Here's an odd thing. The December 2006 newsletter of the Munro Society includes a report, by Bill Taylor, on the society's annual dinner held in Fort William. The shindig coincided with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Hugh Munro, and "distinguished guests" included Dick Balharry, chair of the John Muir Trust. Balharry, Taylor notes, "gave an entertaining and fascinating account of his working life from his early gamekeeper days, his pioneering work as warden of Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve back in the late sixties and early seventies, right through to his current work in the Cairngorms." So far, so straightforward. Then Taylor writes: "Although Dick's objectives when walking in the mountains may be different from the majority of the gathering (he has never summitted a Munro!)..."
Can that be true? Is it genuinely the case that one of the most high-profile people in the Scottish hill conservation field has never been to the top of any of Ben Lomond, Ben Lawers, Lochnagar and so on? Did he never top-out Beinn Eighe when he worked there? Or climb Creag Meagaidh when he was involved in establishing it as a National Nature Reserve? Extraordinary if so, especially as, in 1969, he led a party which made possibly the first ascents by recreational climbers of Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, the most difficult and eco-sensitive of Marilyns. (TAC has even unearthed a precise date for Balharry's Stac Lee ascent: 19 May 1969.)
Have the wires become crossed somewhere, and Balharry has actually been up a fair number of Munros, as one might expect? Or is it a wind-up, with Taylor having fallen for a yarn spun by Balharry? The man himself is more than welcome to drop TAC a line: it would be good to get to the bottom (and indeed the top) of this.
Another strange quote came during the spate of five fatalities in Coire an t-Sneachda during December and January. This grim episode has been much discussed elsewhere (eg on http://www.ukclimbing.com/); but following the fifth death, that of Mike Rough from Devon, the principal of Glenmore Lodge, Tim Walker, noted that climate change has meant that "climbers are coming across new types of snow and ice". Does anyone have any idea what that means?
The editor seems to have spent a disproportionate amount of time reading blogs these past few months, partly in search of entertainment, partly by way of cramming ahead of (maybe) starting his own blog in the not too distant future. One trend in the blogosphere is for bloggers to ask their colleagues to make lists, and just before Christmas the entertaining right-of-centre political blogger Iain Dale, http://iaindale.blogspot.com, challenged various others to compile a top ten of things they would never do. This prompted the entertaining left-of-centre political blogger Paul Linford, http://paullinford.blogspot.com, to come up with this, where at least one of the ten is likely to be of interest to TAC readers: 10 Use the cane in order to discipline my son; 9 Take part in Big Brother, the X-Factor, or any show called "I'm an ex-Lobby hack, get me out of here"; 8 Get a tattoo; 7 Declare my allegiance to any Head of State other than my Queen and her successors; 6 Support Man Utd or Chelsea; 5 Get divorced, although I guess it might not be solely my choice; 4 Climb Broad Stand, the crag that separates Scafell Pike from Scafell; 3 Take smack; 2 Convert to Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Atheism or any other anti-Christian belief; 1 Top myself.
Iain Dale also quoted the latest in the endless series of political hill analogies. On 26 January he obtained the text of an interview given by Frank Dobson for the GMTV Sunday Politics show ahead of it being broadcast a couple of days later. Pressed for his thoughts on how much longer Tony Blair would remain in office, Dobson said this: "I've been predicting that the prime minister's authority would go down and it wouldn't go down in a steady slope, there'd be the odd cliff and then a plateau and then another cliff and I think we are going down a pretty steep slope at the moment and it is likely to get worse..."
On the subject of mountain-as-metaphor, 31 January saw a striking one from assistant chief constable David Shaw of West Midlands police. Describing the raids that led to nine men being arrested following "an alleged Iraq-style kidnapping and beheading plot", Shaw said that the police were "right in the foothills of a major investigation". When five of the men had been charged, Shaw again spoke to the press and said "Nine days ago I told you we were at the foothills of a major investigation; we have made extraordinary progress in that time." Could these be the same foothills in which Yasin Hassan Omar and five other "alleged Muslim fanatics" (Daily Mail) were photographed at a "training camp" in the Ponds ahead of the 21 July 2005 attacks in London?
