Re objects on hills. Sometime in the late 1980s, I reached the summit of the Meikle Bin in the Campsies to find a large wooden table together with two or three matching chairs. They were the sort of things you used to use in later years at primary school. There was no clue as to how they got there. Shortly afterwards, someone actually wrote to the (then) Glasgow Herald and reported finding them, and using them to sit down to his hill lunch.
On my next visit, they'd gone - either removed or possibly hurled down hundreds of feet into the Carron Valley Forest.
Suggestions are welcomed as to a solution to the mystery.
David McVey, Milton of Campsie
Sorry to hear that your correspondent Andy Beaton (TAC72 p20) had his stay at the CIC Hut on Ben Nevis spoiled by security worries. The reason for warning hut users to lock the door is a simple case of 'once bitten, twice shy', following a number of occasions when extending traditional Highland hospitality to inquisitive visitors resulted in the disappearance of expensive climbing gear hanging up in the porch.
The planned refurbishment of the hut (see pp15-16 - Ed.) will improve the mountain environment by providing toilet facilities for the occupants and screening the stock of gas cylinders more effectively. Bed numbers will remain the same, and members of bona fide clubs will still be welcome to book places through the custodian.
Muir of Ord (former SMC Ling Hut custodian and CIC regular)
The walking pole reference in the GI Blues piece in TAC71 (p4) raised a pertinent point about the inappropriate use of poles. I'm not personally aware of any accidents directly attributable to such use, but I'd be very surprised if at least a few haven't happened. Using poles when you should be using an axe would be a prime example. And I've certainly encountered folk clinging on to poles in high winds as if their life depended on it when they really would have been safer with the poles on their pack and their hands in their pockets.
As for thoroughly inappropriate settings for pole use, I've seen a pair used in the Eastgate shopping centre in Inverness, and have heard a report of their use in a pub. Some friends from 'south of the Pecos' seem to think that a trip to the Highlands obliges them to be geared-up for force-ten blizzards at all times; how often have you seen folk clomping along Aviemore High St in June in four-season climbing boots and down jackets? I've seen a good few.
My favourite example of this is an encounter by a former Nevisport colleague with a guy dressed in a one-piece North Face down suit (the type they wear on Everest, costs £500) on Cairn Gorm on a sunny day in August!
Yours, Andy Beaton, Dingwall
Ed. - From the Lake District Mountain Rescue Association accident list 2006, p34: '27 September, Helvellyn, Hole-in-the-Wall: Man (61) - Subject tripped on walking pole. Evacuated by stretcher as air ambulance unable to leave site when weather closed in; flew out following day. Dislocated shoulder.'
Thank you to Gordon Smith, your reviewer of my new book on hill-names (TAC72 p15), for his generally favourable comments.
However I must gently dissuade him from the wild speculation he indulges in, due to his fondness for seeing boats' keels everywhere on the skyline, and which leads him to suggest that Cuilags hill on Hoy is derived from kjölr. Being on Hoy, it is, I agree, a Norse name: but a more likely generic for it is kúla, meaning rounded, bump or knob-like (ooh, missus). According to Jakob Jakobsen's The Place-names of Shetland, kúla is 'used for heights, in Norway, and in Shetland for roundish hills', and the term can be found in Cleasby's dictionary of Old Icelandic. The suffix -ag is common in nearby (Norse-named) Caithness, and indicates a diminutive form. It could fit the hill, with steep grassy sides but a rounded top, or the hill name may refer to knoblets (little knobs) around its base. I'll include it in the next edition.
Gordon was remarkably frank in admitting his obsession with cocks, knobs and willies, and I am surprised he didn't devote space to analysing the full-frontal appearance of the membrum virile on pages 124 and 140 of the book. Let me put him out of his angst however as regards the last hill his review mentions (but my book doesn't), viz. Knockenshag. (And indeed one which may be the inspiration for the hills called Little and Meikle Shag a few miles to its east.) It's in bleak Covenanting country north of Sanquhar, at the north-eastern extremity of the Galloway ghetto of Gaelic hill-names, and is probably cnocan seac (pronounced approximately knockan shack), meaning the withered or blighted little hill. Bit like an old man's willy, n'est-ce pas?
Yours, Pete Drummond, Coatbridge
Ed. - Recently noticed Pishwanton Wood, NT535650, near the eastern edge of Landranger 66. Must go there sometime.
I was interested to read the debate about mobile phones hills and emergencies. (TAC71 p15.) As it happens, I was on a Mountain Leader course at Glenmore Lodge last year (excellent, incidentally, and I commend it to anyone, however experienced they are). It is now official policy that leaders should carry mobile phones and use them as the first line of defence if anything goes wrong enough to prevent the group getting off the hill under their own steam.
Response time is the key to any disaster-management situation and the response time to a phonecall is self-evidently hours faster than sending for help in any other way. If you find yourself in a place where there is no mobile signal, the advice (depending on your precise location) is not to head down the hill to the nearest phone but to climb up until you can get a signal. Almost everywhere in Scotland, it was claimed, can get a signal from a ridge.
The onward march of technology is such that the idea that a qualified leader might be expected to carry a GPS in order to fix their position accurately is already being considered informally.
Yours, Robert Dawson Scott, Glasgow
In answer to your request for opinions on mobile phones, a Nokia alarm call penetrates a winter sleeping bag, unlike the feeble Casio watch alarm.
