The Angry Corrie 53: Apr-May 2002

Letter You

- Write to TAC -
3 Ferry Orchard, Cambuskenneth, Stirling, FK9 5ND


I have had an interest in the activities of the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society for 53 years and, curiously, have never been invited to a wine and cheese party ... for the simple reason that there never has been one! Yet TAC recently suggested (TAC51, p16) that we were engaged in such an activity instead of removing a plastic bag from a sign near Auch during the foot and mouth disease crisis. We had better things to do.

  • We were engaged throughout the crisis in dealing with an average of 68 calls a week about access.
  • We use our money for positive work such as erecting signposts, not driving all the way from Edinburgh to Tyndrum to execute what is the responsibility of the Local Authority (LA). We are agents to LAs in signposting work and do not seek to usurp the duties of their staff.
  • Whilst the writer of the article questions what we do and implied, Holy Willie-like, that his approach is the correct one (no I/we didn't - it just seemed an effective method - Ed, on behalf of the Reclaimers), we were putting pressure on LAs and the Scottish Executive to deal with unacceptable responses to the crisis.
  • Whilst unaware of the presence of any of the Reclaimers during the digging of the last 1600 holes for signposts or the last four bridges built or repaired by the Society, we would never dream of suggesting that the Reclaimers were indulging in wine and cheese evenings. Comments of this kind, based on ignorance, are fundamentally cheap and destructive.
  • Contributions to our ongoing work on behalf of the public, whether route clearance, route surveys, bridge work or signposting, are always welcome. So far, we have survived for 156 years without holding a wine and cheese evening. Can the Reclaimers say the same?


Sandy Valentine

Secretary, Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society, Edinburgh

Ed. - There will be a few Reclaimers Revisted events this spring/summer, largely to check that various estates and farms do not try to re-use any of last year's closure signs during the lambing season, or block legal access by again black-bagging RoW signs. The sites due for unannounced visits will be decided at a Reclaimers cheese and wine evening to be held in April. Anyone wishing to attend should contact the group via TAC.

Dear TAC,

As a lifelong reader, I am disappointed that you would let Blanco get away with putting the boot into the Mountaineering Council of Scotland in his otherwise excellent article in TAC51 (p5). Alan is a boyhood hero and I have always enjoyed his literary efforts, especially when tucked up in bed with a nice mug of cocoa. I admit that we did try our best to provide details of where walkers and climbers could go without encountering barricades and hostile notices. Not everyone is a brave reclaimist and some of us timid souls just wanted to go for a nice walk without upsetting the neighbours. If it directed business to those communities that tried hardest to meet visitor needs I regard that as a bonus.

We were also involved in drawing up the risk analysis process and Comeback Code, the tools used to get back to normality, and in pushing local authorities and land managers to use them properly. I am sure that Blanco was as gobsmacked as I was that some farmers and landowners tried to use FMD to unjustifiably deny access and turn the clock back. Smart move? Weel, they ken noo!

And what better time to get people to read our development plan? - when they are voluntarily refraining from exercising their rights of access, and stuck in the house. It is a stunning read, by the way! No apology needed, but a wee dram would be appreciated.


John Donohoe

President, Mountaineering Council of Scotland, Perth

Dear TAC,

Simon Blackett (TAC52, p18) stresses the importance of vehicle tracks for the local economy. That is not in serious dispute. However, the principle in any planning issue is not that there can be no new development, but that the location, construction and landscaping of new development are controlled in the public interest.

Andrew Hyams (TAC51, p19) says we must press that new tracks "can only be cut with planning permission after a proper public consultation", and Blackett notes that the forthcoming Cairngorms National Park "will undoubtedly introduce the controls that Mr Hyams is seeking". It needs to be made clear that planning permission is already necessary for new tracks in Scotland, except those for agriculture or forestry, and local authorities consult the public as with any other planning application. Some estates comply, such as Reidhaven at Slochd in 2001. Most do not, such as at Monar (see TAC51, p2). It is accepted that if one erects a building without planning permission, the local authority may enforce one to demolish it and reinstate the ground. Tracks without permission do not differ in principle.

