The problem with the 14m Southerness trig (TAC55, p12) is not so much that it has disappeared, more that the hill it sat on has been eroded. So many visitors have come and gone that the said sandhill now has a 1m-2m deep circular depression in its centre. The remains of the trig pillar lie in the bottom of this hole. It may not appear on the latest Landranger 84 because having sunk to a mere 12m above sea level it no longer remotely serves the function for which it was erected. I am disappointed that the OS did not at least think to indicate the position of this pillar with a blue tourist information symbol. It has been a landmark for generations of holidaymakers at Southerness. The resort is now much the poorer.
Another trigonometrical titbit is the existence of a double pillar on Sighty Crag (LR80/601809). The original pillar has been smashed and a second one built beside the remains. How many readers know of another case where this has happened?
Peter King, Dumfries
Ed. - On Ben Cleuch in the Ochils an old trig pillar forms part of the summit shelter cairn; when the new pillar was erected I do not know (but would be interested to learn). And Richard Webb has reported two ex-pillars on Stob an Eas (56/185073). What is interesting here is whether the new pillar acquires the old benchplate number. On Ben Cleuch - a primary station, S1605 - it evidently has.
I think you are a bit harsh about Cameron McNeish and his website. He is scrupulous in restricting himself to links to his own interests. Perkin Warbeck's article in TAC52 (p20) referred to Cameron McNeish's Munro calendar. I, too, like the calendar and wanted to order one by mail order. So I recently went to Cameron McNeish's website. Can you order it there? No! Even though Cameron McNeish no doubt gets a share of the royalties for supplying the text, the calendar is actually a Colin Baxter publication and Cameron McNeish will have nothing to do with its publicity. Clearly a man to be applauded for sticking to his principles.
I have received some junk mail from the Ramblers' Association which claims that "Thanks to the Ramblers, Britain's landscapes have been safeguarded from unsightly and polluting developments and over 130,000 miles of public paths are available for walkers...", and that "the Ramblers ensure that walkers everywhere have access to the places they love...".
I have no doubt that the Ramblers' Association has done much useful work, but from what I have read of access problems in some parts of England and Wales, the above statements appear to be wishful thinking rather than factual. To appear to claim sole credit for all 130,000 miles of paths is perhaps arrogant.
They further state that "By joining the Ramblers' Association for only £20 a year [...] you will be providing yourself and thousands of others with the chance to stay on their feet this winter." I fail to see how I need to be a member of any organisation to stay on my feet. As to how the thousands of others come in to the picture, I cannot imagine.
I have nothing against the Ramblers' Association or what they stand for. Maybe some time in the future, if I am no longer fit enough for hillwalking, I might even take up the kind of rambling they seem to be interested in. However, I do think they should cut out the hype from their sales pitch.
On a different issue, I came up against a "No Unauthorised Persons Beyond This Point" sign at the start of the route up Beinn Ruadh from the south end of Loch Eck, as described in Andrew Dempster's Grahams guidebook. Ironically, the reason for access being denied was that new paths are being constructed to improve public access. No one was around to object, and one new path did provide good access to the top edge of the woodland, some of which looked rather impenetrable. It may not be fair to judge works which are still far from complete, but I have my doubts as to whether the new path will survive heavy rain.
Cheers, Les Cunningham, Inverness
Ed. - Re access difficulties in Englandandwales, this has come in from Ken White (aka Val Hamilton's dad):
"Foot and mouth bans still well publicised in Shropshire. Checked today [21 November 2002].
1 Cockshutt - on A528 at 126/435294, Millennium Hall parish notice board. 'All Rights of Way are Closed' Penalty for contravention £5000. This is the official Shropshire County Council notice and is reinforced by a further local notice.
2 On A495 Ellesmere-Oswestry road at 126/385341, 'Disease Prevention - Foot and Mouth KEEP OUT'.
I spoke to a member of Cockshutt Parish Council weeks ago but nothing has happened. In the Long Mynd area, though, all the fences which were erected have long since been removed and that area is back to normal and fully open to all."
Further to the article in TAC53 (p3), we too have encountered a spectral canine (and an equally spectral owner) on the hills. It happened several years ago, one September day on Ben Cruachan. We had dropped down to the path that runs alongside the dam. It was early evening, there was a chilly breeze and drizzle falling: not ideal dog-walking weather. As we walked along, I saw the figure of a man with a large black dog heading towards us on the path, no more than 400 yards away. I lost sight of them but expected to meet them as we rounded a bend. However, there was sign of neither man nor dog.
We kept looking out, but in vain. There were no cars in the car park at the head of the dam, nor was there any sign of the man or dog (nor, indeed, anyone else) on the road that leads down to Loch Awe, nor the path leading down to Falls of Cruachan station. We've never quite managed to decide whether they were just tricks of the light, or something more ghostly.
