The Angry Corrie 16: Dec 1993-Jan 1994
"The Nineties - A Decade of Change in the North British Hills plc"
An extract from the SMC Journal for 1999, written by Lord Murdo Munro of Ben Chonzie - as uncovered by
As the century draws to its close, it is perhaps an opportune moment to look back on the momentous changes that have occurred during the last decade.
The 1994 White Paper, The Scottish Hills and How to Make Lots and Lots of Money Out of Them, was introduced at a time when what have come to be known as "The Little Wars of the Scottish Water Privatisation" were still at their height. The beleaguered Scottish radicals were too thinly spread and as usual too busy fighting amongst themselves to give this Paper the attention it deserved. George Galloway was unavoidably abroad in Italy renegotiating his contract with Gianni Versace. The editors of The Angry Corrie, by this time a samizdat publication, still had twenty years of their sentence to serve on the Penal Colony of Barra. The King of Thailand had written to the British Prime Minister, Sir Michael Howard, asking for clemency on their behalf, but his plea had met with no response, there being no interest shown by Hollywood or the tabloid press in buying their story. The radical opposition leadership, such as it was, had devolved to a group of substance-crazed former members of the outlawed Mountain Bothies Association.
The decision to call a snap election at the beginning of 1994 had been considered ill-advised at the time, but the brilliant strategy of coupling a large decrease in taxation with the promise of a free mountain bike for every Conservative voter had swung the day and produced a Conservative majority in the Scottish (Halfords) Assembly as well as throughout the rest of Britain. Extension of sponsorship into the arena of government was considered worthwhile, and in any case the shoulder patch advertising logos worn by the representatives had been most tastefully designed by Hugo Boss.
The Scottish Mountaineering Council, anxious not to be left behind in the new era of deregulation, had brought out a third edition of their successful Munros Guide in 1995 with the active participation of a great many sponsors. Some dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists did not approve of the new edition, but editor Mr Kelvin McKenzie from his holiday home nestling at the foot of Ben Sanyo More said, "You should be bloody grateful to Rupert for allowing you the use of his presses to publish the bloody book. Anyway I don't see much difference between a few Japanese names and the gobbledygook you tossers talk up here. If the - what do you call them? - Corbetts had been a bit bigger, we could have got sponsorship support for them as well.
The transfer of the National Trust for Scotland into the private sector and subsequent takeover by C 'n' Do brought a welcome infusion of funds from the new investors. This resulted in the more popular ascents being booked for up to three years ahead by parties of foreign walkers. The new chairman Sir Michael Forsyth justified this by his policy of keeping open "slots" for the indigenous people at reduced prices in the less popular months of March and October. Commenting on the installation of turnstiles at the foot of the Pepsi-Cola Aonach Eagach, the editor of Abseiler and Mountain Biker (incorporating (Climber and Hillwalker), Sir Gary Bushell, said "This was inevitable after the levelling of the ridge and provision of handrails, thanks to the generosity of Sir Jimmy Saville, and the addition of the Muddy Fox mountain bike lane. The floodlights now installed under the Benson and Hedges Buachaille Etive Mor have also solved the problems we have had with climbers being knocked off by abseilers and bungee-jumpers during the day. We must move with the times". The 1996 takeover of the Mountain Bothies Association by Trust House Forte had also been inevitable after the legislation introduced as a result of the White Paper. The cash infusion provided by the new owners meant that the original "bothies" could be developed, provided of course that it was done in the best of taste. It was now possible to drive to "bothies" which had been booked in advance from the THF/MBA colour brochure. The usual few malcontents were unhappy about this, but as the manager of Shenavall Bothy and Conference Centre, Mr Kevin Snotter, recently said, "We don't want these people hanging around like tramps with their Triang stoves making our visiting executives feel uncomfortable. Some of our guests have told me that in the old days people had to walk to bothies. Even then there was no guarantee that they would get a bed for the night, as there wasn't any centralised booking system like we have now. One can only guess what the standard of the food was like. I gather that the toilet facilities were pretty bad as well. Excuse me, I have to go and meet the afternoon helicopter......
The establishment in 1997 of Mountain Access Corridors, also known as Rights of Way, did not meet with universal approval. Thanks however to the brilliant marketing coup whereby the credit card group Access joined with the Scottish Landowners Federation, hillusers could now pay for their annual licence and swipe their cards through the newly installed card readers at the hill access points prior to their pre-booked walk. Admission prices to the hills were fairly worked out in conjunction with OFHILL, the consumers' watchdog group, and were based on such considerations as height, views and whether or not Muriel Gray would be there that day.
The extension of sponsorship also meant that individual organisations, ie multinationals and large companies, could now offer mountain access as part of their employment remuneration package. Large companies such as BP or British Telecom now had their regular weeks on the more beautiful hills for the exclusive use of their staff. Smaller companies, such as IBM, had a weekend on Beinn Mhanach in October.
The introduction by the government of the Mountain Bikers Charter in 1998 was recognition of the part played in the development of the mountain access lanes by the Mountain Bikers Association or MBA(1998) - not to be confused with the other Organisation with the same initials which was now of course proscribed. Thanks to an arrangement made between the new MBA, the government, and a very persuasive Irishman who just happened to be in the area and had a couple of million tons of the black stuff left over from a job he had just finished, it was now possible to drive to each of the "Munro Experiences" and park your car at the conveniently situated access points. In next to no time the intrepid adventurer had another entry in his laptop Munroist's Log. Advances in Virtual Reality had of course enabled the physically challenged to experience all the Munros without actually leaving their home, it having long been suspected that there were many who had only ever completed the list in their heads anyway.
(The editors are sorry to relate that the article remains unfinished. Sadly this was due to the sudden onset of schizophrenia in Sir Murdo, who for no apparent reason suddenly attacked his wife Lady Sally of Forth, beating her savagely with a hardback copy of The Next Fifty Donalds by Muriel Gray. He can now be contacted at the Sir Hugh Munro Memorial Home for Bewildered Mountaineers. Don't worry, he will soon be back in the community again.)