If planners recommend approval, the route, construction methods and reinstatement can all be made conditions of planning permission. A snag is that many planners and Scottish Natural Heritage staff lack sufficient technical expertise, but concerned officers are learning. The technical knowledge has long been available to make tracks with no impact other than a narrow gravel running surface for a vehicle. Some owners insist on this, such as Peter Straker-Smith at Priest-law in the Lammermuirs when the South of Scotland Electricity Board needed a new road for pylon construction to Torness and contractors McLarty of Crieff did a careful job. Most owners, however, do not attempt to minimise impact or maximise reinstatement. Inevitable consequences for many years are obtrusive boulders, bare subsoil, soil erosion and rough surfaces for vehicles.

The reason why tracks for agriculture or forestry are exempt from planning control, and likewise change of use in agriculture or forestry, dates back to the siege economy when Britain might have lost the war. Since this need ended decades ago, many planners and others wish the anomaly of such exemption to be removed.

Yours, Adam Watson,

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory

Dear TAC,

Can I reply to the comments raised by Andrew Smith in TAC52 (p19) re the reinstatement of the Beinn a' Bhuird track? The NTS engaged the renowned experts in this field, Swanyear of Crieff. This firm was engaged in this operation as they have over 50 years' experience of land engineering in rural areas. The McLarty family (proprietors) have, through many years of experience, developed a layering system of reinstatement which is exceptionally successful. They have done work for the majority of land agencies and charities and have been asked to train other firms mainly in England in their reinstatement skills.

I would submit that if the NTS engage a firm of this calibre and expertise they are hardly "experimenting with our environment with a distinct lack of common sense and practical thought". The suggestion by Smith that the track be left to regenerate naturally as an alternative to the re-instatement by Swanyear, as sanctioned by the NTS, is just silly.


Ricky Marshall, Perth

Dear TAC,

In TAC52 on page 11 there is the following editorial aside:

Now TAC has had its share of harsh words to say about the SMC over the years (mainly along the lines that its innermost sanctum is inhabited by a disproportionate number of crusty old fossils who regard themselves as a cut above the great unwashed).

Well, excuse me, but the words that come to mind are if and only. While the SMC of years gone by was well garnished with substantial fellows who most certainly were a cut above the great unwashed (whether they thought so or not), the present Club - and most especially within the innermost rectum - are a bunch of citizens as ordinary and commonplace as can possibly be imagined. If one were rash enough to try for an archetype, then "technology and fashion-obsessed germ-free post-adolescent yuppie" would possibly capture a large, though fortunately not disproportionate, number. Of office-bearers in the last decade, perhaps Iain Smart, Bryan Fleming and myself (all fushionless Presidents) might have qualified for "crusty old fossil" badges; I can't think of any others who would.

Who else do you have in mind, Mr Hewitt? We should be told. (Well, perhaps Hamish Brown could be coaxed into telling a story that, as I understand it, concerns a dark and stormy New Year night, the Lagangarbh hut, a past president, a woman and a distinct lack of welcome - Ed.)

Perhaps in making your reference to "the great unwashed" you had in mind the excessive provision of washing facilities in SMC huts? No doubt our members are a good deal cleaner than they need to be.


Robin N Campbell, C O F (retired)


PS - By the way, it was I who threw down the cross thingy on Maol Chean-dearg (see TAC passim, most recently TAC52, p18). I was in an enraged state, having fought my way to the summit (Hogmanay 1987) in a tremendous hurricane, mostly on all fours. When I spotted the monstrosity, I simply lifted it out of its bed in the cairn and off it went like a poorly-constructed paper dart down the hill.