Sam Harney, Reading
The reaction of the OS "customer relations co-ordinator" (I must get a job title like that) to Grahaeme Barrasford Young's evidently justified criticism of Exp391 (TAC55, p8) shows what market forces have done to OS staff. Not just because of the "small scale series" (priceless!), but also because the lady apparently believes that well-founded criticism can be exorcised with PR-speak.
I would have suggested a different tactic to Grahaeme, though. He should have altered his name to the more resounding Major G Barrasford Young and have written a letter (mailed from a suitable artillery barracks) about the impossibility of doing proper target practice with the present 1:25000 map. I bet the tone of the reply would have been different.
That said, if I ever got lost on 1000 miles of Highland walks it was my fault. A comparison with European maps for accuracy would show that the OS 1:25k maps score pretty high. The Swiss of course come out on top, proving that a capitalist country can provide a first-class public service.
I could hardly believe my eyes reading Ian Mitchell's comparison of SNH etc with the Nazis "insofar as they put conservation before people" (TAC55, pp16-17). I'd like to know which "facts" he has unearthed that would permit a comparison with the Nazi occupation of Norway. Has SNH burned villages and put their inhabitants in camps? Are crofters doing forced labour for the RSPB? I suppose Ian is now building up a resistance movement of Scots refugees in Ireland, modelled on the Norwegian army in neutral Sweden. The staff of the Resistance Museum in Oslo, on being told of the reason for Ian's work in their archives, must have been rather puzzled. Or, just possibly, appalled. Because they know what Nazism did.
Paul Hesp, Vienna
PS - Whatever his shortcomings, the owner of Letterewe (TAC55, p19) is not a German "Herr" van Vlissingen, but a Dutch "meneer" van Vlissingen.
What is Ian R Mitchell driving at in TAC55 (p19)? He says he wonders what JMT members and members of a wider public would think of Caroline Tisdall, who supports the Countryside Alliance, being on the board of JMT. Caroline stood for election as one of the 21 Trustees and was elected by the very members Mr Mitchell is referring to. After serving three years she stood again - and was re-elected again by those members.
Doesn't Mr Mitchell like democracy? It is open to any member of JMT to stand for election - that's what democracy is all about. It is up to candidates to put in their election statement what they are about and I would have thought Caroline's statement made it very clear who she was and where she was coming from.
I hope the day never comes when JMT only elects people whose views accord with those of Mr Mitchell. It is vital for the organisation that different skills, experience and interests are represented on the board and that we have a good mix of people willing to give a great deal of time and effort on a purely voluntary basis.
Of course JMT consulted with crofters and graziers and with climbers and walkers about foot and mouth - and of course we took their views into account. As a Trust committed to working with local people we wished to reach agreement with graziers - and in the huge majority of cases this was done in the very early stages of FMD. In an outbreak whose effects were felt for many months, climbers were being welcomed back to Ben Nevis only three weeks after the outbreak thanks to the efforts and goodwill of local businesses, graziers, owners and climbers and walkers.
Mr Mitchell goes on to claim that "not an inconsiderable amount" of JMT income comes from sheep subsidies. Wrong. JMT receives no income from sheep subsidies. On Skye subsidies go to the locally-based manager of the farming partnership who is running the farm at Strathaird as his own enterprise.
Readers who would like the facts on JMT are welcome to go to our website at www.jmt.org.
Director, John Muir Trust, Dundee
The one good point to be taken from the letter from Paul Ormerod re the generator at Barrisdale (TAC55, p19) is that he will probably not be coming back. Who does he think he is? He lives under the Heathrow flight path, his own choice I suspect, and then takes advantage of the hospitality shown by Steven and Phyllis who live in the stalker's cottage at Barrisdale only to complain about a small generator. Steven and Phyllis live and work there all year. Should they be using candles and listening to clockwork radio?
After many visits by myself and my wife, I can safely say that there is a large enough camping area to be able to avoid hearing the generator. Perhaps Paul Ormerod was wanting to be camped as close as possible to the toilet, kitchen and running water. In fact if he stays at home he will have all this plus the noise of jumbo jets.
I challenge anyone to tell me of a better-situated campsite with facilities - albeit modest - and friendlier caretakers, all for the princely sum of 50p a night.
David O'Donnell, Milngavie
I would like to take issue with Ronald Turnbull (TAC54, pp9-10), not to defend Great Gable but to dispute his assertion that Mont Blanc must be forgiven for having a boring route to the summit. Now I wouldn't claim familiarity with every ascent of this mountain. There may well be horrible ways to the top, but it is hard to avoid a strong suspicion that the route he has in mind is the so-called "normal" route by way of the Gouter Hut and the Bosses ridge. This is not boring at all. Gaston Rebuffat in his coffee-table book on Mont Blanc describes the Bosses ridge as one of the finest snow routes in existence and he has pictures to prove it.
