Published 23rd March 2021, 12:51

    QUEEN VICTORIA is often attributed the quote 'We are not amused' so I don't suppose it's any surprise that her ghillie, John Brown, decided discretion should be applied when she asked him the name of a particular Cairngorms peak.

    And so Bod an Deamhain – the penis of the demon – gained the more genteel title, The Devil's Point. To make matters worse, nearby Sgor an Lochain Uaine was then given the optional title of Angel's Peak, as if a counterbalance was required.

    Scottish mountain names are a complex stew of Gaelic, old Scots, Celtic and Norse with the odd Anglicisation thrown in, and the richness brought about through lost translations and alternate spellings throws up many fascinating anomalies.

    For instance, I have often puzzled why we have The Saddle rather than the Gaelic translation An Diollaid in Glen Shiel, yet in Glen Cannich there is Sgorr na Diollaid, the peak of the saddle: they are not a million miles apart and both refer to the shape of the summit ridge.

    The spectacular leaning tower known as Lord Berkeley's Seat, is another anomaly, the odd one out among the two Munros and seven Tops on the skyline of An Teallach with all the other summits bearing Gaelic names.

    The man in question is believed to be George Charles Grantley Fitzhardinge Berkeley, who is said to have sat on the top high above Coire Toll an Lochain with his legs dangling over the edge for a bet while smoking his pipe.

    He was the Whig MP for Gloucestershire West for 20 years in the mid-1800s, but history shows him to have been regarded as the black sheep of the family. He was a keen hunter and, as well as several dogs, he kept a pet cormorant he named Jack.

    As a child he was said to pick fights with local children near the family estate at Cranford and horsewhip them. This tendency to violence spilled into adulthood: he whipped the editor of a magazine who had published a poor review of his book while a boxer he hired stood guard at the door. He later fought a duel and badly injured the writer of the piece. He was fined £100 for the assault on the editor, but awarded £2 in libel damages.

    He was once described as 'the degenerate English aristocrat at its very worst' so it seems a little surprising that there has never been any real objection to his name remaining linked to this iconic peak.

    This topic is addressed in the book, The 1033 High Hills of Britain, by Alan Dawson, a man well known for his meticulous work on mountain measurements.

    He presents an alternative to the traditional mountain lists using different criteria and a fresh vision with less constraints: the hills in question have to be 838 metres above sea level on the mainland or 770 metres on one of the islands. The explanation is convincing, but too detailed to sum up in a few sentences. Suffice to say, there is plenty to explore here.

    When it comes to An Teallach, 13 significant tops are listed but Lord Berkeley's Seat is not among them. Instead there is a reference to Stony Seat, a name I had not come across before. Then it clicked. Taking inspiration from a quote from the mountaineer and explorer Bill Tilman – 'The practice of naming mountains after persons is not easily justified' – Alan set out to try and find an alternative name for this summit that wouldn't sound like it celebrated someone known for his love of slaughtering wildlife.

    He contacted the current Lord Berkeley, Anthony Gueterbock, a Labour life peer, to discuss the matter and he agreed there was no valid reason to object to a more suitable name. Stony Seat was suggested as accurate and less deferential, a name that could also be pronounced as though it's Tony's Seat.

    Some may agree, some may vehemently disagree, but this was a personal decision for Alan for the purposes of the book. Whether it goes any further, we will have to wait and see. It may start a debate but it's unlikely that Lord Berkeley's Seat will be disappearing soon, if at all.

    Our attitudes to history are continually being revised and understood in a different light. We can't erase the past but we can learn from it. The statue of the Duke of Sutherland statue on Ben Bhraggie above Golspie is a perfect example. There are those who like to tear it down, while others would prefer to keep it as a permanent reminder of past injustices.

    I expect that anyone dangling their legs over the edge of Lord Berkeley's Seat or Stony Seat will be concentrating too much on the view to worry about the name.