TAC 27 May-Jul96

TAC 27 Index

Wildlife Schmildlife

At risk of forever disturbing the yin and yang which lies at the heart of TAC, your Editor and his Dundonian sidekick Perkin Warbeck are going to publicly disagree. The subject? The proposed Cairngorm funicular. Rather than pretend to cobble together some apology for an editorial line, we'll simply print two differing views. If you vehemently (but not violently) agree or disagree with either the peh-eating physicist or the specky sardine-lover, let us know.

Perkin Warbeck first, playing the differently-moraled advocate...

The funicular to the top of Cairngorm is presently foundering on the iceberg of Scottish Natural Heritage. For once, SNH has pleased the beardie lobby by not immediately acquiescing to a couple of dozen jobs for surly boozy types who scowl at skiers.

Just what is the big deal about wildlife in this country? I don't claim to be the hardiest of hill types. I don't go out in the driving rain, and unlike your Editor I don't go out with pneumonia, yuppie flu, fractured pelvis or Ewing's tumour. However, in my time I've seen most of what Auld Scotia has to offer on the fauna front. And what is the sum total?

Interesting wildlife: one large raptor - possible eagle - couldn't say for sure. A few thousand deer.

Not uninteresting wildlife: many grouse, a few ptarmigan.

Positively unwanted wildlife: 1.247 Gigasheep. Add a few creepy crawlies and that's it.

Scotland was taking a whizz when they were handing out the fauna. Hikers in Yosemite have to hang their food on 15-foot poles to keep it from bears. In the Pyrenees the wolf roams free. In Scotland our only chance of an exciting encounter would be escapees from fur farms.

In short, I don't climb hills for the wildlife. I know some people who do - eg Chris Tyler, the guy who draws the cover of this blat and most of the gruesome dismemberings which seem to creep in. Once, when plowtering home from a drookit day in the Red Cuillin, he diverted himself and his chum Kevin by lovingly crumbling some owl regurgitations and opining on what the owl had been eating. Five minutes in the Sligachan bar were sacrificed on the altar of this strigiform scatological study.

Now I wouldn't mind seeing owls themselves. Big furry wise-looking chiels; a similar description might apply to Albert Einstein. But I draw the line at going through Einstein's boak after a night on the tiles with Enrico Fermi and Richard Feynman. The wave particle duality of matter is all very interesting, but not when the matter is last night's diced carrots.

Guys like Jimmy Macgregor positively drool over animal crap, and the reason is clear. We have so little actual interesting wildlife that a professional pundit has no option but to plunge into species which are either extinct or can only be studied via their colonic motions.

Oppose the funicular by all means on any grounds that make sense. I myself am in favour. We've got skiing on Cairngorm come what may. The funicular would do away with all the unsightly pylons, and if Ordinary Pedestrians wearing wee black sannies are stupid enough to bomb up it and get themselves lost in the middle of a blizzard, tough luck. But let's not pretend a few more skiers are going to scare off herds of wildebeest or the mighty condor.

PS - My dad ate ptarmigan and puffin on a recent visit to Iceland. That's what they think of the cream of Scotia's wildlife.

...and your Ed responds...

Funicular Vernacular

The argument that we already have skiing on Cairngorm so it's now open season on development is precisely what the moneymakers want us to believe. Yes, there probably would be more jobs for the area, but at what cost? There has to be an ethical threshold here somewhere, and many feel the funicular would chug slowly across it. Right now the deal is being packaged nicely: jobs, no disruption, safety considerations, widening public access to a spectacular area. This is all just gloss: what this proposal is about, as ever, is dosh. In a good winter, the Cairngorm Chairlift Company is one big snowy cash register. Their aim, as already shown in previous proposals which fell at the Inquiry stage, has been to exploit the land at all costs - just as long as those costs are ultimately recouped twentyfold.

At risk of imitating smarmy tabloid football writers like Gerry McNee, the "inside track" on the proposals is as follows. The CCC would like to see both upper and lower car parks made pay-to-stay. In winter, the parking charge could be in the region of #15-#20, including a day pass for the ski-tows. If so, Warbeck, his ptarmigan-eating dad, or any walker/climber would have to start away down in Glenmore or waste a small fortune. "Summer" could be even worse, with the time allowed for parking limited to a couple of hours: just long enough to be funiculared to the summit and have a swatch at the glories of the Highlands. Walkers, returning after a proper-length hill-day, could well get a nasty shock: there are plans afoot (well, awheel) for their cars to be neatly clamped. Oh, and the road between the two car parks would, laughably, become a "freeway" - ie no stopping.

Worse still, for all that SNH are currently opposing the proposals, a report in The Scotsman suggests their top man Magnus Magnusson is himself in favour, trying to play it both ways to ultimately smooth things for the tarmac-layers. So much so that the whole funicular project is now known in some access circles as "Magnusson's Folly" - and as everyone knows, once Magnus has started something, he tends to finish it. Looks like the only kind of wildlife to be found on the country's seventh highest summit may soon be the shark.

TAC 27 Index

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