Bobble hats at dawn as ramblers fall out

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's best-known authorities on mountain walking has been accused of copying some of the routes in his best-selling guidebook from a rival publication.

In his foreword to The Corbett Almanac, a guide to 221 Scottish mountains from 2,500 to 3,000 feet high (760-920m), TV presenter Cameron McNeish, president of the Ramblers' Association in Scotland, suggests that he personally found and plotted every route.

Critics have accused Mr McNeish of a cardinal sin in the climbing world – claiming to "bag" hills he has not visited. According to Ken Crocket, President of the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) Mr McNeish cribbed parts of the club's own guidebooks for his work.

The Corbett Almanac has no co-authors or additional sources credited. Each route "gives a rough outline of what I have found to be the best line of ascent and descent".

The Corbetts include mountains such as the Cobbler in Argyll, Ben Ledi near Stirling and Foinaven in Sutherland. "No, I hadn't climbed them all when I wrote the book, but I have since," Mr McNeish said. "It's a very brief book. The routes are precis really of the normal long essay-type route descriptions. At the time, I really didn't think it was a huge problem."

Mr McNeish, a well-known commentator on climbing and countryside access issues, presented three BBC TV series on hill-walking, including Wilderness Walks. Former Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith, and the mountaineer Chris Brasher were among guests on the programmes.

The allegations of plagiarism were first raised in a small climbing fanzine called The Angry Corrie. They escalated after Mr McNeish suggested in a BBC Radio Scotland interview that the SMC had conspired with the Ordnance Survey to increase the height of several major mountains in order to sell more guidebooks.

Mr Crocket retaliated in his column for the internet magazine, Scotland Online. "I have been hearing persistent rumours that perhaps he may not have actually visited all the tops [peaks]," Mr Crocket wrote. "There are other stories, too, of the remarkable similarities his written walk descriptions have to those published in SMC guides. Several correspondents have been surprised to learn that McNeish guides have not been published with the express permission of the SMC, so alike they have appeared to readers."

Mr McNeish insisted that he had climbed all but "three or four" of the 221 Corbetts when his Almanac was released. But David Hewitt, editor of The Angry Corrie, claimed there are more close similarities between SMC guides and Mr McNeish's book – including several errors of fact made by the SMC.

Mr Crocket said the SMC's lawyers had considered legal action against Mr McNeish for alleged plagiarism but had decided it would harm the image of climbing too much to proceed. "The implication is very clear," he said. "The book says he has done it; either he's mistaken or it's sloppy language."

In last month's edition of The Great Outdoors, the walking magazine he edits, Mr McNeish retracted his allegations about the Ordnance Survey maps. But he claimed that the allegations first emerged because he had sacked Mr Hewitt from his column with The Great Outdoors – a claim denied by Mr Hewitt.