PAUL LISTER’S PLAN to reintroduce the wolf, the elk, the wild boar and a defunct version of the Scottish access law to his Alladale estate has received widespread media coverage over the past two or three years. BBC Scotland has given it considerable airtime (some would say lacking in balance, with too much heed being paid to Mr Lister’s PR machine), while the glossy hill mags, most notably TGO, have taken a largely sceptical angle. TAC is more interested in access than in animals, so asked Rob Woodall and Andy Beaton for some on-the-ground information concerning Alladale’s fences, gates and estate workers, and how these might be affecting attempts to climb the local hills.
My May Day weekend around Alladale grew out of some postings on the relative hills egroup (http://groups. yahoo.com/group/rhb/). I’m not good on campaigning, and not particularly up on the Alladale proposals, but I noticed on pulling out my old Landranger 20 that I’d drawn on the wild boar enclosures — quite accurately as it turned out — from some information previously seen on rhb. The idea of heading north, showing a presence, and bagging a few trig points and sundry Graham Tops / Corbett Tops — just in case they really do get fenced in — sounded like a good way to use a bank holiday weekend. The various targets fitted into a route of 30ish miles, which in turn fitted neatly into my Charlie Ramsay Round training plan (see page 7 for an account of the CRR).
I met Richard and Frances Webb early Saturday afternoon and we wandered up the heathery Breac-Bheinn (462m, NH499950), to be taken by surprise by that crazy Coigach view, and by how far north we were. Late afternoon, alone again, I made a foray into the Forbidden Glen. From the parking area near Glencalvie Lodge, NH463891 (space for maybe six cars — don’t block the gate), I walked west along the expensive-looking smooth granite track past Alladale Lodge. There was more parking a mile further along, in a borrow pit just before the lodge gates if coming from the east, and no discouraging signage (but no sign of anyone parking). A few estate vehicles were heading back to roost — a few friendly waves. I admired the two-metre-high boar fence (no sign of any boars), then did a circuit of Carn Alladale (635m, NH408897) and the Graham Carn a’Choin Deirg, returning over the north-eastern Graham Top and the 557m bump. I accidentally descended direct to Alladale Lodge, through a non-electrified deer fence with gates, but it was after 8pm and no one was about, just the vehicles from earlier.
Sunday, with the weather showery, was spent mostly in Glen Cassley with its walker-friendly bridges. Monday was true to the good forecast. I parked at Glencalvie again, and took the track south over the River Carron bridge. A red sign said Private, access to Glencalvie Lodge only, but at the lodge a sign indicated Footpath; once in, they show you the way out. The path took me east across the Water of Glencalvie bridge, then along a wide track heading south, eventually linking with the track skirting Carn Chuinneag. I headed straight up Cnoc na Tuppat (438m, NH477877): at the southwest corner of the forest a few panels of old non-electrified deer fence had been left out. From Tuppat I followed the south bank of Salachie Burn, rough at times, eventually crossing to the north side of the deer fence — the last fence seen for a long while.
From the Graham Carn Salachaidh I crossed to the Corbett Carn Chuinneag, via Carn an Lochan (two ptarmigan on top, red grouse on the col only a few metres lower). I picked off a few more Graham Tops to reach Carn nan Aighean (628m, NH387784): greenshank nearby, and dunlin in various places.
Then west across a deep glen to the very fine Meall a’Ghrianain, before the Corbett Beinn a’Chasteil’s rock-strewn summit. Yet another glen crossing led north-west to Meall a’Chuaille (629m, NH343820), then a descent north-east to the Gleann Beag bridge before one last long climb to An Socach (745m, NH378868), separating Alladale from Gleann Mor. I was on top at the golden hour before sunset and the light was brilliant: Canisp and Suilven framed by a glacial trough against a lilac sky. The long ridge east eventually brought the Big Fence at NH421880, which I followed south down extremely steep heather.
