The Angry Corrie 51: Sep-Nov 2001

Swings, and the inevitable roundabout (hill tracks)

THE NATIONAL TRUST FOR SCOTLAND has been on the rough end of much criticism in this hillzine over the years, and there is more in this edition, with its attitude over access being queried on pages 5, 14, 15 and 17. But credit where it's due, and the NTS deserves praise for having carried through its promise to remove all trace of the hellish Land Rover track up the south-western slopes of Beinn a'Bhuird in the Cairngorms.

This track was, by common consensus, one of the worst and most intrusive in the country, trashing its way up from the Glen Quoich woodlands, over the mid-height shoulder of An Diollaid and ending right on the high tundra plateau, almost 1100m up. A grim scar, visible from afar and a constant reminder of how selfish "sporting" estates can be when it comes to making (as opposed to shooting) a swift buck. A chance to crank up the profits by a couple of quid per annum? Great - let's plough a huge furrow and sod the biodiversity.

Now, though, the NTS is well on the way to "reinstating" (as the jargon goes) this track, turning it into a traditional narrow trod creeping unobtrusively up the hillside. A couple of TACers were in the area in late August, and they came back enthusing. "It's progressing very well," Ken Stewart noted, "and is now mostly restored to a path meandering up the slope. This path follows the old path line on the section where the track went up more quickly to the ridge." Christopher Horton was similarly wowed: "The NTS is replacing the track with one of the best footpaths that I have seen in the Highlands. I was very impressed with everything that the NTS had done. From plentiful but unobtrusive notice boards, up-to-date weather forecasts etc. Also signs saying please don't light fires as they are trying to increase the population of black grouse ... now that makes a nice change from some old fat duffer in tweeds blasting them to bits. I was also asked to fill out a survey about access with mountain bikes - the NTS has revised its policy of no bikes to a compromise of allowing bikes as far as they drive their Land Rovers - pretty fair I would say."

So that's all very good, as far as we can tell (just so long as the NTS doesn't start saying that only members can use the path). What is not at all good however - and is deeply ironic given the work being done on Mar - is that the fine old stalker's path connecting the lodges at Bendronaig and Pait has recently been bulldozed by the local estate (believed to be West Monar and Pait). The path threaded its way through some of the most awkward-to-get-at land in Scotland, deep in the huge empty region between the Cluanie and Carron roads, much loved by many. It served generations of walkers and stalkers perfectly well, but we now seem to be dealing with a new breed of fat, unfit, can't-be-arsed clients for whom everywhere has to accessible via some kind of vehicle.

Christopher Horton clapped eyes on this two days before he went to Mar: "Whilst on the ridge [between An Socach and An Riabhachan], I noticed the new and ugly bulldozed track which leads out to Pait Lodge. How many people ever go out there? It must be easy for [the estate] to do things on the quiet, especially with the foot and mouth." Calum MacRoberts was also here in late July, when he found bulldozers parked at Loch Calavie. "They have stormed a trail through from Bendronaig Lodge to Pait," he wrote. "Another fine old path obliterated and now just a memory."

It isn't clear whether the estate deliberately did this on the fly, knowing that walkers, conservationists and officials would be largely absent due to FMD restrictions. But it's certainly symptomatic, given the recent spate of raptor poisoning (eg on the notorious Cawdor estate), tree-felling etc. It's also symptomatic that neither Highland Council nor the local SNH office (in Portree!) knew about the Monar track until being told via TAC and the MCofS at the end of August. And of course by that time it was a fait accompli - or should that be pait accompli ?

MENTION MUST BE MADE of the recent passing, at the early age of 68, of Ken Andrew. He was a good friend of TAC and a hugely accomplished hill man - look in the lists of Munroists, Corbetteers and Donaldists and you'll see his name, and back in the 1960s, too. Ken had a particular fondness for, and knowledge of, southern Scotland, and he co-authored the SMC's guide to the area. He spent much time in the Galloway hills, clocking up 128 ascents of Merrick, and there's added poignancy in that he didn't live to see the full post-FMD reopening of the hills he loved so much. He will be greatly missed, and the editor sends condolences to his family and friends.

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