Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Legacy of Names: Craigmore Crag

Craigmore has always been a favourite haunt of mine. It's a small forested crag near Carbeth, north of Glasgow, just off the beaten track of the West Highland Way. It's been a popular top-roping and soloing spot for decades, ever since John Kerry (blog here about him) bussed out with gardening equipment to clean and garden the routes - it's a north-east facing crag and tends to gather a lot of dank moss and vegetation. John produced a guide to the climbing in the 'Glasgow Outcrops' guide by Highrange Sports (1975), describing the rock as 'macroporphyritic basalt, which looks rather like a cross between granite and gritstone'.

The habitat is rock, moss, birch, oak, rowan, hazel, apple and willow, with two Scots pines acting as crag sentinels at each end. Owls, kestrels and smaller birds ghost through the canopy and bumble bees hum through the flowers and catkins in summer like video-drones. Climbers turn up with clanking gear and occasional parties of kids are taught to abseil down Craigmore Corner from the big pine, out for the day from nearby Auchengillan. The Carbeth hutters live nearby and the field above the crag used to be a campsite in the early 20th century. The disjecta I have found below the crag includes modern day energy drinks and Irn Bru cans, old spades and gardening equipment, to an ancient Camp bottle - Camp Coffee was a Scottish chicory coffee replacement, founded in 1876 by Paterson & Sons Ltd. in a plant on Charlotte Street, Glasgow. So the crag has a long history of visitation.

The old guide produced by John Kerry named some classic sectors such as Layback Crack and Burnt Rock Amphitheatre, listing a batch of routes up to '6a' ('extremely severe'). In the 80s Craig's Wall was climbed and upped the bar of technical ascents, though it did employ an old bolt at the fingery crux (Dave MacLeod freed this to give an E7 to the crag). The boulder problems began to be unearthed, such as the superb Jamie's Overhang. I thought this had been named after Jamie Andrew, who was active in the area at the time, but he assured me it was not him and my search continues. If you know who it was, do email me >>> As regards the micro-ascents of bouldering this small bloc is a rich example of the boulderer's philosophy of focus.

Jamie's Overhang 

 Andy's Arete

 Craigmore in spring

Sketch of the blocs

Friday, March 25, 2016

Glencoe March 19th 2016

March sunshine over the Buachaille from the best-sited hut in Scotland 


Bouldering in early March in Scotland can be graced by cold sunshine and serendipitous moments. This is a nice little traverse into the frustratingly good smear work of The Plinth, a problem which got me going again after a long winter of injury and downtime. Named after two hares I spooked that set off like random fireworks, it's a starting gun for 2016. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cobbled Together

The south peak ('Jean') on The Cobbler, 12th December 2015

Here's an interesting round-song of place-names for Arrochar, in cartullaries and statistical and printed records since 1395: Arrochar/Arochar/Arrochquhair/Arrochquhare/Arroquhar/Arachar/An Tairbeart Iar/An t-Àra ...

I was walking uphill wondering what sticks, what's in a name, why do they change, does the landscape care, who are the caretakers of a place-name? We might just be flecks of mica flashing briefly on a sun-struck pebble in the streams, but names are important to us in our brief mappings of our landscapes. Our human territories are marked by names, sign-postings, marker boulders, paths and cairns, amongst other structures, both textual and physical. 'The Cobbler' mountain - Arrochar's finest and most distinctive peak - is a curious example of the fluidity of naming the landscape; of confusion, habit, fashion, politics, class, and misinformation.

The confusion starts even with the parish name of Arrochar. Ben Humble, in his his 1960 pamphlet Arrochar and District: A Complete Guide, states that "...Arrochar is a curiosity as it is taken to be from a Latin term aratrum meaning plough once used as a land measure indicating the amount of land which could be ploughed by one man in a season." This gives a clue, but isn't quite correct.