TAC is always interested to see what people carry in their rucksacks. The one discarded in London by Omar contained: one bomb, two shirts, some deodorant and aftershave and a DVD of Meet the Fockers.
By common consent, the most entertaining/scurrilous/racy of the political blogs is Guido Fawkes, http://5thnovember.blogspot.com/ In a 5 December Guido discussion about alleged abuse of charitable status at the Smith Institute think-tank, this anonymous comment came in: "i went along this morning, was a thoroughly good chat. in attendance: polly toynbee, steve richards from the indy (who had a weird habit of focusing at the ceiling when speaking), chris smith (who has piled the weight on)..." Can it be that the only MP to have completed the Munros (Sgurr nan Coireachan at Glenfinnan, 27 May 1989) is now carrying a rucksack on his front rather than on his back? Hope not. The blogger did however add that there were Danish pastries (sorry, danish pastries) at the meeting. Surely a second Munro round, or at least a dose of Marilyns, is in order for Baron Smith of Finsbury. After all, in an interview, http://www.ramblers.org.uk/news/archive/2004/chrissmithinterview.html, he did say that after his retirement as an MP [in 2005], he would "look forward to doing other things and perhaps, who knows, finding a bit more time to go walking."
Away from politics, long-time TAC reader Gordon Ingall asks an interesting question: What is the least-climbed Munro? There doesn't seem to be any obvious answer to this, not compared with the way that the most-climbed Munro surely comes down to a shortlist comprising Ben Nevis, Ben Lomond, and, er, not much else. The assumption has to be that all complete Munroists have climbed them all (a false assumption admittedly, given that the Reverend Robertson's antics on Ben Wyvis and Stuc a'Chroin started a slipshod nonsummiting trend that has continued, in various forms and on various hills, to this day). To avoid promotion/demotion complications it's also best to assume the question is asked with regard to the current 284 Munros, taking a notional snapshot of any post-1997 year. (In other words, it shouldn't matter that the likes of An Stuc and Sgurr na Carnach haven't been Munros for anywhere near so long as the rest.)
Those assumptions in place, what's being looked for is the Munro climbed least often by non-Munrobaggers. A few trends could be suggested: hills in the west get climbed by all sorts of people on the grounds of spectacular scenery and grand views. Standalone Munros across the country - Beinn Sgritheall, Schiehallion, Mount Keen etc - also have a certain allure. And Munros close to main roads are wandered up for a legstretch, so that rules out a few allegedly "dull" candidates at Drumochter and in the Monadhliath. Mid-ridge bumps are possibly the best bet, although some are climbed en route to the local dominant peak, most obviously Beinn Ghlas (a lot of people's first-ever Munro even though they tend to say their first was Ben Lawers; the same thing occurs on the Donalds with Benyellary and Merrick). So the field narrows to mid-ridge Munros away from western ridges and honeypot locations, along with hinterlandish things tucked away in fiddly corners. Bearing all that in mind, here is TAC's list of five candidates: Beinn nan Aighenan, Carn an Righ, Beinn a'Chaorainn (Cairngorms), Maoile Lunndaidh, Meall Gorm. Any other suggestions?
Arguably the least-climbed Munros are the phantom ones, those which appear on maps and in lists but not on the ground. It's been noted here previously (TAC57 p10) that the 1997 edition of Munro's Tables gave a wrong grid reference for Sgurr an Doire Leathain (NH015199 when it should be NH015099), and the Ordnance Survey dutifully slapped the hill's name on Explorer 414 on both the correct spot and the imaginary one (beneath the northern edge of Beinn Fhada). It's also been noted (TAC39 p5) that another of the South Cluanie Munros was wrongly gridreffed in the same book: Creag nan Damh is listed as NG913111 when it should be NG983112. The wrong location is away down the back of the Saddle, and looking at Exp413 it appears that the OS have managed to avoid falling into the trap this time: there's no ghost name there. But look at the latest (2005) edition of Landranger 33: there it is, Creag nan Damh, at NG913111. This is a fairly recent addition: it wasn't on the 1998 edition of LR33.
