Paul Prescott, in the Parkwatch section of TAC57, aired concerns about creeping access changes on Ben Ledi. Here Mike Dales, access and conservation officer with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, reports on recent negotiations and developments.
The west-of-Callander Corbett Ben Ledi has thrown up more tricky issues than almost any other hill in Scotland, and has undoubtedly taken up more than its share of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's time over the last two years.
The complications become obvious when you look at the eastern side of the hill and the range of factors in play there: a Forest Enterprise chalet redevelopment, intensive forestry and active felling, a resident community, a Sustrans path, designated conservation sites, the fast-flowing Garbh Uisge, the busy A84, a hazardous road junction and an inadequate recreational car park situated beyond a narrow bridge.
The debate about the provision of recreational facilities has come to the fore recently because of FE's plans to redevelop the chalets on the west side of Loch Lubnaig. The original FE proposal was to replace 17 existing chalets with 50 larger ones, but planners rejected this and a revised plan for 35 chalets was submitted and passed, with the chalets having opened in May 2003.
With more chalets there will be much greater use of the narrow bridge at Coireachrombie (Landranger 57/586092), which is also used by the Stank Glen residents along with walkers and other visitors using the "breathe in and squeeze in" car park on the western riverbank. With space for about 15 cars, this car park is often full, which leads to inappropriate parking outwith the designated car park and to congestion at the junction with the A84.
Another unsatisfactory aspect of the Coireachrombie car park is it being on the Sustrans track, which is used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Cars reversing across the track present a significant hazard, especially to the many young users. In many ways this car park doesn't have a lot going for it, but as a hillwalkers' parking facility it is all we currently have in this area. Without this car park there would be little option of leaving a vehicle to go for a walk on Ben Ledi.
Parking at Coireachrombie allows Ben Ledi to be regarded as a half-day or evening walk, and maintaining that status is important. But the ability to take a longer or circular walk is also important, and this has raised the issue of other parking places and points of access to the hill. The recent meetings have enabled everyone concerned to recognise the need for a diversity of facilities and options, and with this in mind the debate has moved on and work on the ground has started. FE has just completed a new car park at Bochastle, near Kilmahog (referred to in Paul Prescott's TAC57 piece), and this will open up potential routes on to the south end of Ben Ledi and provide another point of access on to the Sustrans track.
However, the real key to unlocking the Ben Ledi problems is to have a car park on the east side of the hill providing convenient access to the existing route of ascent. The Falls of Leny car park on the east side of the A84 (at 57/594091) is an existing facility for visitors to the falls, but it is on the wrong side of the river for walkers wanting to gain access to Ben Ledi. A bridge across the river would bring this car park into play, although road safety concerns would also require a road bridge to provide a safe crossing of the A84.
Parking at the Falls of Leny, crossing the road bridge, walking between the road and river to the river bridge, and then along to the start of the hill path near the Coireachrombie bridge would add about 1.2km on to either end of the day's walk. It would also add a pleasant riverside section, open up alternative circular walk options (eg going up the traditional path and returning via the Kilmahog variant and the Sustrans track), and on all but a very busy day should guarantee a parking space.
The MCofS realises that some walkers will want to continue parking nearer to Coireachrombie, and so we have argued for the layby about 400 metres north of Coireachrombie to be made more functional. The proposal is to extend this layby to accommodate another four cars, and to create a path to link it to the bridge.
The MCofS has attended a series of meetings with FE, Scottish Natural Heritage, Stirling Council, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, the police and local residents. From what seemed like a set of intractable problems six months ago there now appears to be a genuine opportunity to resolve these issues to everyone's satisfaction. Sylvia Jackson, the Stirling MSP, has followed these proceedings and is onside and determined to see a satisfactory outcome. That is significant, because if there are any problems to be encountered, it could take the influence of an elected representative to resolve any impasse.
So, where does it go from here? Well, there's still some way to go. FE needs to seek agreement from various stakeholders, apply for planning consent, secure funding and then carry out the construction work. This will take around two years, if it goes smoothly.
The MCofS supports these plans, and is hopeful of a satisfactory outcome for all visitors. We welcome FE's commitment to a diversity of parking facilities offering a range of access points on to a network of paths, and believe that the combination of car parks and bridges will enable more and better parking. At the same time we acknowledge the real difficulties surrounding the Coireachrombie car park and bridge and agree that the car park should close when - and only when - there is a suitable alternative. In other words, our current position is that the road and river bridges, and the layby extension and path, should be in place before the Coireachrombie car park is closed. We will do all we can to make this happens on time, and hope that everyone else will share this goal.
MCofS: The Old Granary, West Mill St, Perth, PH1 5QP, 01738 638227, email@example.com
TAC 58 Index