 Ben Humble's Guide to Arrochar 

Would the Britons and Gaels have adopted such a foreign Latin term, would they not have had their own? It doesn't sound like the modern day 'Arrochar' which has a Gaelic guttural roll which seems a stretch from the clean syllables of 'aratrum'. This sounds more like a Chinese whisper. Other online sources say 'Arrochar' derives from the Gaelic 'Ard tir', meaning the high land, or the land on the East. Intriguing, but not quite there. A better hypothesis is that it derives from the Gaelic 'arachor', which was the name for an old Scottish measurement for an area of land measuring 104 acres. The old English term 'acre' is also aurally close (as a measure of tillable land), and closer still is the Old Norse 'Akr'. The Vikings certainly knew the area, having portaged their ships from Loch Long to Loch Lomond on a raiding party during King Hakon's doomed war campaign which ended at Largs in 1263.

Possibly, at a stretch, the old Latin 'aratrum' could be obscurely linked to the later anglicisation of Ben Arthur (another name for The Cobbler), but this is probably a fantasy. Geoffrey Barrow, renowned Scottish medieval scholar, notes in 2003: “Lennox is well-known to have been the home of the arachor, a word fittingly preserved in the name of the village of Arrochar ... Like carucate, arachor has an obvious etymological connection with ploughing, and the texts leave no doubt that arachor was in fact a Gaelic term for ploughgate.” Barrow notes other examples that arachor was a Gaelic term for ploughing, quoting, "three quarters of land of Akeacloy nether, which in Scotch is called Arachor". It sounds very close to the Old Norse Akr, or the Germaninc Aecer (acre of land).

An t-Àrar or An Tairbeart Iar  - this 2003 source (Mac an Tàilleir) says: “The English and first Gaelic names are obscure but may be related to the name, Ben Arthur. The second Gaelic name is “the west isthmus", comparing it to Tarbert on Loch Lomond.” A closer glottal Anglicization from the Gaelic might thus make sense: An t-Àrar  as an ellipsis of An Tairbeart Iar, but likely more closely is the derivation from from An t-Àrchar (the ploughing/sowing place), which makes topographical sense due to the flat acres of fertile land squeezed in at the bottom of Glen Loin

So to The Cobbler, which has been named Ben Arthur on generations of OS maps. Ben Arthur seems naturally to be an Anglicization from an older 'Ben an t-Àrar' (Hill of the western isthmus) which might have been favoured by English-speaking cartographers. Timothy Pont, who misheard many names on his travels (being a Reformation scholar and very much a non-Gaelic speaker) favours Àrchair: his c. 1591 Pont map 17 gives Suy archire, which could be Suidhe Àrchair (Arthur's Seat?). To get to 'Arthur'  we must look to a 1926 source (Watson), who in a naturally post-Romantic period believed it was Beinn Artair, after King Arthur, a figure always wistfully linked to the Highlands. Ben Arthur may also have come from Beinn artaich, (stony mountain), via the same route of English ears hearing the romantic name 'Arthur' in place of 'Artaich'.

The Cobbler has become more popular in the 20th century due to the natural Last-like features of this horned mountain. And popular names, in a popular era of tourism and hill-walking, tend to stick, with publishers, map-makers and tourist companies favouring a feature-based mentality to touring (such as Denecourt's 19th century rock-featured trails in the forest of Fontainebleau). The Cobbler may also possibly come from gobhlach, meaning forked, with English pronouncing the plosive 'b' sound (a bit like hearing 'cobbla'). But this would assume a written source on an early map being misconstrued and transmogrified, for in Gaelic speech 'gobhlach' is a lot softer. In a text ‘Local Scenery and Manners’ by John Stoddart (1800) he states that the local people called the peak ‘an greasaiche crom’, ('the crooked cobbler'), and today’s name is thus just a translation.

In reality our toponymical mental map is a palimpsest of Chinese-whispers, half-understood local languages, oral history transmutations, cartography assumptions and the popularity of ruling classes as the landscape is renamed not by those who live there, but by those who come to represent it, especially in the globalised world of landscape and its literature. A local Gaelic farmer who would never have traveled far, nor had the need to, had no other requirement than to be obvious about the landscape in a local sense. Hence the popularity of the name Ben Mor ('the big hill') in Scotland. Why would he have had the need to call a hill anything other than what was relevant to the everyday?  King Arthur would have meant little to him as a mythology.

Ultimately we can't really isolate how place-names change and why, there may be moments when they do, but so many other interpretations and mis-recordings lead to a bit of stew, especially in the written record. Place-names may simply be what's formed when everything is cobbled together into one ...