long time in TAC53 arguing about the difference between an ego boost and an ego trip, but neglected the important principle that caused TAC to criticise him in the first place: access to land.
It's a long time since I read (and enjoyed) his Memorable Munros book, but I've been impressed by some of his recent writing too, notably his passionate arguments against the Loch a'Bhraoin hydro schemes. I thought he was a good guy, on our side against those who see little value in the Scottish landscape (other than commercial value), and by implication on our side against those who would degrade it or deny us access to it. (He's clearly a bagger too, as is anyone who has climbed all the Munros.) Yet now we find Gilbert endorsing a blanket ban on access to one component of that landscape, and having a go at those who seek access. What's behind this double-think? Surely it's not because he doesn't care to set foot on St Kilda (other than Hirta), so has no personal motivation. No, it must be because he has been bewitched by the label "world heritage site" and therefore thinks different rules apply: employees of conservation organisations and military personnel are allowed, but the general public must keep out.
Well I don't accept those rules and I'm surprised Gilbert does, given his background. OK, some chaps in Geneva or wherever have given St Kilda a fancy label. So what? Do the birds care about this? It's irrelevant. Why not label all the Scottish Highlands a world heritage site? Would that be reason for closing them off? Perhaps Gilbert thinks it's the birds who must be protected from the ravages of visitors. Rare birds? No, nothing rare, just a lot of them. Is he seriously suggesting that a handful of (highly responsible) climbing baggers each year would have any effect whatsoever on seabird welfare or numbers? It's almost insulting to the birds. Surely their numbers are largely determined by food supply, and the main threats to them are from industrial fishing and pollution of feeding areas. There must be intelligent people in the NTS, in SNH (and even in the RSPB) who know this very well. They can't seriously believe that allowing a few parties to land on the St Kilda islands and stacks would cause any measurable damage at all. But they are still keen to keep people out because (a) they think they own the place, (b) they have been allowed to get away with it so far, and (c) it's just easier. It's so much easier to hide behind a keep-out policy and the label "world heritage site" than to actually have to think out a sensible access policy that will keep everyone happy. (It's not that hard: a five-word policy might do: Access in August and September.)
Well it won't be easy for much longer because (a) there will be a new access bill (with slow cultural change in favour of broader access) and (b) people will keep challenging the blanket access ban so that it will become easier to agree controlled access than to keep on hedging and defending a threadbare policy while worrying about uncontrolled access. The people I know who are keen on climbing the St Kilda stacks are highly responsible and would comply with any reasonable restrictions. They are in fact the natural supporters of the NTS, SNH and the RSPB, as are most TAC readers. They are baggers too, and that gives extra impetus to their desire to go somewhere they'd like to go anyway, and means they're not prepared to be fobbed off forever.
People who are concerned about access also tend to be in favour of conserving the natural heritage and wildlife, and would be inclined to join and support conservation organisations if they behaved more like custodians charged with responsibly managing land that belonged to everyone, and less like Lord Bigfence Landowner of Keepout Riffraff Lodge.
And so back to Richard Gilbert. He displays his ignorance of Marilyn baggers if he thinks it necessary to ask them to "spare a thought for the wildlife", as Irvine Butterfield put it (TAC53, p17). They've most likely thought of it already. Gilbert's letter in High made him sound like a spokesman for the Get Off My Land brigade, and his response to criticism in TAC was mostly irrelevant and humourless. But I still think he's a good guy really (unlike McNeish). So, one point to Richard Gilbert for at least engaging in debate, and another to be awarded if he concedes that some (not all) of the criticism was valid and perhaps meets TAC's editor to discuss the matter amicably over a pint sometime.
Alan Blanco, Glasgow
It's a pity that the discussion about Richard Gilbert's letter in High has turned into a personal battle between him and the editor of TAC, thus obscuring the far more important issue at stake, the right of access to St Kilda and its outlying islands.
I must reiterate here as I implied in my response to High that I did not take Richard's letter as a personal attack on me. Clearly he cited me as the "best" example of a dedicated Marilyn bagger!
I do however take issue with the main purpose of his letter, reiterated in his response to TAC, that the St Kilda tops should be left alone by walkers and climbers. Most folk who spend a lot of time on the hills will be animal lovers as well, delighting in the song of the skylark, the evocative whistle of the golden plover and the sight of seabirds soaring on the thermals around the cliffs. The welfare of these birds is certainly important and it seems quite reasonable to keep away in the nesting season - but an all-year ban is completely over the top. Just imagine if some rare bird nested at the summit of Ben Lawers. Would the NTS close the hill completely?
