The Angry Corrie 23: May-Jul 1995

And they call it democracy...

TAC (in the form of Alan Blanco and your editor) recently attended a momentous occasion in the annals of bagging. 18th March 1995 saw an ascent of Turner Cleuch Law in the Borders by Rowland Bowker. This was his 1000th Marilyn (British hill with a drop of 150m on all sides), and as such he may well be the first to reach the landmark. Perhaps only Hamish Brown could rival this - although Rowland's spouse Ann is hot on the trail, with only another fifty-odd to go to reach four figures. The occasion was duly celebrated with champagne (which proved to be off and had to be poured instead over the highest tussock, there being no cairn), whilst much time was spent discussing access problems encountered by the Bowkers over their long and varied bagging career. It quickly - and sadly - came to light that difficulties are on the increase, as the following examples will hopefully demonstrate:

  1. Cnap Chaochan Aitinn in the eastern Cairngorms, May 1994. Ann - whilst participating in the TGO Challenge - met Rowland on the summit, then accompanied him down to the track in Glen Avon where a landowner helpfully informed them that they couldn't camp anywhere in Scotland without permission, that only the Glen Avon right-of-way itself was walkable hereabouts, and that the only place to stay was Faindouran bothy - camping outside was not allowed either.
  2. Morven, Sutherland, July 1994. A notice at the start of the estate road in from the east: "All climbers and walkers must report to head stalker before proceeding". The Bowkers duly sought out said stalker, who wasn't in. So along the excellent road they went, having lifted their bikes over a gate on which another sign read: "No unauthorised vehicles". (What does this mean when it comes to bikes?) At Wagg, the missing stalker was encountered, but the Bowker's polite enquiry as to where they should leave the bikes before going onto the hill was met only with a stern reprimand: they shouldn't be there at all. The stalker also rather dumbly demanded to know how they had managed to get past the gate. Or perhaps he was just being a wag himself.
  3. Ben Vuirich, early 1995. Landowner again irate about use of track: "The Ordnance Survey had no right to mark that Land Rover track on their map. I didn't give them permission to do that!"
  4. Beneath Law Kneis, 18th March 1995, morning - a recce of future Marilyn access (with no intention of actually going on the hill) prior to the 1000th. This was at the bridge across the Tima Water leading to the forestry plantations above Deephope (OS79, 277138). The Bowkers had gone only yards off the public road when they encountered a barking dog, then a barking landowner. The latter started ranting about "people like you", before coming out with a choice phrase: "The Scottish right to roam is all finished now". He also told them that the bridge was unsafe to cross - even though it patently wasn't - and pursued them back to the car, on which he proceeded to bang with his fists.

This last incident is perhaps the saddest of all. Here we have a harmless, bikeless, dogless couple, with nearly a century of combined hill-experience behind them, being accosted and lectured by some arrogant imbecile who invoked his (incorrect) knowledge of the law whilst demonstrating an easy willingness to break it himself. Just think how much he could have learned from taking time to talk with - rather that at - these invading yobs. Sad, sad, sad...

On a lighter note, Rowland also tells of passing tarmacadam miles at the end of several Harris/Lewis hillwalks by counting discarded cans and bottles by the roadside. The average he came up with was an astounding 250 cans and 120 bottles per mile! This somewhat undermines (or should that be underquarries?) the islanders' claims of piety, abstinence and love of the land, and perhaps explains the abject lack of legitimate drinking dens between Tarbert and the dingy, rarely-open dive at Rodel.

On the theme of out-of-order landowners, we hear of local concern around Crieff about the attitude of the estate on the east side of Glen Turret. As folk will know, there is a metalled road up to the dam, built by the hydroboard in days of yore. This road then extends - although without of course access for cars - along the east shore of Loch Turret itself, with another branch usefully contouring back around the hillside to eventually approach the Sma' Glen. A landowner named Gibbons has erected pseudo-official signs telling cyclists to keep off this popular spin, eg Private estate road. No bicycle access by order. (By whose order?) And Sheep farm. Walkers must adhere strictly to the hill roads and not detour from them for any reason. Yeah yeah. Gibbons also used to employ an aggressive shepherd (since sacked), who had a penchant for riding shotgun in his Shogun, and who two years back produced said weapon on encountering two fifteen-year-olds harmlessly pedalling along. (Such gun-toting is by no means unique: your editors were once accosted, in a layby on the A82 just south of Crianlarich, by a spotty-but-armed youth in a Land Rover down from Keilator farm.) Of course what makes the Turret situation doubly bad is that the roads to which Gibbons now lays claim were paid for by you and me, out of the public purse. Maybe he should stick to collecting stamps.

