The Angry Corrie 58: Jul-Sep 2003

Tops and typos

Rob Milne, co-editor of the SMC's The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills, replies to Ken Stewart's review in TAC57:

I TOOK BEING invited to reply by a bastion of SMC-bashing as an invitation to put my head above the parapet to facilitate target practice, but here it is... Remember, above all, that The Corbetts... is just a guidebook. I won't reply point by point, but will comment on a few of the issues Ken Stewart raises. Reviews are a person thing and Ken has conveyed his view.

Firstly, I must congratulate Ken for the superb job he has done in spotting errors in the final book. When I picked myself up off the floor after receiving his errata list, I was most impressed. Hamish Brown spent days, not hours, checking names against OS maps to be sure they were correct. Both of us read many drafts and proofs. It's clear we read the proofs so many times we couldn't see the errors any more!

The biggest "blooper" on the maps is the symbol for Graham summits. A major change is that the status of high points is made more clear, with different symbols for Munros, Corbetts, Grahams and their tops. The problem is that the Grahams symbol merges with the surrounding ridges, and this came out of the process of exporting film of the typeset book to go to the printers. The maps were fine in the printed page proofs and onscreen. But when exported to film, the layers crossed and the ridges came out "on top" of the summit symbols. The result is that the spaces around the symbols are lost and are hard to see. All we can say is that we're lucky it didn't happen to the Corbett symbols!

Another comment is that the SMC seems to have introduced a strict height basis for Munro Tops. Nothing has changed with regard to how Munro Tops are defined. The process for this reminds me of a Microsoft joke:

Q - How many Microsoft employees does it take to change a light bulb?
A - None. Bill Gates declares darkness a standard.

The biggest map-related problem we had was the changing of names in the Hebrides to Gaelic. This process started while the new edition of The Corbetts... was being prepared, and it was very hard to know what names would appear on forthcoming maps. More importantly, some of the names are clearly wrong! The new edition is consistent with what was published on the latest maps. Perhaps the above joke applies here also.

There have been many comments on the fact that the cover-photo hill is not of a Corbett. And so, your point is? We debated this and felt that there was no need to have the cover show a Corbett - after all, the guidebook includes other hills. This was the photo we wanted. One of the great strengths of the book is the wonderful new photography, which include hills not pictured before.

With regard to the choice of "other hills" commented on elsewhere in TAC57 (Ronald Turnbull, p5), with one exception we made no changes from the selection in the previous edition. Many hills could have been excluded or included. But why tell the public about more fine hills?

With regard to the fact that many route descriptions haven't changed: many didn't need to be changed, many were totally rewritten and some have minor, but important changes. Some of the changes are very important and are useful updates from field checks. The percentage may be small, but their importance isn't.

One detail we improved - and TAC should follow suit - is that we have provided GPS-friendly grid references. For a GPS, one needs the two letters in addition to the six-figure grid reference. Also, a six-figure grid reference is not unique, whereas NH170453 (for example) is. This format is needed for GPS use, working with electronic maps and the various web-based maps. The TAC approach of using the OS 1:50000 sheet followed the six-figure reference is ludicrous! It is hard to look up a hill without the 1:50000 map. So what about 1:25000 maps, Harveys maps and web-based systems? Time for a friendly change. (He says, ducking!)

I commend Ken Stewart for a great review and his eye for spotting problems. His input is greatly appreciated.

Ed. - "It's clear we read the proofs so many times we couldn't see the errors any more!" - surely, as Andrew Hyams points out in his letter on page 18, the first law of proofreading is that the near-final proofs need to be nitpicked by someone who hasn't previously seen them. It's no wonder that Rob and Hamish couldn't see the typos - they were too close to the original material. Proofreading is notoriously tricky, and it's impossible to be 100% confident that every error, even of the basic typo-type, has been caught. TAC's procedure, for what it's worth, has always been to give its proofs to a friendly literate person (thanks Julia, Mags and Tessa) who hasn't seen them in earlier stages and who invariably nabs a whole bunch of glitches. In the case of particularly pernickety pieces - eg those including lists of hill names - the relevant proof also tends to be given to someone (again external) with a grounding in such matters. From the look of The Corbetts..., the picture captions appear to have been scarcely checked at all, and their typos eg Shiehallion, Brodick Peir have an unfortunate and disproportionately high-profile effect on the finished product.

Re grid refs, this is a house-style thing. I don't for a minute dispute the merit of the stated SMC approach: NH170453 is indeed GPS-friendly. But this tends not to be used in TAC because the majority of hillgoers don't use a GPS. And so, rather than it being "ludicrous" to give the map number and the letter-less six-figure grid ref, it makes the grid ref easier to locate for the majority of users who reach for a map (usually a Landranger) over and above a GPS. Map+figures is, for practical purposes, every bit as unique letters+figures, and is more map-user-friendly. If simply told that a location is NH170453, this can require a fair amount of rummaging (ironically on maps) before being pinned down as An Sidhean, whereas a six-figure ref is unique to each Landranger 40x40km grid. The keep-everyone-happy style would be to give the location in the form 25/NH170453, but this (in my opinion) looks hellish lumpy on the page. Each to their own, though: as Rob Milne says, it's a person thing.

Finally, Tom Prentice, the SMC's publications manager, has been invited to respond to the criticism that pieces bearing his name in the new edition of The Corbetts... bear a remarkable similarity to pieces bearing the names of various dead writers in the book's first edition. Tom Prentice has indeed responded, but not on the record, so no more can be said for now.

TAC 58 Index