The Angry Corrie 24: Sep-Oct 1995
And they call it democracy...
8th June saw TAC in Perth Sheriff Court, not for any misdemeanour of our own we hasten to add, but to observe an alleged assault / reckless driving case. Glen Turret Estate keeper, Ian McPhee, was said to have deliberately driven into the back of, then run over, the mountainbike of Callum Wilson, a 21-year-old from Crieff now living in London.
On Sunday 17th July 1994, Wilson, along with a friend, 23-year-old Rob Clark, had embarked on a cycle ride along the estate road east of the Turret dam. Having only gone a mile or so, they encountered the 43-year-old McPhee, out in his Land Rover to mend fences (or not as the case may be). All three stopped, and discussion-cum-argument ensued over whether cycling was permissible on the estate. McPhee insisted the cyclists leave, to which they agreed. One of several differences in evidence surfaced at this point: Wilson and Clark stating McPhee said they could cycle along the Turret lochside track instead; McPhee stating he told them to get off the estate altogether. (McPhee did however definitely say in court that the estate had no objection to walkers or horseriders on these tracks...)
The discussion ended somewhat acrimoniously, with Wilson, perhaps unwisely, telling of his having had some legal training and also of being part of Watt Wheelers, a Heriot-Watt mountainbike group. Whatever: the cyclists took off, as requested, back along the track towards the dam; McPhee set about his intended work.
The nub of the case occurred a few minutes later. The cyclists had almost reached the car park (they were around gridref 821265), but had not gone back by exactly the same route amid the plethora of tracks. This greatly displeased McPhee, who had arrived back on the scene and who alleged Wilson swore at him as he cycled past. Now came the second difference of evidential opinion: McPhee claimed Clark remained cycling behind his Land Rover; Clark alleged McPhee speeded up, overtaking so narrowly that he had to swerve his bike into the heather. McPhee indisputably then caught up with Wilson.
A collision occurred. McPhee claimed - and the defence case hung on this - that it was an accident rather than a deliberate ramming. Wilson claimed, however, that he too was forced to swerve onto the heather, whereupon McPhee pursued him, bumped his back wheel, and then, as Wilson scrambled away, drove over the bike. McPhee's counsel (who looked uncannily like John Deakin in Between the Lines), claimed the incident took place on the track, and that Wilson caught a pedal, causing him to wobble off and be run into. (Either way, as the Fiscal pointed out, McPhee must have been driving very close - but since this all happened on private land, the Road Traffic Act and all that it entails didn't come into play.)
Wilson, obviously shaken (he still appeared so in court, eleven months on), claimed McPhee then offered condolences of the "This is private property so I can do what I like" variety.
On making it back down to Crieff, the cyclists reported the matter to the police, who duly traced the Land Rover and spoke with McPhee the next day. The sergeant in question appeared in court and pointed out that the bike (which ostensibly appeared to have no damage worse than a badly buckled back wheel) also had a crack in its frame. The Fiscal failed, however, to produce any expert evidence on this, just as he also failed to bring forward any independent witnesses, despite there apparently having been several hillwalkers in the area at the time.
All this evidence and cross-examination took around three hours, at the end of which the Fiscal declined to press the reckless driving charge whilst the Sheriff dismissed the assault one. McPhee thus walked free. What should be added however is that some fifteen minutes of these three hours were taken up with technical legal argument as to whether the Fiscal could examine the police sergeant on "another related matter". All the court learned, before the defence counsel successfully blocked this, was that McPhee had been interviewed a second time that July. Only later, after the case was dismissed, did TAC learn this "other matter" concerned another mountainbiker (a lecturer from Stirling Uni) having been harassed by the selfsame Land Rover on another bit of estate road the Sunday previous to the Wilson/Clark incident...
It's been a while since TAC last mused on the idiosyncrasies of the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, but recently we've received three separate communications combining concern over the imminent closure of four hostels with gripes about the perennial arcane attitudes in certain establishments. The hostels to be closed at the end of the 1995 "season" are Ballater, Kingussie, Garramore and Loch Ard. TAC reader and hosteller Kathleen Smith was told by the Aviemore warden that the SYHA are responding to what the public wants in running more and more hostels to Aviemore's standard, with the loss - either by upgrading or outright closure - of the simpler places. But given that the number of indigenous Scots - particularly young Scots - using hostels is pitifully few, with an ever-increasing number of bednights being taken by Continental, Transatlantic or Antipodean tourists, any current user survey lacks statistical validity. It's a bit like the bleating of misogynistic C of E priests after the introduction of female ordination: "The church will lose hundreds of members" they cried, quietly overlooking that thousands of others had been dissuaded from joining in the first place due to the existing rules. So with the SYHA: perhaps if a poll was taken of those disinclined to use hostels, this would suggest the need for a different direction.
The reason Kathleen Smith was in Aviemore at all was due to having been effectively refused accommodation at Loch Morlich. Not because of a full house or smelly feet, but through a wicked wish to take part in Cairngorm MRT's Lairig an Laoigh sponsored walk. This required Kathleen and friends to rise sufficiently early to catch a 6.45 a.m. bus round to Linn of Dee. The official early-rise / kitchen-opening time was 7 a.m.. Despite having been in plenty hostels where such rules were quietly bent, and despite this clearly being for a good cause rather than a frivolous day out, Phil Sanderson at Loch Morlich just said no.