As with the false mapping of Sgurr an Doire Leathain, this is revealing about the way in which the OS now goes about its business. Instead of doing upland cartography in the Highlands, it simply copies information, unchecked, from the SMC, even when this is wrong. And given that there's alleged to have been a long history of deliberate mistakes on OS maps to catch out copycat cartographers (the OS denies this but plenty of people don't believe them), it's ironic that they've been caught by the same trick here, even though the SMC error is inadvertent rather than deliberate.
An even weirder map glitch accompanied Robin Howie's walk-of-the-week feature in the Scotsman, 3 February. The hill described was Beinn Iutharn Mhor, but the map (see below, and also at http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=1110&id=159322007) showed the Cobbler a little to the north of the Spittal of Glenshee. As Iain McEwan of Pitlochry noted on the letters pages three days later, "They say faith can move mountains, but Robin Howie must be a miracle worker...".
Returning to the SMC, one of their office-bearers was to be seen gazing at his down-a-bank car ("It's four-wheel-drive," he noted, rather forlornly), halfway up the Lochan na Lairige road on 18 December. The road was sheet ice - impossible to stand on without crampons - so one can only assume the SMCer in question was trying to put up a new route into Glen Lyon. (TAC will do him the rare favour of protecting his identity.)
The least-climbed Munro, real or phantom, is unlikely to be in Section 1, the Arrochar/Crianlarich/Crieff area. TAC69 included a letter from Jim Waterton in which he came up with the concept of the Muntiple Number, defined as "the largest number of Munros one has ascended at least that number of times". It was noted that Ian Douglas of Glasgow was known to have climbed all 20 Section 1 Munros at least 20 times each. The Ed bumped into Douglas at Rowardennan in early December (while waiting for the hungover Warbeck - see p6), and he said that his actual Muntiple Number stood at 26. He has scope to increase this in the fairly near future, as four Munros are on exactly 26, including what were described as "two spares".
Also at the keen end of the Munro spectrum is Steven Fallon, he of the 13 rounds and counting. The impressively relentless rate at which he ploughs on is shown by the following email exchange from mid-December:
Ed - I've climbed 87 this year (my highest ever, ahead of 85 in 1990), and will probably end up with 90ish.
SF - I've done the opposite, just 132 (though a few more will be added), which is the lowest since 1992!
The final totals were 91 Munros for the Ed (13 new, 78 repeats) and 135 for Fallon. He managed a 2006 total of 533,905ft of ascent and 1851½ miles, and notes that "the reason for the very large figures for ascent and distance in comparison with the low number of Munros [TAC's italics] is that the amount of running I do over the Pentlands training for hill races is included."
The most amazing bagging feat in 2006, however, was surely Andrew Tibbetts' rewriting of the highest total of new Marilyns in a year - see TAC69 p20 for earlier info on this. He ended up with 549 new ones - he had thought it was 550, but there was a recount reminiscent of the Holmes and Sutcliffe 555 opening partnership in 1932. (As cricket-literate TACers will know, Herbert Sutcliffe gave his wicket away once the previous record of 554 had been passed, but the scorers then discovered that the pair had only added 554 after all - whereupon a missing no-ball was mysteriously "found", the total was restored to 555, and all was well again.)
The highest hill climbed was Ben More at Crianlarich, 1174m; the lowest Muldoanich, 153m. He visited 52 Marilyn-Munros, 49 Corbetts and 65 Grahams, plus plenty of lower Scottish things and Marilyns south of the border. The best weather came on Meall nan Eun in late summer, the worst was a choice between a Graham Top on Ben Loyal (wind), Bainloch Hill (rain), Meallan Liath Coire Mhic Dhughaill (whiteout) and Waun Claerddu (thick mist). Neatly, Tibbetts ended the year with his only repeat Marilyn - Conic Hill on Hogmanay to mark Brent Lynam's rather more sedate arrival at the 600-Marilyn mark. As to whether 549 new ones in a year is beatable, anything's possible (well, anything up to and including 1554), but 549 could well serve as the high water mark for some years. Anyone aspiring to outbag it would need a pretty low Marilyn count to begin with (Tibbetts moved from 271 to 820), a sensible base camp (Stirling in this case), good health, excellent planning skills and so on.
