The Devil's Outdoor Dictionary

Stephen Senn



Some years ago I received the following curious letter. A recent obituary in The Times means that I am now free to make the contents available to the public.

Major N Moore
The Old Forge
Chestnut Lane
Barset 1 April 1984 Dear Sir
I was visiting Inverness on business last year in the company of my wife, and, returning on 30 April, happened to break my journey home in Aviemore. My wife retired early to bed and I spent the evening in the bar of our hotel sampling some of the famous products of Speyside and chatting to the locals. Mention was made of the Lairig Ghru , no doubt well known to you, but until that moment unheard of by me. Being enamoured of a challenge and believing myself still to retain something of the fitness and spirit of my Army years, I determined to walk the next day to Braemar through the Lairig Ghru. My wife agreed to collect me at the other end. Accordingly, armed with my prismatic compass, which I always have with me, a map of the area which I had purchased locally and a bottle of whisky (The Antiquary, to be exact) and some bars of chocolate, I set off at a brisk pace to Braemar.

Great Moss: Looking to Cairn Toul 18 March 1984

Though somewhat out of practice, I made good progress without incident until, drawing level with the Corrour Bothy, I was suddenly aware of a huge figure, dimly visible, on a fine rocky eminence to the south-west. I could think of no explanation for this apparition, unless perhaps that it was a Brocken Spectre, although the nature of its appearance did not accord well with what little I know of these meteorological phenomena. Impelled by curiosity and no doubt somewhat foolishly (since I had many miles to go), I determined to scale this peak to investigate further. On reaching the summit, however, I could find no sign of life, except for some curious footprints and a large shaggy dog (possibly a collie) which set off in the opposite direction from my arrival. A little way further from the cairn, however, were the remains of a bonfire, still warm to the touch and lying on the ground nearby was a curious book, which I have before me as I write.
The volume is bound in red asbestos and the pages are badly charred, so that much is either impossible or difficult to make out. The title page, however, is intact and reads: The Devil's Outdoor Dictionary . Knowing of your interest in such works of reference, I enclose a copy of those entries I have been able to decipher in the hope that you may shed some light on my experiences.
Yours faithfully
Norman Moore
Alas, I cannot shed much light on this account but, by a curious coincidence, on 1 May 1983, I was ski-touring on Carn Ban Mor, less than a half dozen miles from the point Major Moore describes. The conditions were misty and possibly suitable for viewing Brocken Spectres but I have never heard of these having been seen on mountain tops by observers in the valley. Major Moore was on the wrong side of the Lairig Ghru for an encounter with 'The Grey Man' and I am more inclined to attribute his experience to spirits consumed rather than observed. There are, however, a number of curious coincidences and parallels in the Major's account. As those who are familiar with Scotland and the Cairngorms will easily detect them I shall not bedevil the matter by labouring the point. Whilst deploring the Major's diet, I can only admire his adventurous attitude and I think that he well merits the title of 'Fearless Moore'. I conclude by reproducing the definitions below.

The Lhairig Ghru and the Devil's Point


Abseil v. To use a second line of defence as a first means of retreat. n. A descent from the summit that begins slowly at first and suddenly accelerates at 32 ft per sec per sec.
Avalanche Nature's flea powder.
Backpacker One who, like a snail, carries his home with him and proceeds at a similar pace
Ben Nevis A mountain is Scotland which would, it has been pointed out, have a permanent ice cap if it were 1000 feet higher. Other facts about Ben Nevis are that if it were 25000 feet higher, it would be higher than Everest, if it were further north than Narvik it would be inside the Arctic Circle and if it were made of gold it would be extremely valuable.
Bioedegradable An adjective you apply to all the rubbish you don't fancy taking home with you.
Bivvy Bag A plastic bag in which every hill-walker believes he could pass a comfortable night on a windswept mountain but which no earthly inducement would persuade him to test in his back garden.
Bothy A hostel for destitute rats.
British Mountaineering Council A body which speaks for all English mountaineers including the many thousands who have no affiliation to it.
Camper One who showers while he sleeps.
Conservation Preserving the countryside for you to enjoy by discouraging your neighbour from visiting it.
Crevasse A mountain meat safe.
Cross-country Skier One who finds downhill skiing artificial and spends his time racing round and round a prepared groove in a field.
Deadman A belay device which has a habit of becoming plural.
Diabolic Lexicographer A harmless drudge who has mistaken cynicism for wit.
Downhill Skier An actor in a theatre of snow awaiting his queue.
Emergency Rations What you ate for lunch.
Ethics Complicated scruples about tying on exhibited by those who have none about signing on.
Female Rock Climber Poppet on a string.
First Aid Kit A packet of sticking plasters to be used for dealing with serious injury.
Hypothermia 1. A dangerous condition brought about by exposure to the elements and for which the only cure is gradual warming to be achieved by placing the victim in a sleeping bag. 2. A dangerous condition brought about by exposure to the elements and for which the only cure is rapid heating to be achieved by dunking the victim fully clothed in a hot bath.
Ice Axe A winter walking and climbing aid which is not transferred from rucksack to hand before the owner has had his first fall of the day.
Mountain Leader Certificate A means of providing outdoor instructors with work.
Munro A point in Scotland which has been a) declared to be above 3000 feet by the Ordnance Survey and b) declared to be a Munro by the editors of Munro's Tables.
Munroist A being with the body of a rambler and the soul of a philatelist.
Naismith's Rule A formula for calculating time to reach an objective which may be easily memorised as: Allow 5 minutes and 11 seconds for every 1000 ells travelled and 10.8 seconds for every fathom of ascent.
Pennine Way A ditch which stretches from Derbyshire to Scotland.
Red Rope A club for those who climb to a five year plan.
Rock Climber A nature loving free spirit who, except for cleaning off crags, daubing cliffs with chalk and disturbing nesting birds, causes no damage to the environment in which he moves.
Scottish Ski Resort An excellent place for a winter holiday unless there is an 'r' in the month.
Scotland A country which, like Switzerland and Nepal is full of mountains unlike England which only has four (see Munro).
Ski-lift A means of elevating a fool above his station.
Snowdon A railway station in Wales.
SNSC Scottish National Ski Council. The committee for developing Lurcher's Gully.
Weather Forecast Something which does not apply to upland areas above 2000 feet.
West Highland Way A Scottish paper trail.
Yeti An ugly hairy monster who spends his life in the mountains because he has nothing better to do. (See mountaineer .)
Youth Hostel A simple form of accommodation used by those who were young in the 1950s.

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