Given that the SYHA has, in many respects, adopted a refreshingly modern approach, with its fabled old fartishness on the wane, it's somewhat surprising that forward-thinking policies such as customer satisfaction and being treated like adults haven't yet genuinely filtered through. Again there's a parallel here: just as the NTS seem to have quietly backburnered the original guidelines of Percy Unna, so the SYHA have somehow forgotten all the stuff about cheap, simple accommodation for the hard-up but enthusiastic. Some things never change; some things, unfortunately, do.
One of the most commonly voiced defences of the Highland feudal system is that it looks after its own people, keeping the locals in work. This has always struck TAC as dubious reasoning (the arms dealers of this world have kept the humble folk at Bishopton, Ferranti, Rosyth etc in work very nicely for many years), and also as debatable fact. This latter point was evidenced during a visit by two TAC stalwarts to the northwest this spring. They arranged to hire a boat from some local lochdog, who agreed to drop them and seven others up Loch Glencoul for an ascent of Beinn Leoid. This, costing £7 a head, would have put a very handy bit of dosh in the local Para Handy's pocket. Then came word that he couldn't, after all, make the trip. Reason? "Lady Mary's coming up and she'll be wanting some venison" - the Lady concerned being a Duchess of the Westminster ilk, ie one of the richest folk in the country. Never mind the walkers having to hastily rearrange plans to another (less deferential) ferryman; never mind the Westminsteress's whim to shoot in the spring sounding a trifle iffy legally. What we would like to know is, did she reimburse the beleaguered, forelock-tugging boatman for appetite-inspired loss of earnings? We suspect not.
TAC has frequently noted the haste of estates to erect negative access signs - as compared with their curious forgetfulness to take them down again afterwards. A recent example of this was spotted by your editor whilst preparing to climb lovely Beinn Leamhain above Sallachan, near the Corran Ferry. He almost drove straight past, on seeing a notice tied to the gate reading: No hillwalking on Beinn Leamhain. Shooting in Progress. Fortunately he got out of the car to read the small print: Shooting in Progress: 9th - 19th June. This was on 2nd July. So perhaps Alex Heeps, Head Stalker (whose name was also on the notice - and whose estate, incidentally, have bulldozed the track much further up Glen Gour than is shown on the current map) would be so good as to remove the sign?
This same hill also provided evidence that the next worst thing to an unaccountable gamekeeper is a smallholder with delusions of grandeur. After rereading the sign, your Ed parked in the obvious place: a wide stretch of road outside the "Ard-Daraich Hill Garden and Nursery". It was bucketing at the time, yet an elderly man appeared from the house-cum-nursery and hung around, getting wet, before tapping on a window and enquiring - in the plummy, chummy, slightly menacing way of those who think they rule us - "Are you coming into the nursery?" "No, I'm going up the hill thanks" "Well, you'll be moving your car somewhere else then old chap". Old chap??! - quite apart from your Ed being scarcely a day over 39, "old chap" roughly translates as "or else". A brief argument ensued over the publicly-funded nature of the road, during which Nurseryman opined "You've the whole of Scotland to park in" - to which the natural response pointed out that, whilst this wasn't entirely untrue, 99.9999% of Scotland was no use for starting a walk up Beinn Leamhaim. Also, should Nurseryman ever choose to park outside TAC HQ, he would be perfectly welcome. But eventually a move was made - to an awkward grassy verge some way back - having heard too many tales of walkers returning to find headlights anonymously smashed, wiperblades mysteriously wrenched. Needless to say, after an ultimately dry and sunny hill some three hours later, the vast gridlock of cars battling to get into the nursery hadn't materialised, there being precisely none. Shame.
(A further example of petty empire-building is readily observable at Arrochar and Tarbet station, if attempting to park for an ascent of an old TAC favourite, Cruach Tairbeirt. Morning noon and night, a woman comes scuttling out to claim dominion over the road, which surely was/is paid for by ScotRail and/or the Region - ie by you and me. A case perhaps of someone getting ideas above their station?)
The shape of things to come? Dave Purser writes to tell of a recent trip into the Cairngorms, when several cars were seen parked beside both Derry Lodge and White Bridge. Given that this was soon after the NTS shook hands on their takeover of Mar Estate, will walkers trailing along the fabled 3.75 miles of track soon to have to start glancing over their shoulders for oncoming traffic?
Readers of The Grauniad may recently have seen a half-page spread on damage to highland bothies. Quite apart from the fact that the piece, by Erlend Clouston, insisted on speaking of "bothie" singular (the none-too-erudite Erlend was also soon to write of the Skye bridge "joining the island to Scotland"), this naturally caught our eye. We checked with the MBA, and basically it seems that persons calling themselves a name not far removed from the "Scrotum Wrecking Crew" have laid claim to the vandalism, and to the fire at Blackburn of Pattack years back. In timehonoured Mickey Mouse terrorist tradition, the Scrotums have produced a primary-school-standard leaflet extolling their virtues and outlining future plans. Obviously these are the actions of pathetic inadequates, but given the damage already done, the MBA has been placed in an awkward position. Whilst not wanting to give the Scrotums the "oxygen of publicity", there is a need for walkers and genuine bothymongers to keep an eye out. So basically, at risk of sounding like Sue Cook or Nick Ross, if anyone sees anything suspicious either at bothies themselves or at roadside startoff points for bothies, please note down registration plates and other details. These should be passed to the local police and to the MBA (General Secretary: Andy Mayhew, Wyck House, Wyck Rissington, near Cheltenham, Gloucs, GL54 2PN. 01451-810142). TAC would also be interested to hear of any sightings, but the main priority is to contact the powers-that-be. We've lost enough bothies as it is over the years without more now going to wanton vandalism.