At the beginning of September I was at Tomdoun, and drove on a glorious evening to the Quoich dam. I was astonished to find a large metal sign at the entrance to the Glen Quoich estate (owned by the Gordon's gin family), announcing NO HILL WALKING during the stalking season, from 12 August to 20 October.
Even in the dark days before the access legislation I can recall no estate (apart from Alladale under its previous owners) attempting a blanket ban on access during stalking. This was unacceptable in the past, it is simply quite illegal now, and I hope everyone with a Glengarry hill to do, or even anyone without, will have gone there during this ban and asserted their right to access.
This attempted ban is all the more galling since the Quoich estate in 2003 enrolled the labour and goodwill of many in the mountaineering community to sucessfully repair one of the old stalkers' paths on its land. Now we are told that we are not allowed to use this and other paths, for almost ten weeks of the year. You are not on, Mr Gordon.
Ian R Mitchell, Glasgow
I have been reading TAC for many years now (I'm a slow reader), and I felt it was time to write and thank you for making TAC65 laugh-out-loud funny in a number of articles. There were a number of interesting points of view, it's like an argument in a pub, only on paper. Without the beer. (OK, get on with it - Ed.)
On the subject of The Scottish Mountaineer (TAC65 pp8-10), I have bought it a number of times, but the content seems to be more and more aimed at the (indoor/outdoor) rock fraternity and less at those who probably make up most of the hillgoing community, the walker. It has been at times a decent read, filling the gaps between TACs, TGOs and Trails quite nicely, but the most recent issue was wafer-thin, and a quick scan revealed nothing worth parting with three and a half quid for. If they want to attract new members I think they will certainly have to widen their appeal.
Access was another thing mentioned in TAC65. I have been in touch with the local access officer regarding "dodgy" signs and found them to be quite efficient, and this leads me to disagree with Rowland Bowker's approach to removing illegal signs (TAC65 p20). Get the grid reference of the sign, take a few photos of the offending material and pass them on. The contact details can be found on the Scottish Outdoors Access website (and, for Scotland at least, in this TAC - Ed.), and it might even be an idea to take the local officer's number with you and give them a call if you do have any access problems.
If you think that The Scottish Mountaineer is poor fare, you ought to try Walkwise, from the TGO stable. Aimed at the Scottish walker, it includes walks around some of the rougher parts of Glasgow and a three-page feature on Carol Smillie walking her dog. Yes, it's that bad.
Full of health information such as "drink water", or "eat an apple", it comes across like some "in-house" publication, very dry, with the exception of Cameron McNeish's articles, which are passable.
It seems to have been designed by committee, and in my opinion should have been strangled at birth. (See page 12 here for review - Ed.)
James Cassidy, Airdrie
PS - I believe Miles Hunt of the Wonderstuff has a more liberal view of climbing than Coldplay (TAC65 p15): "I have seen every mountain I'm expected to climb, but they're not mine" - Change Every Light Bulb, 1993.
On the assumption that being mentioned in TAC is an equal honour to being quoted or misquoted in Private Eye or the West Highland Free Press, I have to thank Jerry Fuchter for inadvertently bringing in more support for the MCofS due to his self-opinionated attack on conservation in TAC65 than any amount of drum beating we or the clubs do as "watchdogs of the hills".
On a more personal note, Mr Fuchter claims my letter in reply to Robin Campbell's in TAC62 was "more of an attack on the man than his arguments". Total cobblers. Robin is an old and trusted friend of many years, and if we disagree over things (like smoking extra-strong best shag in confined spaces) then it matters not a whit to our friendship.
I am sure others can pick a few holes in Mr Fuchter's arguments better than I, but I am glad that organisations like MCofS and the JMT exist to ensure that what happens in our mountain areas is noted and representation made to the powers that be in order to limit the creeping industrialisation. On his querying the amounts of cash brought into the Highland economy, a survey undertaken some years ago revealed that climbing and hillwalking above 600m brought an indirect spend of approximately £150m. This is out of date now and I believe that figure has risen. As a resident in a small Highland village in Ross-shire, I can assure Mr Fuchter that most if not all the residents are more than aware of and encourage "green tourism", and are equally alarmed by the seemingly uncontrolled spread of windfarms and their infrastructure.
John Mackenzie, President MCofS, Strathpeffer
They say any publicity is better than no publicity, and perhaps Alan Blanco's appraisal of the March 2005 edition of The Scottish Mountaineer comes into that category. I could take issue with much of this, but can't be bothered to go into detail. The main point to make is that he should have waited till he had received a year's supply of the magazine before commenting on its relevance to hillgoers.
True, the March edition had a lot of climbing content. The September 2004 issue was exactly the opposite, with walking articles by Richard Gilbert, John Allen, Irvine Butterfield and Sinclair Steven, another about wild land, as well as three pages of access news.