Talking of health, the Holmes-Sutcliffe 555 effort gave its name to a brand of cigarettes that exists to this day - see http://www.cigarettesforless.com/555.html It remains to be seen whether Tibbetts will team up with Robin N Campbell to endorse "549" fags, "smoked by discerning Marilynbaggers and climbers everywhere".
Following on from the pieces about Tom Weir in TAC69, Victoria Balnaves has been in touch to say that she's organised a petition lobbying for a televised tribute to the great woolly-bunneted one. At http://www.gopetition.com/online/10042.html, Balnaves writes:
"Everyone who cares about Scotland, whether from the comfort of their armchair, from the heights of our wild mountains, or even from abroad, owes a great debt of gratitude to Tom Weir [...] a man who campaigned ceaselessly to protect some of our finest landscapes to ensure they were handed over undamaged to future generations. His widow, Mrs Rhona Weir, said 'Tom's greatest desire was to share his country. Through his long-running TV series, Weir's Way, Tom effortlessly communicated his passion for walking, for the countryside, for its history, and in doing so, he made Scotland accessible to each and every one of us. [...] Tom Weir received no financial gain from the re-runs of Weir's Way. At the time, he responded by saying that the pleasure the show gave the public was payment enough. STV hid under the phrase 'no moral obligation'."
The petition has 719 signatures as TAC goes to press.
Thanks, finally, to John Allen of Killin for supplying a copy of the leaflet entitled "Chesthill conservation area, advice for walking". Chesthill is the estate in Glen Lyon which has served up the long-running saga of the Invervar gate (see, for instance, TAC42 p14), and its leaflet lives up to expectations by trotting out "advice" in a tone that some may find a tad patronising.
Take this, for example (the underlinings are Chesthill's): "Walk Clockwise [round the four-Munro Carn Mairg ridge] and Stay on the Recognised Route: you get a better view and an easier ascent - stay on the ridge - stay out of all the corries and glens." Or this: "The essence of walking in the hills is solitude. The [Access] Code would suggest that overwhelming numbers is considered anti social. If the car park is full (8 Cars) - try somewhere else." So nothing new there, really. TAC would merely counter that readers - and responsible hillgoers generally - are to be encouraged to make up their own minds about which direction to walk, and in what numbers. The solitude argument looks plain silly alongside the corries/glens verboten one, as it's in off-path corries and glens that solitude is most often to be found.
Then there is the section headed "The Code is helpful in its advice", starting with Responsible Behaviour by the Public: "During the season you can help to minimise disturbance by taking reasonable steps to find out where stalking is taking place and by taking advice on alternative walking sites. Avoid crossing land where stalking is talking place." Except that this isn't what the Access Code says. Here's the legit version, taken from page 82 of the printed Code (also available online): A practical guide to access rights and responsibilities - Deer stalking on the open hill. "During this season, you can help to minimise disturbance by taking reasonable steps to find out where stalking is taking place (such as by using the Hillphones service where one is available) and by taking account of advice on alternative routes. Avoid crossing land where stalking is taking place. Stalking does not normally take place on Sundays." The sections in bold have been trimmed out of the Chesthill version. Note that Chesthill isn't part of the Hillphones service.
The leaflet's section on "Responsible Behaviour by the Land Manager" has been elided along similar lines. The Chesthill version is this: "Tell people about where stalking is taking place (by using signs and information boards, leaflets, telephone and web) to give on the day information on stalking and alternative routes." But what the Code actually says is this: "Tell people about where stalking is taking place by using a Hillphones service or by using signs and information boards (in accordance with this Code) to give on-the-day information on stalking and alternative routes."
Subtle but significant differences in both cases. And given the lengthy and ultra-meticulous fine-tuning that went into getting all parties to agree on the wording of the Access Code, and given that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act is the law (TAC's underlining), it doesn't look good when an estate publishes a unilaterally edited version. Especially as the Chesthill head honcho, Alastair Riddell, has a seat on the Perth and Kinross Outdoor Access Forum. He really should know better.
The Chesthill leaflet also advises walkers to "Have the right equipment, map, GPS, Protractor, etc." Protractor??!
TAC 70 Index