I agree with Gordon Smith: the driven-looking guy in TAC71 over-reacted somewhat to a comical summit ring. Nevertheless, the less said the better in Gordon's position. As you allude to, mobile stress can spark off an emotional reaction. For an example of a call that resulted in international, psychological, political and media analysis, see the 'Bus Uncle' entry on Wikipedia.
Back to that Nokia and the sleeping bag. When setting the alarm and noticing a zero signal, you do feel that you've arrived. Mind you, if you'd left the mobile behind, you'd get yourself a life a few hours earlier.
Yours, Eddie Dealtry, Balfron
The Ed may be pleased to hear that not all is black and white in the world of mobile phones. As the likely target of the 'relentless on-hill' texter mention in TAC71, I can categorically state that I most definitely do not 'love them' and only succumbed to the bugger years after everyone else and then only for keeping in touch with loved ones.
Mine is on silent 99% of the time and only audible if (rarely) expecting a call. TAC entertainment factor aside, I detest hearing folk in public yapping away at ridiculous levels and I'd probably have joined that bloke on Cir Mhor and moved on, leaving Gordon Smith and his phone at the summit. I wouldn't have even considered having a phone conversation on a hilltop with others within hearing distance. But texting is another thing entirely, and when you spend countless days alone in the hills as I do, and have no signal at low levels, you end up with all those texts rolling in on the hilltops. And the next best thing to sharing hill days with good friends is having a bit of contact with them via text, and it's a lovely thing for sure. Where else could I practice the art of mountain-goat hopping around the Relative Hills and touch-texting at the same time?
Yours, Brent Lynam, Whitgreave
Ed. - At lunch on Ben Wyvis, 19 December last year, one of the party (a Gordon, but not Gordon Smith) pulled out a fancy looking mobile and proceded to phone someone in Mozambique. The rest of us didn't want to eavesdrop, but it was a work-related call and he appeared to be rather stern with the person at the African end concerning an impending deadline.
The content of the call isn't relevant, however. The question is this: has a longer-distance call ever been made from a British hilltop?
When will I learn? - always read TAC as soon as you get it. Mid-August found me in Bridge of Orchy with enough time and suitable weather to do Dorain and Dothaidh, two hills that eluded me on a camping trip up the Auch Gleann in the early 1990s. I set off up the tourist route, comfortably armed with the knowledge that the first cairn was not the top of Dorain.
However, where the 'correct' path clambers up on to the final ridge, I took the much more obvious path along the west face, assuming it would climb to the ridge shortly. I did hesitate as I saw a faint track heading east, but ignored it in favour of the much stronger path across the face - just like Christine (TAC71 p15) but without anybody on a mobile phone to put me right. The only other walker on the hill had made the same 'mistake' just in front of me, but I didn't spot him for a while.
Despite having read many times about the false summit, I'd read nothing about this path until I belatedly read TAC71. Clearly, many people do use it, and it seemed quite safe and secure. I don't recall any areas of steep rock and it brought me on to the south ridge just below the true summit. On descent, I noticed a small cairn marking the turn-off up on to the ridge, but had simply not been looking for it on the ascent - I assumed the path up such a popular hill would be obvious. On reflection, using this path on ascent and the main ridge for descent made for a more interesting walk - the guidebooks should recommend it.
Cheers, Chris Watson, Wallasey
I wonder if you'd mind me using the TAC letters page to recycle some paper? Recycling in the best possible way, of course. I have a set of TACs (1 to 64) which I need to get rid off, due to space problems.
If there are any readers who would like them, I'd be happy for them to go to a good home. I'm not looking to sell them, but I would ask for a donation to Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples throughout the world. If anyone's interested, email me on email@example.com
I'm happy to post them, if you'll cover the cost. If you're within reach of Sheffield, you could collect. If you're within reach of Edinburgh, you could collect when I visit the family. If you're somewhere else, I'm sure we can sort something out.
Regards, Jim McNeil, Sheffield
Trevor Dearnley's letter (TAC72 p20) re a topless walker on Beinn Bhuidhe reminded me of meeting an Aberdonian on Arkle on a glorious, calm June day in 2000. He'd spent a lot of money on expensive contact lenses to save wearing steamable spectacles, but on removing an eyelash at the summit a lens had pinged from his fingers to the rocky floor below. Needless to say, an exhaustive search ensued to no avail.
But I digress. He told of climbing Ladhar Bheinn on another glorious day. As he approached the top there were two women sunbathing topless. He said he didn't know where to look (believe that if you will), and walked on to the trig point, no doubt with steamy glasses - might this explain the expensive contacts?
For an ageing male hillwalker there could be no better added incentive for getting out on the hills on a good summer's day. You never know what you might see! Now, where did I put that dirty old raincoat...?
Yours, Eric Young, Dumbarton
Ed. - I keep hoping to bump into that Gisele Bündchen on Ben Cleuch, but it hasn't happened yet. It'll be annoying if she climbs it on a day when I'm otherwise engaged. Actually, the chap on Ladhar Bheinn appears to have been so fixated with one kind of toplessness as to overlook a more important one: the Ladhar Bheinn trig isn't the summit. I trust he didn't go home and put a tick in his copy of Munro's Tables...
TAC 73 Index