TAC readers probably expect their fine fanzine to be dominated by hillwalking, and don't buy it to find out what's been achieved in the Peruvian Andes, but the MCofS represents hillwalkers, climbers, cross-county skiers and mountaineers and so a balance has to be struck. But as most of the contributions are made on a voluntary basis (apart from the news sections compiled by our working officers), as editor I have to take what is available at the time. Overall, however, I try to get as much good writing on hillwalking as I can throughout the year. (Unfortunately I get sent a lot more quality climbing prose!)
One detail I really will take issue with is Alan's wish that we produce a "simple low-cost newsletter, covering areas of access and conservation properly". Every issue has a large content on a range of issues relating to these two important items. I see no other magazine keeping its readers (members) informed on these issues in Scotland in the same detail, nor allowing them the opportunity to contribute to consultations that affect them.
Alan's idea of a simple newsletter just would not work, as in order to circulate the magazine to 10,000 members we need financial help. This comes from advertising revenue in the magazine and advertisers are not interested in a photocopied black-and-white fanzine but in a full-colour magazine that attracts readers in newsagents. It's a simple matter of marketing and money, and at least our "glossy pseudo-commercial advert-fest of a 7b 8c+ FA magazine" (to quote Alan) allows us to get the information out to all our members on such subjects as those appalling windfarms he so hates.
Editor The Scottish Mountaineer and National Officer, MCofS
Ed. - Issue 28 of The Scottish Mountaineer, September 2005, includes on its cover mention of "Rob Miln - A Tribute". Well-intentioned, of course, but the tribute could have made a better start by spelling the late Rob Milne's name correctly. Such things happen from time to time, though - for instance the Guardian (new design, same old cluelessness re spelling and geography) recently included several large adverts for its own compilation of Harry Griffin's country diaries, with a plug by "Chris Bonnington" - possibly the oldest hill-related howler of them all, but not often seen in such an amusingly large typeface. The paper's 23 Sept report of the book's launch on 950m-high Helvellyn described the hill as "3,250 feet (1,067 metres)" - figures so mangled it's hard to see where they might have come from, and not even mutually convertable - 3250ft equates to 991m.
This kind of thing is not new, though: the May 1895 edition of the SMC Journal featured an article adorned with the title: TWO DAYS IN LOCHABER. BY A. E. BOBERTSON, M.A. What a curious legacy the bagging minister has left us: the most debatable of all Munro-completion claims, and a comedy mis-spelling of his name.
Re map covers (TAC65 p15), has Ordnance Survey now lost the plot entirely? The latest versions of their two Outdoor Leisure maps for the Peak District are emblazoned with the new open-access symbol and depict access land in patches of sickly yellow. Curiously, though, the White Peak title features two climbers on what appears to be an old quarry wall - not a pursuit encouraged (nor a location generally covered) by the new laws which grant a right of access solely to walkers. Even more bizarrely, the Dark Peak title depicts a woman with a dog seated by Three Shire Heads (sic), south of Buxton. Not only are dogs a controversial subject when it comes to moorland access, but the location is not even in the Dark Peak - it's in the area covered by the White Peak map! What next, Blackpool Tower on the front of the Trossachs map?
Andrew McCloy, Youlgrave
Ed. - For more on Englandandwales access weirdness, see pp11-12.
Recent tragic events on Ben Stack prompted me to consult the latest printing of Andrew Dempster's The Grahams. I was surprised to see that the error in the first edition, that Ben Stack is the most northerly Graham, has not been corrected. Ben Stack (NC269423) is some 600 metres south of Sabhal Beag (NC373429).
Findlay Swinton, Monikie
While I am pleased that Ann Bowker liked my piece on Orkney and Shetland (see TAC64 p11 and TAC65 p17), she seems to have taken offence at my throwaway comment about her favourite place. However, there is no need for her to feel sorry for me; I've been to Sandwood Bay. Nice beach, cool stack, but I failed to see what all the fuss is about. The "haunted" house was a particular disappointment.
However, given the regularity with which Sandwood Bay pops up in outdoors magazine and other media, and the glowing accounts it invariably elicits, one could be excused for thinking that it's the only decent beach in Scotland with a walk in. Hence my reference to it as "over-lauded". Perhaps if I had employed the phrase "lazy journalistic cliché" Ann might not have taken it quite so personally.
In being underwhelmed by Sandwood Bay, I'm perfectly happy to accept that I might be in a minority of one. Nevertheless, my views - however abhorrent - are grounded in personal experience, which rather takes the wind out of Ann Bowker's critical sails. And while I would be absolutely delighted to be part of a conspiracy, suggestions of an anti-John Muir Trust undercurrent are similarly wide of the mark.
