The Angry Corrie 26: Feb-Mar 1996
And they call it democracy...
On 17th January, TAC was invited along to the plush SNH centre at Battleby just north of Perth for the official launch of Scotland's Hills and Mountains: a Concordat on Access. This was a slightly odd do, in that it wasn't like the launch of a ship, where the champagne bottle cracks, the mighty liner slides down into the water, the crowds cheer and the bands play. Here nothing visible really happened: no documents were signed, no landowners confessed to off-season shoots, no walkers owned up to litterloutism. And for all the enthusing of the platform souls, the ragged masses in the pews met it all with caution laced with a little cynicism. A bit dull really. But worthy: the idea of having all interested parties - or at least the representatives of all interested parties - concurring on the need to live together cannot be a bad thing. Of course the proof or otherwise will come not in a cosy get-together over vols-au-vent, but out there where few folk can see a maverick landowner posting a sign blanket-banning access. The diplospeak of the meeting had it that there were " a very small minority" of rogues on both sides. This is surely understatement insofar as landowners are concerned - a fact unconsciously hinted at in a speech by Graeme Gordon, convenor of the Scottish Landowner's Federation. He spoke, worryingly, of this "not being a right to roam", and also of the need for "facilities, car parks, rangers" - ie control. (Gordon also argued that it was the SLF wot initiated the access process in 1963. This must have been between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP.)
On occasions such as this, when everyone is smoothtalking like mad, it pays to try and catch the momentary lapses. The Earl of Lindsay, the government rep on hand ("I farm a fairly small acreage: just 750 acres in Fife"), tried to lighten his speech by referring to a recent Dept of Env function in London where "they were all there, heroes and villains". Your editor felt pretty much like the arch-villain himself, not least because of the 150-odd invitees, only he and Kevin Howett of the MCofS appeared not to be wearing either a tie or a frock. (And to think that nice floral low-cut number was at home in the wardrobe...) In a meeting geared around the outdoors, this is surely remarkable - and revealing.
There were good aspects however: from the entertainment point of view, Patrick Gordon-Duff-Pennington - the kind of buffer who still speaks of "the wireless" - recited a poem about eagles' wings and diffused the general stuffiness. Magnus Magnusson endeared himself to your Ed at least by proclaiming this "a watershed day". But the undercurrent, from the money - and there was a lot of it -was of "well that's that sorted then".
The extent to which quangoesque gatherings such as this seem vastly disconnected from Jo Punter wandering up a hill in the rain was earlier shown when your Ed arrived at Battleby having walked the 4 miles from Perth bus station: it was a nice day, and the walk, apart from 20 minutes along the A9 verge, was also nice. Smalltalking in the foyer as the 4x4 brigade rolled in, this was variously commented upon as if it had been either a major epic or completely eccentric behaviour. Of course; it's easy to forget: a Range Rover is what you need in the countryside.
The milling-about at such days is always far more interesting than the official blether itself. TAC started off badly: within seconds - literally - of arriving and pinning-on a nametag, your Ed was being asked to explain the aims and objectives of the magazine by the Hon Mrs Blackett - none other than the wife of the Invercauld factor whose televising we wittered on negatively about last time (TAC25, p10). If this caused frantic spluttering into coffee, than gagging on garlic mushrooms wasn't far behind, when Blackett himself followed (tweed) suit. He also had the distinct advantage of being the first person your Ed has met for many a long day to be taller than him. Whatever: they were duly sent a free TAC, have now paid for a subbie, and will hopefully soon contribute interestingly...
A few final points. For all the national (well, Scottish-national plus The Guardian) media coverage, no-one present was accredited to the glossy climbing/walking press. Hence your Ed didn't know whether to wear just his TAC hat or his somewhat smaller TGO one too. This seemed odd, and it transpired that the only reason even TAC was sent for was through the intervention of MCofS sec Nick Kempe, a longtime TACite. (We were listed in the guest-inventory between Tayside Regional Council and The Caravan Club!)
Questions from the floor proved interesting if not very lively, with access colossus Dave Morris (Ramblers Scotland) being given the chance to tell of two recent sales brochures for Highland estates. One spoke of a "Private kingdom", the other of "Private use over a vast area". As Morris pointed out, if the Concordat is to prove any more than a bit of paper, then it, and not this offensive twaddle, should be being mentioned in sales outlines.
Some hope really, when you look at it like that, but you never know: after all, one "practising land agent" stood up and said he had no problem with the Concordat. Mind you, maybe that speaks volumes; maybe he should have had a problem. Whatever: let's see what happens now. Hopefully the "very small minority" of landowners will refrain from again taking up their "Get Out!" clause.
The Democracy page in TAC25 voiced worries about the precise status of the recent NTS purchase of Mar Lodge, and appealed for clarification. This, pleasingly, has been forthcoming, with a letter, printed on p16, from NTS Director of Countryside Trevor Croft asserting that the purchase is just that, and is in perpetuity. We of course take him at his word and proffer thanks for the straight-talking. More general concerns about just how the estate will be run were however voiced by acknowledged Deeside expert (and longtime hero of your Ed) Adam Watson in the Jan 1996 issue of TGO. He points out that the estate is still to be factored by agents Smiths Gore, who worked for previous owner Kluge and whose "expertise" lies in the commercial rather than conservation sphere.
Many readers will also doubtless have read in the glossies of Hydroboard plans to dam Loch a'Bhraoin in the western Fannaichs - a loch very fond in memory to your Ed as he camped a night on its shore whilst walking the watershed in 1987. Of course the local-community benefits always need to be looked at in cases such as this, but here it appears only a single job will be served up. Loch a'Bhraoin is fine as it is, and "development" could prove the start of intrusion into the vast empty area further west. By all means flood the area with cash so as to grant-aid smallholdings in these desolate glens: that's what the place needs. But please don't just flood it period. That's plain stupid. To object/protest, write to the Secretary of State for Scotland at the Scottish Office Industry Department, New St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, EH1 3TG. If a copy of the letter could also be forwarded to Mike Dales, Mountaineering Council of Scotland conservation officer, that would be good too. His address is 4a St Catherine's Road, Perth, PH1 5SE.