Elsewhere, SCAPA (Scottish Campaign for Public Angling) have been busily countering the elitist exclusion orders introduced during years of laird-friendly Tory government. The most recent of these came in on 15th March and covers approximately 100,000 acres and 600 lochs in North-West Sutherland - where rivers such as the Laxford and Duart already have zilch public access. As usual, the person who stands to gain most from this is the poor landowner - in this case the Duke of Westminster himself, Britain's 7th richest person (who presumably feels he has to keep up with the Sainsbury dynasty while staying ahead of quango winners and lottery chiefs).

SCAPA secretary Derek Keith also passes on their new address:
141/5 Hutchison Road, Edinburgh EH14 1PG, tel: 0131-443-5538.

Whilst musing on the great and the greedy, we note our old friend the Duke of Atholl has been in the papers yet again. Not content with angling for 400,000 in grants for planting trees on his land, the super-rich Duke has taken to charging walkers a fiver a time for driving up the bottom bit of the Glen Tilt road. This has in fact been happening for quite a while (Dalmunzie Hotel at Glenshee used to - and possibly still does - run a similar scam), and has now provoked cries of objection from various Perthshire officials and politicians. The more relevant point is of course whether cars should be allowed up there at all - but this is obviously not on the Duke's agenda: he simply wants the cash. Just what is going on in this country? Unemployment everywhere, health service cuts, thousands living in crap housing - yet the Duke and his kind have neither qualm nor conscience about going grab grab grab. Mourners will doubtless one day be asked to pay for parking at his funeral.

Less morosely, Alan Burnett writes from the Athens of the North to tell of an imminent meet of the Carn Cloich-mhuillin Society - dedicated to preserving the status and memory of Sir Shug's intended last Munro rather than simply seeing it amalgamated as a top of Beinn Bhrotain. The Society intends to climb its eponymous hill as part of the third Great Scottish Climb on 27th May 1995 - one of the now-annual "put someone on every Munro" charity bagfests. Alan thus requests any TAC reader not already down for a Munro that day (ie don't switch if you're already booked elsewhere) to meet with him at the Linn of Dee car park (OS43 / 065898) around 0820 hours - last boots on by 0850 for a 0900 start. Assemble at a light green LWB Safari Land Rover, reg RIJ 27. Novices and well-behaved dogs are welcome, as are big names like M Gray and T Weir. GSC3 is raising money for Cancer Research, so the bunnet will doubtless be passed round at some point.

Plenty of feedback in the NTS / Glen Coe debate on the letters pages, but it's perhaps also worth mentioning a parallel case in Ireland. A half-built visitor centre in the Burren National Park met with such protest (from the WWF and Plantlife among others) that the government sent in the demolition crew. Cheers all round - although the WWF haven't stopped there, proposing to obtain a European Court ruling on abuse of EU funds. Would that such stridency found its way across the Irish Sea.

Latest CWCD (Credit Where Credit's Due): praise be to the landowners / maintainers who erect access-friendly "Please walk our woods and hills" signs. Two of these have recently been spotted - on the south side of little-but-lovely Moncreiffe Hill near Perth (at around OS58 / 132207), and on the Glen Cia-aig approach to Meall na Teanga (OS34 / 181898).

And finally, with the Mar Lodge saga finally - hopefully - resolved, this leaves only the Bosnian war and Prince Andrew's parentage as the world's enduring dilemmas. The NTS will oversee things, although with the estate still run as a stalking concern and with no hint of the much needed deer cull. Given the admission by an NTS Senior Ranger on p16 that the Glencoe Visitor Centre was a mistake, it will be interesting to see exactly what, if any, newbuild projects spring up west of Braemar.

TAC 23 Index