All the best,
David Gray, Cults
In response to your query about possible quicksand at Sandwood Bay, when I paid a visit in March 2004 the weather was moderate rainfall and quite windy. Whilst crossing the beach on the loch side of the dunes, I was rather concerned that one minute the sand was nice and firm underfoot, then the next it would give way at an alarming rate - up to thigh level. I think it's the nearest I have ever came to experiencing "quicksand", and although I didn't consider myself to be in any danger, it made the walking very tiresome. When I do the crossing again, I'll walk on the beach side of the dunes where the consistency of the sand is firmer.
Tony Dickson, Livingston
Paul Gardner (TAC65 p18) asks if I would have applauded if the Cairngorms National Park Authority's budget had been cut, instead of nearly doubled. I might not have applauded, but poor performance justified a cut.
He suspects "some personal antagonism at the bottom of this". There is none. No one on the shadow board had applied to be on the CNPA Board. Robert Moss had the idea of a shadow board. Neither he nor I had met convenor Andrew Thin before the CNPA's first meeting. The shadow board did not form until a year-and-a-half after the CNPA.
Paul Gardner looks forward to hearing that the shadow board will ensure that it is democratic. When a few of us thought the CNPA should be held to account, we agreed it would be best to do this under the wing of an existing organisation, and we asked the Cairngorms Campaign (CC). If they said Yes, a shadow group could be democratic, and persons other than us could be voted on to it. We did not wish to start a new membership body, because this could have weakened existing bodies.
In the event, the CC after months of delay did not say Yes, so we waited no further and formed the shadow board. The CC got a new convenor last autumn, but has again not taken up the idea of a shadow group. We still hope it will. It is important for the conservation of the Cairngorms that the CNPA be monitored.
Adam Watson, Crathes
Following Ginge Fullen's account of his visit to Jacob's Ladder on St Helena (TAC63 p2), I was reading Simon Winchester's Outposts - Journeys to the surviving relics of the British Empire, and found the following, which I'm sure will be of interest: "It began in the days when soldiers from the Ladder Hill barracks had to be on sentry-go down in Jamestown at lunch. The steps [Jacob's Ladder] had been built [...] to help carry ammunition, stores - and, in particular, manure - between fort and city: the soldiers decided it could be used to bring their lunch. Boys were thus directed to climb the stairs - which rise at an average angle of thirty-nine degrees, enough to give most first-time climbers severe vertigo - and fetch tureens of soup. The boys, determined to serve the soup hot, devised a perilous-looking descent: with shoulders over one [banister] rail, and ankles over the other, and arms spread along the bars to act as brakes, they would slide down, tureens balanced on their stomachs. The average time from taking a squaddy's orders, running up the stairway and returning with a bowl of steaming mulligatawny was eight minutes."
Grant Hutchison, Dundee
Are you one of the people whose hill days are made less enjoyable because of ticks? I refer to the tiny blood-feeding insect ixodes. The importance of trying to keep these insects off your body, or removing them as soon as you detect their presence, is Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis), which is transmitted into your bloodstream from the saliva of the feeding tick. The good news is that not all ticks are carriers, but the bad news is that the disease is on the increase. Lyme disease can cause arthritis, heart problems and affect the nervous system, eyes, kidneys and liver. It can also be life-threatening.
I have refined an organic tick repellent which is easy to make from simple materials. Successful trials have been carried out over a two-year period by 15 volunteers covering most of mainland UK (and a few islands).
If you wish to learn how to make this repellent, visit the website at nontix.co.uk, or send a SAE to the address below.
Ian M Smith, 6 Gallanach, Lochgair, Argyll, PA31 8SD
On 17 June I walked from the Linn of Dee car park to Corrour bothy via Derry Lodge and dropped an Olympus Camedia digital camera somewhere en route. This has photogaphs of my granddaughter aged nine days and I would be really pleased to find it if at all possible. If you can help in any way I would be most grateful.
A new area for me this year was that around the two Grahams on the Skye side of the Kylerhea ferry, and near the top of Sgurr na Coinnich there is a wee cliff facing west. Below the cliff, someone had picked out in white boulders a capital W and an anchor. This is quite invisible from anywhere other than the top of the cliff, and made me reflect on the effort that at least two people had gone to to get their abusive message across. Mind you, we were in West Highland Free Press country, so invective is a way of life.
Donald Shiach, Inverness
Ed. - Donald has also been in touch to say that the main bridge in Gleann Fionnlighe, at NM963813, is down. The estate say they will rebuild it, but when this might happen is unclear. Fording can be difficult if not impossible around here, and the obvious alternative for walkers heading for Gulvain from the south - using the track on the west side of the river - is currently hindered by felling.
TAC 66 Index