The Angry Corrie 18: Apr-Jun 1994

And they call it democracy...

TAC, as is its wont, recently dropped in on a Glasgow hillwalking club's regular indoor meet. The occasion was a talk - although lecture might be a more appropriate term - by one Captain Derek Forbes, vice-president of the Scottish Landowners Federation. Basically TAC wanted to see how the other 0.0001% lives.

It's striking how ex-military types persist in using their titles long after the gunsmoke has cleared. When, for instance, did Capt Forbes last polish his boots in anger? Suez? Dunkirk? Passchendaele? The Crimea? Certainly not Goose Green or Sarajevo. At least TAC presumed he was a Captain in the military; either that or he'd left his Sally Army uniform behind.

And why is it that only the upper echelons of the forces retain their ranks into Civvy Street? You never see posters advertising a speech to the Women's Institute by Corporal Joe Bloggs, whilst the word Private is only ever likely to appear on your editor's father's mail when followed by the word Confidential. Time flows inexorably on, but the unfordable river of the British class system still runs sluggish and deep.

Anyway, enough polemic. Time for reportage. The Captain was in town to calm any qualms hillgoers may have over the deteriorating relationship between walkers and landowners. Whilst the Letterewe Accord does seem to have struck the right balance, discord seems the name of the game elsewhere.

He started by outlining periods when conscientious walkers would keep off the land. Spring was out (hind calving season and grouse disturbance), and there was the stag shooting from 1st July to 20th October. Then wham-bam straight into the hind cull (21st October to 15th February). By our calculations, that leaves perhaps four weeks from mid-February to 21st March - fortuitously just when the weather is at its most glorious.

As with virtually all wealth-apologists, Captain Forbes then threw in a few remarks about the "irresponsible minority of walkers". Whoa, wait a minute! Who the hell are these pimpernels with scarlet cagoules about whom we hear so much? What about the vastly more visible irresponsible minority of landowners? What about tracks bulldozed all over the eastern highlands? What about all the attempts to obtain retrospective planing permission (see David McVey's article, TAC15, pp14,15)? What about all the higher-than- legal voltages running through electric fences? Etc, etc. Needless to say, The Captain had nothing to contribute on these matters: "I couldn't speak for other estates...". We suspect there to be a misprint in the title of the recent SLF pamphlet Access without Acrimony. Surely it should be Acrimony without Access?

There was, as ever, much use of the word "co-operation". This is basically a euphemism for "going along with what the SLF want". Only the term "heritage" is currently more linguistically abused. Hillwalkers were also said to be "guests of the landowners". In that case, every time we walk the hills we should be offered tea, scones and a wee dram, as would, one hopes, be the case every time a landowner turned up in a TAC reader's garden.

One of the lighter moments came when the discussion briefly turned to wildlife, whereupon mention was made of some wild boars roaming around near Loch Ard. At this point more than one person in the back row muttered, sotto voce, that there was a wild bore loose in the room there and then.

So all-in-all, as the song says, nothing was revealed. A group of well-meaning, workaday walkers turned up to be given a thinly-veiled moral lecture by a perhaps less-than-well-meaning tweed jacket who, so he helpfully informed us, owns large tracts of both Galloway and Stirlingshire. In the end it was all rather polite, patronising and pointless. The new boss might end up being the same as the old boss, but it's the old one we're stuck with for now.

One potentially useful idea did, however, arise like a phoenix from the tea and biscuits afterwards. As hinted at in TAC15, p11, there is currently much concern at the appearance of signs in the vast tract of land stretching through Lochaber to Loch Ericht. Although your TAC editor has yet to clap eyes on one - placed by the Mid-West Association of Highland Estates and backed by SNH - word is they suggest walkers should, as Capt Forbes himself requested, keep from the ridges and corries for much of the year. At best, the catch-all signs serve more to bolster truth-economy than land-economy. At worst, they will discourage more timorous walkers from venturing onto hills despite there not being a stalker due for weeks to come.

Now, whilst not wanting to condone wanton vandalism, how about we produce small, waterproof, not-easily-removable stickers to be placed on the more erroneous signs? (You know the kind of stickers: councils are always putting them on car windscreens.) Any ideas as to the message will be gratefully received: something short and snappy pointing out the subtleties of the situation.

Long-time TAC readers will be well aware of our concerns about a Munrocentric view of the Scottish hills. Hence mass events such as Boots Across Scotland have, for all their well-meaningness, stuck in the craw slightly. But 2nd / 3rd July 1994 will see the first ever Summit Sweep: an attempt to climb, and clean, all 1551 Marilyns - hills with a 150m drop on all sides, regardless of height. Not only will this remove a lot of litter from various neuks, crannies and cairns, but participants are also being asked to find sponsors to raise money for the John Muir Trust.

Summit Sweep, open to individuals every bit as much as clubs, is being organised by the JMT in conjunction with TAC's own Alan Dawson - he of the Marilyn book The Relative Hills of Britain. Further details - including sponsor forms and a list of your local Marilyns - from the John Muir Trust, PO Box 117, Edinburgh EH7 4AD. Even if you're in Blackpool, Skegness or wherever on the weekend of the 2nd / 3rd, you can still take part on another date. Sounds fun. Drop the JMT a line and sign a day of your life away.

TAC 18 Index