As for the puffin burrows on the summit ridge of Dun, there are ways around the problem. If many visitors were expected, then a walkway could be carefully constructed as has been done in the Galapagos Islands. This winds right in amongst the nesting boobies as I can testify from having suffered a painfully pecked foot. But on the little-visited island of Dun this would hardly be appropriate. On the Isle of Noss in Shetland, visitors and puffins seem to co-exist quite happily, even in the nesting season. Outside that time I would certainly have no conscience about climbing Dun even if a few burrows were destroyed as a result. This might mean a bit of quarrelling and reorganisation amongst the puffins on their return, which surely happens anyway. The puffin is not an endangered species but to be quite honest I would still claim a right to climb the hill even if it were.
Ann Bowker, Portinscale
On page 16 of TAC53 a Mr John Donohoe, describing himself as "President, Mountaineering Council of Scotland", commences his letter with the statement that he is a "lifelong reader". Now forgive me if I am wrong, but by my calculation TAC has been running only since May 1991. By which estimation, if Mr Donohoe has been reading this publication his whole life, at he time of TAC53 he was not yet 11 years of age! Undoubtably he is a child prodigy, but one must ask why the MCofS found it necessary to appoint a child as president. Surely there are adults amongst their membership more suitable for the job? Furthermore, though clearly under-age, he has the audacity to request a glass of whisky!
Yours, most perplexed,
Lord Prospect of Ailort
Of course it could have been the effects of the seraphic Glenfarclas ten-year-old, but on returning from my final Munro bash on Meall na Teanga in 1996, two friends stopped in Moffat on their way back to the epicentre of civilisation. Here, right in the Stadtmitte, they espied a German car with the numberplate ME - UP 277 (this being the days of pre-commercially-inflated Munro numbers). Spooky or what?
More seriously, I recently spotted a fairly new track bulldozed up to near the summit of Beinn a'Chait, extended from the section already bulldozed some years ago, above Allt Sheichachean bothy northwest of Blair Atholl. (Or Blar Athall as Scot-Rail ludicrously calls it.) The latest edition of LR43 declines to mark this track, yet it must be just as well-established as the single track which they mark going over all three summits of the Beinn a'Ghlo massif. Is there a landowner/OS conspiracy not to mark estate tracks?
Long may your Bruichladdich gurgle,
Ath na h-oir (geddit?), Surrey
I was interested to read Sir Robin Campbell's cry de profundis on the infiltration of hoi polloi into the Scottish Mountaineering Club (TAC53, p17) - now, it would appear, not so much the SMC as the SMCU, Jimmy.
While it would be impertinent of me to comment on the SMC's internal Klassenantagonismus, I am certainly with him in deploring the demoticisation of society in general, and (as readers will be aware) of the written language in particular. Personally, I put this down the demise of the teaching of Latin in schools, an education policy pursued by successive governments in an entirely successful conspiracy to render the electorate even more stupid and, hence, gullible.
Like milord Campbell (who is himself, to my certain knowledge, no stranger to Cicero's tongue), I hanker for an era when the sport of hillwalking was altogether a more patrician experience, for a time when the full resources of the Empire could be called upon in support of a gentleman's day out. Note, for example, the SMC's advice on procuring weather forecasts, as published in the 1933 General Guidebook: a special forecast can be obtained by a reply-paid telegram addressed 'Weather, London', or by phone, London 3434, Extension 62, or by writing in advance to the Director, Meteorological Office, Air Ministry, Kingsway, London...
Consider the social status pervading Raeburn's advice on purchasing an ice axe: an axe should be chosen as carefully as a cricket-bat or a gun, to suit each individual...
Or the same authority on the care of boots: hotel servants, with mistaken zeal, may try to black and polish them, or dry them at the fire. It is worth while to leave a note inside forbidding either being done.
I leave it to the reader to compare the authors of the past, men of effortless grace and superiority, with the kind of characters whose work is currently published by the SMC.
And so to another matter of sociolinguistics raised in TAC53: the late Dr Henderson's so-called internationalist anthem, Freedom Come All Ye. Despite being Ayrshire born and bred (or breid?), I am at a loss to understand at least half the words of this song. While I am an admirer of Dr Henderson's poetry in Standard English, his Scots is an artificial literary construct which requires translation and scholia even for native speakers such as myself: as the Romans would say, it smells of the lamp. Freedom Come All Ye is internationalist only in the sense that it is equally incomprehensible to all the people of the world.
Gordon Smith, Kilmarnock
PS - Readers who enjoy humour, particularly of a lower or coarser nature, (© R Gilbert) would do well to visit the SMC website, which currently features a discourse on what should be done with the frozen jobbies which festoon the CIC (or should that be CAC?) Hut on the Ben. In true SMC style, much of the blame is dumped on tourists and passing walkers rather than on the Club's own members, who presumably excrete chocolate drops. The options suggested for mortal visitors to the hut include a rather alarming toilet seat-cum-incinerator; and composting by heat treatment. Guests will be understandably confused if invited to pop another log on the fire.