IN RECENT ISSUES, particularly TAC60 and TAC64, there have been articles and editorial comments nearly all of which oppose the practice of charging for car parking. At the risk of being ostracised by TAC Towers, may I suggest that, as walkers, we need to adopt a more considered attitude?
Most estates in Scotland are not opposed to responsible access. (It is different south of the border.) There are exceptions, but these should be dealt with individually with the help of the new access legislation.
On the other hand, we should recognise that, as walkers, we contribute nothing directly to the maintenance of the land we enjoy and perhaps even, occasionally and inadvertently, damage. We may contribute indirectly by supporting a conservation charity. We do benefit the local economy by buying food, staying in B&Bs, drinking in pubs, etc, but this does not help the estates per se, though it may help some of the individuals who work on them. So we should be careful not to appear to offer a kneejerk reaction to any practical methods of enabling support.
These days, nobody becomes rich because they own an estate. (It was different in the 19th century, but that was some time ago.) Many of those who own an estate do so because they were already rich and could afford to buy it; but as a way of making more money, this is probably about as efficient as buying a football club.
There are, it seems to me, very few ways in which estates can try to recoup a modest return from those of us who enjoy walking over their land. Don't get me wrong: we should have the right to do this (provided we act responsibly). But if we want to do so in the way most convenient to us, by parking as close as we can to the hill, then it is not unreasonable to pay for it. This is not a charge for access: it is a charge for leaving our lumps of metal on estate land while we are out walking.
One argument is that "the charges make it more difficult for the less well off to enjoy the hills". I find this unconvincing. For all of us, poor or not, the costs of running a car and paying for the fuel to drive it to the hill will overwhelm any extra cost of parking.
Take one hypothetical example. If a car park had been built close to Lawers village 25 years ago, how convenient that would have been - and how much hassle would have been avoided? That could have been done by the local authority, or by a landowner. If the former, it might have been free; but I am not quite clear why the taxpayer should stump up for something that, frankly, would be of value only to hillwalkers. So it should be "pay and display", as in Lakeland and Snowdonia, and then I see no distinction between a charge by the authority and one by the owner of the land.
I sympathise with Adam Watson's complaint (TAC60 p16) that the "short-stay tourists" cannot now park for a short while in order to take a photograph. But how would he propose to solve this? If a few spaces were left by the A93 near Keiloch, we all know that they would be permanently occupied by the cars, some left there for several days, of walkers who wanted to save a few quid. Paradoxically, the tourists expect to pay for their short-term parking, while we walkers think we should be able to park all day, or longer, for nothing.
An "ecological" argument is often used: that we should he discouraging car-use by not providing parking facilities. Charges might also appear to be a discouragement, but the effect is trivial: walkers will park somewhere anyway. Our society is such that, for most walkers most of the time, a car is the only practical means of enjoying our hobby. It may well be right to try to change this, but this will require serious long-term political commitment to unpopular policies, not the sort of ad hoc obstructionism that underlies this objection to car parks and charges.
Perhaps there is a better method by which hillwalkers (most of us, not just the charitable few) can contribute a little to the land we enjoy. If so, I would be delighted to hear of it. If not, then we need to think things through just a little bit more. At least we know that the estates providing parking for walkers, even at a charge, must also be welcoming us on to their land. They will not make much of a return if they are obstructive.
INTERESTING HOW the matter of cairns, memorials on top of Ben Nevis etc has cropped up, along with the growing spread of roadside tat marking fatalities. (See TAC66 p14.) One solution for those who dislike such things is simply to avoid them, and I've kept away from the summits of Ben Nevis and Cairn Gorm for a couple of decades now. Not so easy with roads.
I frequently stay at a house in rural Fife which has a long field stretching out from it between road and river. Every year two or three cars end up in this field, having lost control on the modest wiggles and dips of the road. One spot has a rotting pile of flowers which is periodically renewed, presumably by the parents of the tearaway who killed himself racing a friend into the hidden dip. There are no flowers for the couple in the car coming the other way who were also wiped out. TAC66 also mentioned the ostentatious public hysteria when Diana was killed in Paris. In all the reports on that sad fiasco I never heard a single question asked about the crazy irresponsibility of their driving at 90mph in a city. They were as culpable as the boy racers in Fife. Self-gratification lay behind both.
Recently, for the first time in some years, I walked the Forth and Clyde Canal from Lock 27 down to the Clyde at Bowling. Some parts are incredibly rural, tree-lined or with views to the Kilpatrick hills. I spent half an hour watching a family of swans where the cygnets were learning to fly. One of the delights of the canal is seeing the original bascule bridges. But, progressing west, these became more covered in graffiti. Hardly an inch of the Linnvale bridge was not so demeaned. And as the vast Clyde shopping centre neared, the water was littered with bottles, carry-oot containers and the inevitable shopping trolleys. Every building had defences the MOD couldn't better. There were no pleasure craft on the water. This was the Drumchapel-Clydebank area.
Over much of the summer past I've also been frantically visiting Scottish graveyards, preparing for a slideshow on these. The great attraction lies in the 18th-century carved stones, folk-art pictures of scenes such as Adam and Eve, or trade-guild carvings of sailing ships or of a smith and his apprentice working at an anvil. The topic is not at all sombre, and the title - "Guddling among the graves" - hints at this. I've a photo showing a date of death: April 31. And another: Born 1859, Died 1840.
Most people's images of graveyards will be the Victorian acres of marble angels, obelisks and draped urns, sentimentality rife. There's plenty of that - and they all too often cleared earlier treasures to make room for their own swanky monuments. But today everything of that period is replicated and taken to unimagined extremes. Imported black marble with gilt lettering proclaims texts that would shame McGonagall, there are white plastic figures (of cherubs, dogs, fairies), and bronze portraits have been replaced by photographs. The sentimentality is not just for children, either. Nobody is spared. Farmers' stones have scenes of horses ploughing - for men who drove tractors all their days. At least Ben Nevis avoids this, but is "of the ilk".
