TAC 38 Index
In another place (TGO August), Hamish Brown argues that the access situation is, in certain respects, getting "distinctly warmer". It's always good to see Hamish write about such issues, as he did way back in TAC4, but many hillgoers would dispute his TGO conclusion. They would argue instead that, whilst there has been improvement and enlightenment in certain areas and on certain types of already popular hill, landownership problems are getting worse, especially on lower, out-of-the-limelight hills. Sometimes - increasingly - difficulties come in the form of clever PR-manipulation, as when shooting-season access is publicly okayed on established routes, whilst neighbouring non-guidebook slopes are quietly deemed out of bounds no matter the time of year. Sometimes, however, in attempting to not "give ground", the lairds, landowners, and lackeys resort to more traditional methods of dissuasion ...
Westerlands Cross-Country Club celebrated their twenty-first anniversary with a relay run from Glasgow to The Fort in early May. This was a logistically complex affair of thirty-odd stages and two "teams", with most stages run in pairs. Graham Benny's first stage was from Killearn to just beyond Balfron Station, ending across a couple of fields beside some water pipes. Graham and his partner were several minutes behind the other team when they arrived at the changeover point to find the support crews agitated. When the cars had first turned up, a fat bloke with a big ID (and an even bigger ego) emerged from a nearby water authority cottage and asked what was going on. Swiftly turning abusive, he ranted about private land and permission, then, as the first runner arrived and handed over, he started shouting "You'll have to stop them". At this, the new arrival responded that he could always try to stop them by running after them - which provoked "a small nuclear explosion of swearing and general ranting", along with threats to call "the fucking polis". He only however called an even fatter colleague, who turned up in a West of Scotland Water van just before Graham arrived. This led to a tripartite exchange between the two Fat Boys and one of the runners, Charlie:
FB2: "Do you know what fucking pressure is in these pipes? They could blow at any fucking minute - are your fucking runners insured?"
Charlie: "Look, there are only two pairs of runners handing over to another two pairs. Surely that's no problem?"
FB1: "There's fucking hundreds of them!"
Charlie: "No, there are only two lots of two pairs."
FB1: "Are you calling me a fucking liar?!"
This display of people-skills and PR finesse provided the runners with plenty of banter for the next few hours. But the more serious side comes via the claims about private ground. Proposed utility-privatisation or no, this land belongs to tax-payers and is public, even though by-laws might affect access. The same misconception has long been in evidence a few miles down the road, at the Strathblane War Memorial. Here, not only does a local no-brain take delight in smashing the headlights of walkers' cars, but there is also a large sign declaring the pipe track to be private. Graham recalls the mid-70s, when the Forestry Commission (similarly underwritten by taxpayers) had to be reminded of the error in their then attitude to keeping walkers and cyclists off forestry tracks. Strong representation ("fucking pressure"?) came from the MCofS and others, and policy was modified, leading to the setting-up of picnic sites and waymarked trails. The Water Board could do with a similar reminder, perhaps starting with Fat Boy One, who lives in a tied house paid for by taxpayers.
There were echoes of all this - not least in the similarly delightful language - across in East Lothian. Another Graham B - Graham Bunn this time - and his then partner, now wife, Anne, set off for Dirrington Great Law (scene of a notorious 1996 TAC quiz question). Starting from the cemetery in Longformacus, they followed a track across Feuar's Moor before finding the Kippetlaw Burn too swollen to cross easily. Deciding to turn back, they then saw - and heard - a red 4x4, blasting its horn behind them. Going across to see what the matter was, they were relieved that the vehicle was on the other side of the water, since the burn wasn't the only thing swollen. Mr 4x4 started with the perennial landowner's question, "What do you think you're doing?", to which Graham told of having followed the (map-marked) path before turning back. The man said there was no right of way, then (strangely familiar, this) threatened to call the police, and made accusations of aggravated trespass. Asked to be specific, he said birds were being frightened on their nests, to which Graham pointed out the glaringly (and blaringly) obvious, that the horn-blowing vehicle would do much more bird-scaring than two walkers ever could. This was met with "Fuck off and don't come back"; obviously the Bunns had exhausted his repertoire of wit and repartee. Longformacus has long seemed an unpleasant placename, like an old medical word for snotters or something, so maybe this man was merely living up to his job's requirement that he be either snotty, or snooty, or both.
That this is almost part of the job description was shown in a closely-argued and heartfelt piece by Alastair McIntosh in the Society section of The Guardian, 22/7/98. McIntosh is co-founder of the Isle of Eigg Trust, and the article comprised the text of part of a speech given to the Scottish Landowners Federation. It's well worth seeking out, not least because McIntosh has the nerve and the neck to say, directly to the SLF, "many of you have acted as despots." He also has some cracking - and highly revealing - quotes from the land-owners themselves. For example, Christopher Bourne-Arton, of the Country Landowners Association (the English equivalent of the SLF), in a 1994 debate: "Don't forget you need an awful lot of money to run a Highland estate. You either own a Highland estate or you run three Ferraris, six racehorses and a couple of mistresses - I mean, the costs are much the same." Then this, from an unidentified SLF Council member: "They [his fellow lairds] got buggered and beaten when they were at school and now they want to do it back." Puts a whole new spin on the normally quaint idea of "Think I might try a little B&B."
Details next time re worrying news that Benbeoch, the 464m Marilyn near Dalmellington, is in danger of being opencasted away for coal. A large area to the northwest has long been a void to avoid on the map, but now the whole hill, basalt columns and all, seems at risk. If anyone has details on this, please contact TAC quickly. A few hills are already severely undermined by quarries and spoil tips - eg Bardon Hill and Dundry Down - and Roineabhal rumbles on, plus there's currently a hoo-ha in the Peak District over 400,000 tonnes of rock to be taken from Win Hill. But Benbeoch, having sneaked up on the blindside, seems to be under imminent threat.
Rupert Weare reports Lawers Hotel (see TAC34, pp8-9) having improved in walker-friendliness terms, and wonders whether the "host", Ian Hitchin, might have moved on. But Lynda Woods encountered odd behaviour there in July. Her rucksack (containing keys, money, cag) bounced down An Stuc into the Fin Glen. After ninety minutes of searching, she gave up, got soaked on the descent, and arrived at the hotel in need of support, if not sympathy. Explaining her predicament, and asking to briefly call her husband, she was directed out to the payphone - which also meant having to cadge a loan of some money. Then her request to wait in the porch wasn't met with "Come away in, you must be fed up and soaked", but "I suppose so". No-one was actively unpleasant; they just seemed nonplussed that someone might arrive with such a request. But then they're only in the hospitality business, after all.
Lynda and her man Jonathan were however able to offset this with a tale of straightforward unequivocal kindliness elsewhere. Their dog Mari (short for Marilyn of course) was nipped on the nose by an adder during an outing to the Caithness Morven (which is, appropriately, a partial anagram of "venom"). Scurrying down, they were helped by the keeper at Braemore to reach the vet's in time to evade any canine Grim Reaper.
Terrible puns gratefully received on the subject of Tim Rice's recent purchase of Dundonnell Estate. There must be scope for improvement on Amazing Technicoloured Cagoules and Any dram will do.
TAC 38 Index