Dear TAC,

I'm upset by the comments about the JMT in TAC52 (p13). First, you comment on an investment loss of 120,000 or so and say: "There is also the deeper issue of whether an eco-charity ought to be playing the markets." What else would you have the JMT do with its savings? Put them in a sock under the bed? It's disappointing that such a large sum has gone, but I can't see how the Trust can be criticised for trying to maximise the return on what money it has. Speaking as a member, I had always assumed the JMT was attempting to maximise the return on its funds, and the stock market is (usually) a good place to do that. It may have been ill-advised this time, but it would have been daft not to get financial advice and to act on the advice. As for the "raft" of resignations - there have been three out of 21, which seems a very sparsely populated raft.

I enjoyed the rest of TAC52 - as every previous TAC. I'm looking forward to the web versions, letting me see the three or so issues of the 52 which I have missed.

Yours, Robert Craig, Paisley

Ed. - I take your point, but surely there is a question - or a concern - to be aired, one that isn't receiving coverage elsewhere. The money shouldn't be bed-stashed, but there must be middleground short of the whole-hog stock market. Some trusts invest in safe(ish) building society accounts, where the chance of a large loss is relatively low (and the latest figure rumoured re JMT losses is 250,000 - the published accounts can't come soon enough). But it's not just the money thing - there seem to be deeper troubles, and since April 2001 these trustees have stood down: Colin Eastwood, Pat MacDonald, Andy Wightman, Carole Ross, Irvine Butterfield, Roger Smith. Several area organisers have also gone, not all contentedly. A crowded raft drifting from an unhappy ship.

Dear TAC,

I have been sent copies of the piece "How many Marilyns does one need?" [from High Mountain Sports, Dec 2001] together with the response in TAC52, p17. Having read Richard Gilbert's short piece I cannot see that it does anything other than argue that those in pursuit of summits spare a thought for the wildlife. Nor do I think the mention of Ann Bowker was anything other than trying to set the context. All we are being asked to do is to look at what we do and in this Richard as an outdoor writer is being as much self-critical as he is arguing a case.

TAC must be aware that whatever one writes is always open to criticism and that whether it be Munros, Corbetts or whatever list you mention, their summiteers all get their share of "bagger-mania" put-downs. Don't go and get overprotective of the Marilyns. I have lost count of the times I have been told it is all my fault that people climb Munros! This I always found very sad as I only ever set out to help others enjoy what I have enjoyed. In the end people make their own judgements by their own likes. But let the argument be kept in perspective and impersonal.

I do not know Ann Bowker but I do know that Richard Gilbert has always admired her and would be one of the first to defend her right to get out on the hills. As to his conservation credentials, you need only look at his record of service on the conservation committee of the BMC. Even now he is doing much work to counter the proposed Shieldaig hydro scheme as well as spending endless time seeking to secure proper access under the recent legislation. This means hours of voluntary effort.

As for being elitist, I for one have never met anyone who has given so freely of his time to help others. I will be eternally grateful for the helping hand when I was struggling to get photographs together for The High Mountains. Just because he was the first to write a book on his experiences of the Munros does not mean he is interested in little else. Far from it. I happen to know he spends a good deal of time on many lower hills, of which Whernside is a particular favourite. "Timid and reined-in" is not a phrase that anyone I know would connect with his name - you are here speaking of a man who has done as much as anyone to highlight the problems faced by those of us who go to the hill, and moreover would be one of the first to defend the right of free speech in such matters.

I am all for robust comment if it stimulates full, free and frank discussion, but Ann Bowker is being defended as much by Richard Gilbert as anyone. Highly selective quotations aren't what is needed - just read between the lines a bit more. Richard Gilbert is sensitive enough to be hurt by such cutting comment and deserves better.


Irvine Butterfield, Pitcairngreen

Read Richard Gilbert on pp14-15

Dear TAC,

Your article on p17 of TAC52 re SNH/NTS and the St Kilda stacks neatly highlights yet another example of the concealment of territorial sentiment behind so-called environmental sentiment. The fact is that these people do not want the public on what they consider to be their own private territory - but as often as not, if you are in with the right people, you and your dogs can have the run of many of these forbidden places.