Now, drawing these disparate strands together, I reckon at the heart of all this display is a breakdown of western life. Having chucked out God, there are no guidelines, no moral standards, no comforting (in the original meaning of the word), and there's no clear sense of life. "Do not go gentle into that good night / Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." Quite. If I lived on the 17th floor in Drumchapel, the third generation out of work, I might want to spray my initials on a bridge or knock over a few gravestones when pissed.
For decades I've ranted about our western ways. It's one reason I spend so much time in the Atlas mountains, among a people poor in this world's wealth but rich in family life and culture - everything we have lost. "When people stop believing in God they will believe in anything." If it's religion it tends to be extreme, if not religious it can be anything but is always self-centred and careless of anyone else. Faith and folly eventually close the circle of discontent. So booze, drugs, graffiti and the public outpouring of personal grief follow, all part and parcel of our western malaise.
When I'd walked Lock 27 to the Clyde, I tried to walk Lock 27 up to the Kelvin aqueduct and the extraordinary flight of locks at Maryhill. There was a strong police presence: a woman had been found murdered that morning on the walkway below. (There was a mention of this in TAC66, too.) I missed the details thereafter as I was off to show slides of Scotland at the EU research centre by Lago Maggiore.
In half the time needed to reach Glen Coe, we were up in the Italian Alps for a weekend of perfection: blue skies and golden miles of larch with snowy Monte Rosa nodding above. Round the lake villages and in the hills I saw hardly any litter or graffiti, bikes were left unlocked, public places unvandalised. And I was there to laud Scotland? I felt ashamed. We are a sick people.
In my more innocent days I assumed that people going up hills or into bothies or walking canals would be nature enthusiasts, kind to the environment. Innocence didn't last long. What really annoys me is that antisocial behaviour is not confined to "the deprived". Our local mountaineering club gave up using the bothy we maintained during Hogmanay visits because all too often it was invaded by those intent only on a booze-up. The final discouragement was a group of teachers from Gordonstoun, the worst of them a woman. We hired a cottage thereafter.
There is also something of the cult of personality in all this. People see celebrities willing to do all sorts of silly things on TV and they mimic of course. Me. Me. Me. How often these days you see interviews with kids waving in the background, how often the exotically arrayed fan at a test match has one eye on the TV camera, hoping... So it is natural to spray-paint one's name, to pile up commemorations on Ben Nevis, to ensure that mum's grave has more flowers and inscriptions than any other. People are desperate to show their individuality; after all, so many are the slaves of today's impersonal technology. Or bored out of their minds by the failures of education or the chance to do anything worthwhile. No government in decades has invested in people.
There is also an element of keeping up with the Joneses, of following fad and fashion, of not wanting to be different or outwith the flocks - so these things spread like an infection. The only redeeming element may be in grief being made manifest instead of being bottled up - even if the demonstration of such so lacks in imagination. No doubt I'll be branded elitist for some of my remarks. Well, the word means those who seek the choicest, the best of options. What's wrong with that? I'll buy it. But I don't consider myself heaven-sent.
Certainly the summit of Ben Nevis should be cleared, but it will have to be done with great diplomacy, just as I have to ca canny when I put up certain slides of gravestones - the culprit might be in the audience! How about this one? I'll not say where, nor is it unusual. The stone is smothered with the contents of a flower shop, has an incised teddy bear, a water-spoiled photo and is decorated with plastic fairies, a windchime and a tablet: We miss you, Sweety Pie, we miss you bad / For you were just a Jack the Lad / In our hearts we can't be sad / You were the greatest, our granddad. At least that isn't on top of Ben Nevis.
THE SUBJECT OF exhausting yourself physically for charity (see TAC66 p20) came up in a discussion with a Scots friend and a Colombian friend. Ruth from Glasgow vigorously defended it and mentioned that two men were planning to row naked across the Atlantic for charity. "How will they collect the money?", asked our Colombian friend Teresa. And how much money will they collect?, I ask myself - the rate of return on self-chastisement is low. In the case of charity runs this means that collecting even a modest amount of money for charity requires a mass event; and mass events damage nature. (For more comedy nudity, see page 14 - Ed.)
The naked rowers gave me an idea: how about doing the length of the Forth and Clyde or Union Canal - or both - in pedal boats? (The Caledonian Canal is probably too tricky in windy weather, with all those lochs.) This leaves no trace, requires virtually no skills, those who capsize are easily brought to safety, those who want to give up just head for the nearest bank, and the hillwalkers will not be disturbed. Participant travel is minimised because the event takes place in the central belt. It can be watched at many points, where spectators can be pumped for additional money. The season when waterfowl breed and bring up their chicks can easily be avoided.
With regard to memorials: "Let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22), and of course Ben Nevis is not particularly close to heaven, because "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). But apparently few people want to be good Christians. I detest those knee-deep deposits of plastic flowers and teddy bears, yet I find some of the old memorials in Austria's mountains for farmers or woodcutters killed by lightning very moving. Where do you draw the line?
Neither mass events nor memorials are an issue here in Austria, maybe because they barely make an impact on nature in this heavily forested country. One of the multi-day group treks to the reputedly miraculous statue of St Mary at Mariazell may pass you unseen and unheard at 50 metres (we don't see much self-chastisement for charity here, as taxes fortunately still pay for most essential services). The forests also help to limit path erosion. So, plant more native trees in the Highlands!
For more on these and other topics, see pp17-19.
TAC 67 Index