The glen brought a surprise: a normal deer fence runs east/west from the electrified enclosure, with a network of one-metre-high electric fences between it and the Gleann Mor track. The trick is to keep just outside the enclosure then hope that the gate to the track is open. Oddly, there’s a stile into the enclosure, at about NH429881, with no warning signs. I didn’t investigate. Talking of signs, apart from the Private sign at Glencalvie Lodge I saw none, neither welcoming nor discouraging walkers.
An Socach has an important climbing crag on its north face, I gather. As the two existing electrified enclosures are on its flanks, it must be in danger of being fenced in entirely if Mr Lister’s wilderness idea takes off. He’d better not — it’s a gem.
A week later I got a very nice email from the great man himself. Actually, it was just one of the regular Alladale Wilderness newsletters, but they are evidently keen to get personal with their public. It turned out I had signed up as a “supporter” of some kind, although any support I might have for the principle of reintroducing native species is contingent on access being maintained. Here’s the email, dated 13/5/08, along with details of two “management vacancies”. Make of it what you will. And get out on those wonderful wild hills — some of them just might become part of a safari park.
I would be very grateful if you would take a few moments to help us employ the right people to fill a couple of management vacancies that we are seeking to fill. One will be based in the glorious Scottish Highlands and another in Chelsea, London.
Please feel free to circulate this email to others who you think might be interested; there are more details about the job specification and how to apply if you click on the links below.
Your time and help is greatly appreciated.
Lodge Manager - Alladale, Scotland - attractive package.
We are seeking an experienced, professionally trained and friendly manager with a “hands on” approach to take responsibility for Alladale Lodge, Eagles Crag & Ghillies Rest which will be ready from April 09. The manager will be responsible for up to 24 guests and 15 house staff.
Salesperson - London - OTE £35-40,000.
We are looking to recruit an energetic London based executive with a proven track record in sales to private groups and corporate clients. This key role is pivotal for the growth of the business and the expansion of Alladale’s unique vision. The successful applicant will work from our partner hotel, The Draycott in London SW3.
Ed. — From the Draycott website, www.draycotthotel.com — “If you’re in search of a small elegant five star hotel in London that’s replete with luxurious finishes, grand interiors and staff on hand to satisfy your every whim, look no further than the Draycott, a luxury London Hotel situated between Chelsea and Knightsbridge.” Note that Alladale bothy, NH426895, maintained by MBA since 1972 in a slightly less opulent style than the Draycott, has now been closed by the estate.
WOLVES HAVE HAD a bad press down the centuries, not helped by the supposedly innocent animal-hating eco-fascist Red Riding Hood and her sadistic wolf-baiting crone of a granny. Frankly I’d be happy enough to see these extinct native species brought back, but why the fences? Wolves pose no significant threat to humans, indeed arguably less than that from the rottweilers and bull terriers which seem to chew the heads off toddlers with depressing regularity.
Wild boars are not to be trifled with, but only when cornered. (Top Tip — don’t corner a wild boar.) Anyway, what about the pumas/cougars/mountain lions, with which we’ve seemingly been sharing the landscape for 20+ years without so much as a scratch to one of us?
But of course I’m probably in the minority. I understand that Mr Lister has already fallen foul of legislation which prevents the keeping of predators and prey in the same enclosure, eg a piranha in a tank of goldfish. Quite whether the entire Alladale estate constitutes an “enclosure” is another thing, however. Access is a concern and where does it end? How would Langmuir’s Mountaincraft and Leadership deal with it? Surely a new chapter for the syllabus? Draft Ray Mears on to the editorial board? And has Murdo Munro encountered David Attenborough on his travels?
In terms of actual Alladale action, I passed an uneventful few hours in the Gleann Mor/Alladale/Glen Calvie area on Saturday 10 May. Not much to report, but I found wild boar to be very much in residence — behind the wire. Only saw half a dozen, but I believe there are more as well as elk, which we didn’t see.