Jonathan de Ferranti, Newburgh

The dogs of Stac Lee

Dear TAC,

I have prepared a list of all hills in the Scottish lowlands (the "Donald region") which meet the criteria for "Deweys" in England and Wales (briefly, heights in the range 500- 609m with at least 30m drop). There are 249 of these (and the list includes 60 "near misses"). I shall be very happy to send a copy to any TACer who requests one; please write to me at Flat 7, Avonview, 9 Downleaze, Stoke Bishop, Bristol, BS9 1NA. Please do not send an SAE as it may not be the right size, but a couple of stamps would cover costs.


David Purchase

Dear TAC,

Far be it from me to jump on the McNeish-baiting bandwagon, but on p58 of his The Munro Almanac (1998 edition) and also on p86 of his The Munros (1999 edition), we are told correctly that the best access point to climb Carn Dearg, Geal-Charn, Aonach Beag and Beinn Eibhinn is Culra bothy. But the author's grid reference is wrong - he gives 355664 in both books.

Preparing for that walk last year, and following the McNeish guides, I was surprised to discover that his grid ref wasn't even on the relevant OS sheet. I subsequently found it was the reference for Corrour Halt. How could this be? Some months later, all became clear. Reading p80 of Irvine Butterfield's The High Mountains, I stumbled on the small print of two grid refs only two lines apart. The reader needs no PhD in textual analysis to guess what the two grid refs were.

Here's to big royalty cheques.


Gordon Jarvie, Edinburgh

Dear TAC,

I find I have more problems with Cammy's witterings when he's producing original material than when he's copying. After all, the source he's lifting from may be quite sound. His Sunday Herald column regularly contradicts his remainder-shop Munro book in an annoying fashion. He has condemned in the column the Loch Ericht approach to the Beinn Eibhinn ridge (vigorously recommended in his book) and his article on Ben Chonzie poured scorn on the Invergeldie route ("How boring!") when this was again the book's route of choice.

His constant crassness on the FMD crisis was frightening. It's one thing to argue that walkers don't carry FMD and that restrictions were often extreme and irrelevant. It's another to keep shouting: "Farming is yesterday's industry, tourism is the way forward for us all." This was insensitive as well as leaving me with an image of a Heritage Scotland of which the Munro Experience would be just another facet.

Keep hounding him,

David Cunningham, Edinburgh

Dear TAC,

In the interests of well-rounded reporting, I should add a few words about The Corbett Almanac and its experienced writer. On last year's Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon at Laggan, bergsteiger extraordinaire McNeish completed the C course. All credit to him - he probably added some new Corbetts to his ticked list.

Anyone who read TGO around that time would have seen the advert for the amazing folding human poop scoop promoted by the editorial team as a must-have item for your rucksack, to defeat the "pink toilet roll menace" apparently covering our hillsides.

It was therefore with great pleasure that I watched Cameron McNeish knocking out a monster jobbie straight into a dry watercourse at the halfway camp on the LAMM - with no folding trowel for burying the evidence to be seen. So not that essential a piece of kit, then - especially when a perfectly good slit latrine has been dug by the organisers 200 metres away.

Now I'm no expert on Scottish weather, but I'm not convinced that the dry stream-bed would have remained dry for long. So Cameron's little addition to the Highlands would soon have been heading down the glen, straight past Corrour bothy, in its water source.


Jeremy Chadwick, Reading

Ed. - Lovely. Here's some recommended reading: Severin Carrell's 6/1/02 Independent on Sunday piece on the accusations of plagiarism. McN says of the similarities between his work and the SMC's: "At the time, I really didn't think it was a huge problem." He also offers a new take on his Corbett (non)completion, completely at odds with two earlier statements. Make your mind up, pal.

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