Much as I love Snowdon, it is ridiculous to suggest that the walk up beside the railway is less boring than the Bosses ridge. Indeed it is surely Snowdon which needs forgiveness for the existence of the railway, although I would not be elitist enough to claim that an ascent thereon would be boring.
Ann Bowker, Portinscale
Recently I climbed Great Gable and feel I must take Ronald Turnbull to task. Gable is great! This is praise indeed as I am not a big fan of the Ponds - too many paths, too many people and too twee for my liking. Perhaps it was the sunny day, the good company and the large dram of Dalmore to celebrate my hubbie Pete's entry into the Marilyn Hall of Fame that clinched it, but it was a damn fine hill.
On the other hand I totally agree with Val Hamilton about Rum. I ran into none of the problems Val experienced and even got good weather for the ridge (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but still found it a disappointment. I went expecting to see something special to show for all the money and effort that had been put into the place over the years - lots of wildlife perhaps. Sadly, it was not to be. There was also no community as everyone living there, except the teacher, was an SNH employee.
I'd also like to add my own big disappointment to the list: Ben Tee. "One of the best of Corbetts" is how Hamish Brown's describes it, and this Richard Wood chap has climbed it 1000 times, so it must be pretty special. Well, no, actually. Gorgeous day, stunning view - shame about the hill.
Helen McLaren, Muckhart
Ed. - Ronald Turnbull in turn defends Schiehallion on page 11 here.
Helen McLaren and Jon Metcalf's article on whisky (TAC52, pp12-13) got me thinking of hill-associated real ales. After a day on the hill I find the Aviemore brewery's Cairngorm Ale (5.0% alcohol by volume) to be a refreshing golden lager. A darker beer from the same brewery is Strathspey Ale (4.2% abv), and the same stable produces Ruthven Brew (4.0% abv).
The Isle of Skye brewery produces the oaty Hebridean Gold (4.3% abv) and the amber strong ale Blaven (5.0% abv). Also available are the bitters Black Cuillin (4.4% abv) and Red Cuillin (4.2% abv).
Harviestoun at Dollar gives us the Great British Beer Festival's multi-gold winner Schiehallion (4.8% abv), while the 4.1% abv Ossian's Ale comes from the Inveralmond brewery in Perth.
On the high tops the Ptarmigan (4.5% abv, Harviestoun) watches the antics of the Raven (3.8% abv, Orkney). The Black Isle brewery provides the Golden Eagle (3.8% abv) and the Red Kite (4.2% abv). On the river there may be a Goosander (4.0% abv) with a Wagtail (4.5% abv) in the car park and a Yellowhammer (4.3% abv) singing from the gorse.
Perhaps the tent has been pitched near some Scots Pine (7.5% abv from Heather Ale), through which a Stag (4.1% abv, Tomintoul) might pass. As the sun sets it is pleasant to contemplate the Summer Dim (4.0% abv from Valhalla, Unst).
On another matter, David McVey on the decline of the SYHA (TAC55, pp4-5) missed out the closure of the district offices. Many years ago I joined the SYHA at the Aberdeen district office and a little later, because of the over-the-counter service, became a life member. Over the past few years, how many prospective members have been lost because of a lack of a local contact point?
Earlier this year I called in at Aberdeen hostel to pick up a copy of the handbook. I thought I had boarded an urban Marie Celeste. Though the front door was wide open, the reception bell was not answered and in a nearby lounge a TV was blaring away. I left empty-handed. You can imagine my impressions of the SYHA.
Derek Selbie, Bucksburn
Ed. - Re beers, I'm particularly fond of a foaming tankard of Dunkery Futtock (0.7% abv, Albion Ales) after a hard day on the Quantocks.
My recent Scottish visit took me to Stirling hostel. A very nice place, but in a five-people dormitory there had to be a shower, WC and sink in the room instead of on the corridor. This led to more than cramped conditions, and made it impossible to relax before retiring into a sweat-filled atmosphere.
En-suite facilities do not help in a hostel! I share the deeply-felt regret about the loss of so many great hostels, some of which I have been very happy to use from 1976.
Barbara Kalckreuth, Munich
I stopped using SYHA hostels altogether about six years ago having finally got sick of the petty rules and regs. The final straw was being shut out of a hostel having had a monster day on the hill, arriving back five minutes after the doors had shut (and not via a pub, either). Also, I quite like to relax with a beer after a hill day when I'm on my hard-earned holidays! I also like to get away early on to the hill, particularly in winter, and have had one too many bollockings for daring to make a cup of tea at 6:50am!
I started using the independents, and have never looked back. Friendly, geared-up to hill/canoe/bike folk, and the facilities in most knock spots off the SYHA hostels. A mimimum of rules, but they're not needed anyhow as the folk who use them self-regulate. A whole lot better experience.
