I WAS INTERESTED to read the letter in TAC62 (p16) from John Mackenzie, Mountaineering Council of Scotland president, criticising a earlier article by Robin N Campbell. John's letter seems more of an attack on the man than his arguments.
The MCofS has been hijacked by the environmental lobby, and exaggerates issues out of all proportion. Thus John Mackenzie climbs in a "nastily political and sectarian world" full of "confrontations and dilemmas" - language used to create fear and so gain support. The MCofS claims to be a big player in the new access legislation, and I should think so too seeing as they made such an issue of it in the first place. Since 1978, I have never had a problem with access when walking or climbing in Scotland. Now we will get mired in legalese. No one goes climbing any more, we are "accessing an outdoor resource", and are being told we can only do this "responsibly". Oh yeah? Since when was mountaineering a responsible pastime? I thought I went into the hills to escape responsibilities. Why John Mackenzie thinks I have the slightest interest in what the Health and Safety Executive are up to when I am off work, I do not know. I am not a professional climber, and if the guides have a problem they should get their professional body to sort it out.
I wasn't all that bothered about the Shieldaig hydro scheme, either. I spent a winter doing pathwork in Torridon and it was pretty grim. There's nothing up there, just peat hags and bedrock, and I would have thought that a hydro scheme or two would jazz the place up a bit. When I was a kid in Perth a trip to the dam and fish ladder at Pitlochry was a rare treat. One of the protesters against the Shieldaig scheme maintained that "green German tourists" would stop coming to Torridon if the dam was built. Why are green German tourists against hydro power? And what are green German tourists doing hopping on to planes? They should be cycling down to the Black Forest and going for a walk.
No one really gives a toss about the environment. We are all fleeing about in 4x4s and turbo Saabs and living in centrally heated houses full of electric gadgets, but where is the power for all this to come from? These environmentalists don't want power from nuclear, coal, gas, oil, wind-farms or hydro. I'm sick of hearing about windfarms - they should put them underground. As for pylons, I cross Drumochter twice a week and don't even notice them. However, I do notice the huge scar running up Beinn a'Ghlo. Considering that it is climbers and walkers who are trashing the hills, the MCofS should remember that when you point your finger at someone you have three fingers pointing at yourself. One thing these folk would notice is if they got home and found the power off, and they would have a lot more credibility if they all sold their cars and went back to using oil lamps.
Next up on John Mackenzie's list is footpath repair. I would think that what the MCofS knows about upland path repair you could write on the back of a postage stamp. I notice also in TAC62 some worthy from the NTS writing to puff all the voluntary pathwork he had done. In the Highlands there is a desperate shortage of jobs and housing for young people, and all this voluntary work degrades jobs in the environmental and conservation sector. It would be interesting to know how much voluntary work is being done in the Cairngorms national park. The NTS, RSPB and JMT are all keen on using volunteers. The JMT is buying large areas of ground in the Highlands and then asking people to give them money. They don't seem to employ people to look after places such as Schiehallion or Ben Nevis, but they love telling us what to do. In the Scottish Mountaineer, the MCofS magazine, the JMT Wild Land Declaration uses the word "must" four times and calls for more legislation!
John Mackenzie claims the MCofS is the watchdog on "hill tracks and other clandestine developments". He does not say what these clandestine developments are, but as they're clandestine I suppose no one knows. Sounds like more fear-mongering to me. These people have romantic notions about wild land. The Highlands have been settled for about 7000 years and you can stand on top of any Munro and as far as the eye can see all the land is managed. It stands to reason that there is no wild land in Scotland. Furthermore, the folk who have to live and work on this land need hill tracks to access remote areas. In the Scottish Mountaineer it has been flagged up that the NTS has reinstated x amount of track on Mar Lodge into footpaths. Now, in order to stalk the far ground to knock hell out of the hinds, they are having to use helicopters. I thought the MCofS was against helicopters whizzing about the hills.
There is far too much interference in the countryside by so-called environmentalists who have little practical knowledge or experience of land management and who get a disproportionate say in rural affairs backed up by politicians worried about the suburban vote. Let us take devolution to its logical extent and leave country folk to run their affairs. I found it amazing that John Mackenzie could boast about dragging mountaineering into the political arena. I don't know why he thinks we should be involved with a gang of MPs whose moral credentials allow them to sanction a bloody and illegal war in Iraq yet who ban people from foxhunting on horseback whilst riding to hounds.
Finally, John states that "Climbing and walking on our Scottish hills brings in more money than any other business in the Highlands". Compared with what? Oil? Banking? Railways? I assume he means other tourism. The last comparative study I saw was during the Lurcher's Gully affair and admittedly is out of date, but mountaineering was well down the list behind (I think) general tourism, water-based tourism, general rambling about and nature study and angling. Whenever I went climbing I filled the car with fuel and food in Dundee and spent as little as possible in the hills, and so did everyone else I know. Someone who drives up from the Central Belt, goes on the hill and then drives home again the same day is only supporting the oil and car industry, contributing to global warming and trampling a fragile environment. I would be surprised if mountaineering tourism in upper Speyside generated more income than the local businesses or surrounding estates.
The MCofS is a burgeoning bureaucratic organisation and is trying to get its fingers into as many pies as possible to justify its existence. Robin Campbell is right. What I do in my spare time is none of their business. I don't want to be told I have to be responsible, or be lectured or trained or bombarded with leaflets telling me go here, go there, do this, don't do that - or who to phone before going on the hill or how to cross a railway line. As for their mag, a tacky glossy vehicle to promote, publicise and commercially exploit the mountains as much as possible, quite frankly it gives me the dry boke. It's the earth that's sacred, not just the mountains, and freedom to roam means freedom to escape into an environment where we can get away from organisations like the MCofS. Bureaucracy may have escaped into the countryside, but that doesn't mean we can't cock a snook at it and if we can laugh loudly and derisively enough we may be able to send it scuttling back to the dusty offices where it belongs.
So is the Scottish Mountaineer, the MCofS magazine, "a tacky glossy vehicle to promote, publicise and commercially exploit the mountains" (as Jerry Fuchter reckons), or "a fine magazine which keeps members up to date with what's really going on" (as John Mackenzie wrote in TAC62)? Alan Blanco picked up a copy of the March issue and had a look...
TAC 65 Index