TAC 36 Index
MCofS, 1997, 60pp, available from 4a St Catherine's Road, Perth, PH1 5SE, unpriced
Reviewed by Val Hamilton
MY FIRST SURPRISE was that the Mountaineering Council of Scotland had any formal policies, and the second that it had enough of them (twelve in total) to justify publishing this 60-page A5 booklet. The Foreword, by President, Nick Kempe, sets out the reasonable reasoning. The MCofS wants to be consulted, and an organisation which wishes its voice to be taken seriously can no longer allow policy to be made on the hoof. The policies here have all been debated at MCofS AGMs: I'm glad that I didn't have to sit through these, but can just benefit from the results of the minute-takers' efforts.
There are two main sections: Access and Conservation Policies, and Safety and the Sport of Mountaineering Policies. The first paragraph of the Access and Conservation Policies introduction strikes me as somewhat dubious in its attempt to justify the statement, "Access and conservation are two sides of the same coin". However, beyond that, the points made seem to fit in with the desired "judicial mix of realistic and idealistic" and any form of political stance is avoided. I support this, as someone who has never felt strongly that I need a theoretical right to roam, just the opportunity to do so in practice. (However, when the practice is denied me, as at Tulchan Lodge in Glen Isla recently, I become less amenable. Other landowners may wish to note that if you don't want people walking past your front door, a "Footpath this way" signpost to an alternative route is much preferable to "Strictly Private, Electrified Fence".)
The Access and Conservation Policies are particularly concerned with access to climbing areas, but the overall aim is "to preserve and extend the freedom to practice all types of mountaineering without unnecessary restrictions". Interesting points are opposition to diminution of the long walk-in and to establishment of long distance paths over "high or wild land". This is not defined here, but TAC's number-crunchers will be pleased to see that, in the Development in Mountain Areas Policies, the suggestion is that all land which is five kilometres or one hour's walk (according to Naismith?) from a public road should be defined as "remote". The less exact among us can take heart that there is still scope for the unquantifiable: land which does not meet these criteria can be defined by the MCofS as "feeling remote". This conjures up an image of members of the Remoteness Sub-committee being cast out into areas under debate.
Overall, there is little dogmatism, with much use of words and phrases such as "appropriate" and "minimise impact". Some may wish for stronger statements, but they do occur, eg opposition to use of mountain bikes on footpaths (as opposed to tracks), and forceful opposition to bulldozed tracks. A highlight for me was to see forestry criticised as a safety hazard. This is not due to the depression it can cause in the beholder, but because deer fences can prevent speedy retreat from the high tops. I'd always thought my repeated unpleasant experiences in forests were due to an inability to learn that rides become impassable around the next corner and not because forests present an objective danger. (Of course some of us enjoy floundering around in the foliage - Ed.)
The Skiing Policy is a fudge. The general standpoint is that "there should be provision for the expansion of Scottish ski facilities". However, the policies then set out are so restrictive that the only place where such development might be permitted would be on some sea-level pit bing and only then if there were no birds nesting there.
The Safety and the Sport of Mountaineering Policies section includes policies on mountain rescue and use of bolts in rock climbing. The Safety in the Mountains Policy stresses the importance of self-reliance and responsibility, and has a perhaps over-optimistic emphasis on the power of education. It seems to leave open the question of what reaction should be to those who do not act responsibly, but there is opposition to any form of regulation of access to the hills for safety purposes, including enforcement of qualifications.
The introduction had led me to expect more of a collection of sound bites for use by the hapless individual who is pinned down by a journalist looking for something controversial and snappy. There are only a few resonant phrases such as "disperse rather than concentrate access" and "insurance will not save lives on the hill". This is not to criticise the note-takers, who have done a good job: the documents are clearly written and laid out, and it is evident that much thought has gone into the language used. Which makes me wonder about the spelling of "Stac Polly" (p17) versus "Stac Pollaidh" (p15): evidence of pro- and anti-Gaelic factions here?
TAC 36 Index