I wonder just who the SYHA see as their customer base? It seemed to be 50-somethings plus the odd foreign backpacker at the hostels I used. However, I was at Braemar SYHA as part of a large group from Bury Mountaineering Club on Jubilee weekend. I wasn't particularly looking forward to the SYHA part of the deal, but we had a great time. The managers (a couple with young kids) were brilliant, and in many ways made the weekend. There were some bits and pieces organised for those who wanted (walks, a ceilidh and a very interesting lecture/slide show by the ranger from Muir of Dinnet). Could this be partially due to the fact that the manager is a hillgoer and a member of the MRT?
So, one I would go to again, but I'm afraid that the SYHA in general has lost my business, especially since they now seem to see themselves as a cities-only organisation
Ian Johnston, Alford
Re Hamish Brown's query in TAC55 (p20) about a name for the pass north of Tyndrum, it is known in railway circles as County March Summit. Not very poetic I am afraid, though it might sound better in Gaelic. The derivation of the name from the meeting of Perthshire and Argyll at the summit suggests that the builders of the West Highland Railway were - like Hamish - unable to find a local name for the pass. The railway summit is at 1024ft.
John Massey, Beith
Well, this is a first. Been reading TAC for a few years now but this is the first time I've been compelled to comment on some outrageous slander, but such is my reaction to the mighty John Cunningham being labelled an "under-achiever" by Robin N Campbell (TAC55, p3). This nonchalant throwaway line cannot be let pass. In the eyes of many, Cunningham ranks with Nimlin, Murray, Marshall, Cubby through to new kid on the block Dave MacLeod as arguably the finest of their generations. He was known as a man of character and strength who was admired from afar by many but was a friend to many more. One of the Creagh Dhu's real gems.
This man led many pioneering first ascents which climbers today, in 5.10 rubber and overloaded with friends, still find a challenge as they progress through the grades. Whortleberry Wall, Guerdon Grooves, Gallows Route, Agony and Bluebell Groove (E4, 6a in 1958), to name but a few. "Under-achiever" does not sit well with the man who forced the first route up the central wall of Creag a'Bhancair. Could it be that Cunningham failed to possess the necessary amount of tweed in his wardrobe to meet Campbell's approval, or would membership of the notorious Creagh Dhu in itself suffice? Scrutiny and analysis of Campbell's The Munroist's Companion may lend some weight to this argument.
I don't know if a severe critical analysis of Cunningham in a technical sense would prove even one iota of truth to Campbell's statement, but one look at the character of the man knocks it for six. However, I am always interested in listening to unreasonable arguments should Campbell care to attempt to justify his remarks.
It's probably a little strong to character-assassinate Campbell by association to his clan forefathers, but it's always tempting. He has had a free pop at man unable to defend himself and who in my view will forever remain a Scottish mountain legend who gave his life in vain trying to save the lives of others.
Yours, with spleen vented,
Mark "Rooster" Ruis, Embra
PS - Anybody else out there playing the geocache game? It's a damn sight more interesting than looking for trigs/ benchmarks. www.geocaching.com
Cunningham wore plenty tweed, and quite right too. Wool is a renewable resource and a mountain product besides, so why dress yourself in heavily-processed fossil fuel sucked from the bowels of the Earth? In calling him an under-achiever I am not name-calling. There's nothing wrong with being an under-achiever - it just doesn't cut it as a subject for biography. Take my all-out absolute hero Thelonious Monk, for instance, who showed how to play jazz on the piano in the 50s, free-wheeled through the 60s and gave up in the 70s. How does a biographer cope with that? So far none have.
I had the good fortune to know John Cunningham tolerably well, and - like everyone else who knew him - I counted him a stainless hero. He was a technical genius, and a charming and intelligent man. In my defence I can do no better than to quote my own words (Alpine Journal, 2000, p313):
"Cunningham had an interesting climbing career embracing besides British crags, the Alps, New Zealand, the Himalayas, South Georgia and the Antarctic. His routes from the 40s such as Autumn Slab, Gallows Route and Guerdon Grooves on the Buachaille set a new standard in Scotland, much as did the routes of Arthur Dolphin in England; in the 70s he perfected the 'moving piton' method of ice climbing which swept step-cutting (alas!) into the history books. So he was an important climber [...] But there is a curious feature of Cunningham's climbing [...] Given his prodigious ability, Cunningham was (in conventional terms) an under-achiever. In Scotland, he made few routes to compare (in terms of quality) with Smith's Gladiator's Groove on Arrochar, with Walsh's routes in Skye and Glencoe, and with McLean's Subtraction and Torro on Ben Nevis. And beyond Scotland, though undoubtedly dogged by very bad luck, he did not leave much of a mark. Yet all would agree that from his first efforts in the mid-40s until the mid-70s there was no more capable climber in Scotland."
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