The Angry Corrie 37: Jun-Jul 98

TAC 37 Index

and they call it democracy ...

Let's start with some good news for once: Richard Webb reports having recently climbed Swinside, the decidedly nice and deciduously wooded 244m Marilyn on the west side of Derwent Water. Swinside was for many years a bit of a no-go area, with local landowners putting up various discouraging signs and fences, although this was always bluff and bluster in real terms. But now Richard reports the Keep Out signs having gone. As he says, it's nice to see a litter clean-up.

Sadly the same can't be said elsewhere, particularly - astonishingly - on Tinto. For one of the most popular of hills to suddenly have signs and restrictions slapped on its flanks is both startling and disturbing. Your Ed used to climb Tinto regularly, but hadn't done so for a couple of years until a friend's 500th Marilyn jaunt back in December. The plan was a standard, traditional one: up the main drag from Fallburn, then down the more green and wooded eastern side over Scaut Hill and Wee Hill, to reach the A72/A73 road split for a mile of roadwandering back. This we did, except for being given pause for annoyance high on the hill, where a Keep Out sign lurked a couple of minutes along the eastern path/track. (This was doubly annoying: if landowners are going to put up a sign, at least they should have the sense and courtesy to put it at the turnoff rather than part-way down the ridge.) The sign was ignored of course, and no actual hostility was encountered, but getting off the hill on to the road at the bottom was made difficult by a far from friendly high fence. There had been another sign, also east of the Fallburn path, much lower down and earlier on, plus an unsightly corridor of fences across the initial moor. Most likely some cocky new landowner has bought the eastern side of the hill and thinks this means they own the place.

This was reinforced by news from Paul Prescott, who had a similar experience in April. He saw no sign on the eastern ridge, but met a bloke in a Land Rover who warned him off with words about grouse disturbance. Not that Land Rovers disturb grouse of course; how long before some landownership research unit suggests that grouse actually thrive on the fumes and exhaust kicked out by fat-and-lazy client laden 4x4s?

There's also word that local villagers from Symington, at the foot of Tinto's east ridge, are suddenly having to struggle to retain an obvious and long-established hill-route. What's happening here? Are we slipping back into some dark age? What with Knoydart being sold commercially yet again, and with mutterings and murmurings of fresh problems at Mar, the bright new future promised by the shiny new government seems to have by-passed the Scottish hill-lands. Not that anything else was ever likely, of course: the new boss met the old boss long ago.

The Mar worry concerns the attitude and approach of the NTS to managing their latest large land acquisition. Few cries of acclaim and applause greeted this purchase, as would have happened had, say, the JMT or RSPB taken over: there were always thought too many men in suits around, too many nods-and-handshakes behind the scenes. Estate factors were too much of a factor. Maybe, long term, things will work well, but there currently seems to be a stroppiness and arrogance which risks alienating ordinary, conscientious hillgoers. This mainly concerns the signs which have sprung up at the start of Cairngorms approach tracks, such as that to Derry Lodge. The stated intention is to ban cycling up the glens at some unspecified future date, as part of an NTS access policy based on the long walk-in. The long walk-in is fine in theory, but the tone of the statements, and their positioning, is highly questionable, such that more complaints and comments have come in to TAC about this than re any other subject in the past months. Most walkers are well aware of the problems revolving around cycling on damage-susceptible paths, and many would happily see a ban enforced there. But the southern Cairngorm tracks are never going to be damaged by bicycles, so the argument doesn't apply. (As one of the complainers, John Pulford, notes, such a ban would raise the parallel question of whether cross-country skis could be used when there is snow cover in the glens: it's the same basic principle, surely?)

If the NTS wish to stop cyclists continuing up the Derry path (or through the Lairig, with its long tradition of cycle-crossings), then they need to find a better way than by assuming stupidity. This seems especially pertinent when, on most Sunday afternoons, another of those fume-belching vehicles, specifically designed to negate the long walk in, can be seen drawing up at Derry Lodge and disgorging the so-called "Laird of Braemar", Bill Marshall, and his wife and dogs. This has been going on for many a year, and, whilst no-one wishes to deny anyone their innocent picnicking pleasure, the word is that Marshall retains his gate key via a cosy arrangement with the NTS. All of which is already evident to the sign-threatened cyclists who politely pull over to let the Land Rover jolt by.

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