And they call it democracy...
A month on the Minigaig
The story so far... Readers will recall TAC13 containing letters from people concerned about threats made to the right-of-way status of the Minigaig pass, along with the editorial suggestion that something actively be done about this, possibly in the form of a mass walk. The Minigaig - which runs approximately 28 miles from Blair Atholl to Kingussie - is one of the longest, highest and oldest of Highland through routes. An attempt at official registration by Perth and Kinross District Council, under whose jurisdiction the southern end of the Minigaig lies, had been met with protest from Atholl Estates, who argued a temporary closure for the duration of each stalking season would be in their interests.
In spite of Atholl Estates having a reputation as one of the more thinking, land-friendly estates, this provoked outcry from various quarters. Basically, if the good guys could do it, how long before less considerate estates literally got wired in? With its phoneline buzzing and letterbox rattling like never before, TAC attempted to link with the Scottish Rights of Way Society, with a view to joint action. The SRoWS declined (for more on this see p16), but it soon became clear a widespread and enthusiastic body of hillgoers was ready and willing to pull on boots and agitate on land-inequity issues. A meeting was thus called for early July, attended by ten TAC readers with others sending apologies. From what was known, the Atholl Estates factor, Andrew Gordon, had formally objected to the registration of the Minigaig on grounds of it having been superseded by the modern A9. Ergo its traditional status was no longer valid. Clearly, if not prevented, such a closure would totally undermine the status of this and other paths. A right-of-way is a right-of-way, period, and not under the influence of any estate. Indeed, many walkers deliberately await the stalking season before walking such routes simply out of courtesy and deference to estates' wishes that high ground be avoided at such times.
The feeling of the meeting was strongly that the mere fact of a threat having been made warranted some kind of formal, public response - ie not just on paper. Also, given other land controversies and inequities exist already and will arise in the future, there is a crying need for concerted action on the part of Scottish hillusers. The Minigaig might well serve as template and testing-ground for future actions.
The initial idea was for a traditional mass walk - ie a crossing from Atholl to Spey on a specified date. There was, however, concern expressed at the validity and viability of this, viz:
- Fear of the environmental impact, particularly in terms of path-erosion.
- A mass of walkers inevitably leads to most wildlife making a hasty mass exit.
- Most walkers seek peace and quiet on the hill; a mass walk, however well meant, runs counter to this.
- Logistics - simple organisation together with safety factors - increases exponentially the larger a walk grows.
- If there is indeed a genuine threat to the Minigaig, a single walk might fail to pick up on this, the estate choosing to turn a blind eye on the date chosen.
- Several potentially kindred groups, whilst perhaps supporting the general aims, have formal, principled objections to this kind of walk.
The idea was then proposed of a series of smaller walks spread over a period of one month - namely September. This, as far as was known, had never been attempted before, yet seemed both sensible and progressive, viz:
- Groups of between two and six walkers would be much less intrusive on the landscape.
- The logistics might appeal to clubs or other organisations, each of which could be allocated a day. These could be organised internally and on a small scale, with feedback from all parties being collated, leading a much broader picture.
- If it was still the intention of Atholl Estates to deter walkers, this would presumably happen at some point over the month.
Thus it was initially decided an attempt be made to apportion each day of September to small, monitored groups. However, since the July meeting, and as widely reported in the press, the Council formally ratified the status of the Minigaig. Technically this changed little: Atholl Estates never had a legal leg to stand on in the first place. But a letter was also received from the Andrew Gordon, asserting: "Atholl Estates will do nothing to impede anybody walking through the Minigaig Pass at any time of year; what we are asking for is some understanding of our situation." Hence maybe what should now happen is that the full-blown plans for a Month on the Minigaig be put on hold. Instead, several - rather than all - days in September could see small parties make low-key crossings of the pass, as before, with a view to monitoring the situation on the ground. There seems no point wasting energies agitating over an issue already largely resolved - and for which the widespread base of support may well have ebbed away in the light of press reports. Hence if you are interested in becoming involved in this monitoring process, contact TAC at the usual address. Already the whole exercise has provde positive and worthwhile, and sights could now be set on other, similar, land issues - perhaps Mar Lodge? - which warrant organised action of some sort. Watch this space.
TAC 14 Index