The otherwise excellent article by David Gray extolling the delights of Orkney and Shetland (TAC64 p11) was marred by an unpleasant aside sneering at those of us who love Sandwood Bay. I seem to remember a similar remark before but can't remember if it was in TAC. I have a suspicion that this might have something to do with the fact that the bay is owned by the John Muir Trust - an organisation which TAC loves to hate. It is also a reminder of the general election campaign which as I write is in full vitriolic swing, in that it is easier to deride one's opponents than to put forward a strong case of one's own. Thus Lang Ayre is described by its colour (brick-red) and its shape (parabolic), while Sandwood is dismissed as overlauded.
Now I have no wish to deride Lang Ayre. As far as I can remember I have never been there. It may well be the most awe-inspiring beach in Scotland as David Gray claims. But I feel sorry for him because he has not experienced the magical atmosphere of Sandwood Bay. I have visited several times, drawn by a variety of peaks to be bagged nearby as well as the obvious (and magnificent) coastal walk from Cape Wrath. Every time I have walked the "tourist" path in from the south I have experienced an almost mystical feeling on coming into sight of the bay, giving at that moment a total conviction that this is the most beautiful place in the world (never mind Scotland). There is no way that I could give a rational claim to this, nor would I want to since I feel that such comparisons are largely meaningless, but I am just reporting my own personal feelings.
The only other place where I have had such an impression was when I revisited Machu Picchu. Too bad if these two sites are seen as particularly touristy places. Perhaps there is a reason that both are perceived as so special by so many people.
Ann Bowker, Portinscale
Ed. - There has been a recent report of quicksand encountered at Sandwood Bay. Has any reader come across this, either here or on any other beach in Scotland?
TAC must have a very powerful voice. Following the debate in TACs passim concerning the pros and cons of bagging on St Kilda, the NTS have been forced into drastic measures. They've hidden the entire archipelago. In the 2005 member's handbook, the maps of properties and details advertise St Kilda as being "41 miles west of N Unst". Baggers proceeding to this position will find only an empty expanse of Atlantic (and as a seafarer, I'm only too familiar with that view). As the archipelago is in fact 41 miles west of N Uist, this means that the NTS is directing people to a position 049 degrees, 282 nautical miles from the actual position. Enough, you would think, to deter the most intrepid of baggers. Either that, or the "long walk in" will be just that!
All the best,
Ian Johnston, Tullynessle
I read Rowland Bowker's response (TAC63 pp18-19) to my letter on "access problems" on St Kilda with surprise. It seemed to me that I was advocating a little patience, understanding of local conditions and a bit of forward planning to ensure that a visit to those unique islands and stacks was as fulfilling as possible.
Mr Bowker has jumped off at half-cock and gone straight to the access problem. I recommend reading the Access Code and noting that there are responsibilities and rights on both sides.
Anyway Rowland's comments made me think of other one-eyed and blind walkers on the hill. Sid Scroggie comes immediately to mind, a real gentleman and what a memory of places he last saw decades ago.
Nick Aitken, Kingussie
I enjoyed Val Hamilton's review in TAC63 (p13) of The Scottish Islands by Hamish Haswell-Smith - and indeed also the book itself. But prospective purchasers should be warned of one flaw. Throughout the book, references are given to Pathfinder sheets on which the islands appear (as well as, more usefully, the Landranger sheets and Admiralty charts). For a "fully revised second edition" published in 2004 to be unaware that Pathfinder maps (which are stated in the introduction to be "readily available") were obsolete, and replaced by the far better Explorer series, is not what I would expect for £35.
I could just about understand if it had been decided not to amend every single page, but it would have been easy to include the Explorer sheet number in one of the complete tables at the end of the book. (A much more trivial error is that in Table 3 the column showing the heights of all the islands is headed "Area in hectares".)
Purchasers of Explorer maps themselves should be warned of another problem. There are two islands which, though clearly shown on Landranger maps, have been completely omitted from the Explorer series. One is Hartamul (or Thairteamul), at NF833114, which ought to appear as an inset on either or both of Explorer sheets 452 and 453. The other is Erisgeir, at NM 382323; this grid square is shown on Explorer 373, but as empty sea! (The OS have assured me that these omissions will be corrected as soon as practicable.) Perhaps it is as well that these islands were too small to qualify for Haswell-Smith's book.
David Purchase, Bristol
PS - If any reader sent me a postcard in February from somewhere that would have an Edinburgh postmark, would he or she please write again, as the card, though properly addressed, contained neither a message nor the sender's name and address.
Regarding Kevin Palmer's letter about his feeling of fear whilst walking the Shank of Drumfollow (TAC63 pp16-17), I have had a similar feeling. It was about two years ago, and I was making an early (pre-dawn) start to encompass Driesh, Mayar, Finalty Hill and possibly Tolmount. I was heading up through the lower wooded part of the Shank (the Kilbo path) from the Doll car park, and was well into the trees at the long straight stretch. I'd stopped just to get a listen to the silence, and was acutely aware of the depth of the trees, the silence and, unreasonably, fear. I have no idea where it came from, but I had to reach the upper part where the trees completely enclose the path in darkness. I moved off as quickly as I could, but was unable to shake off the feeling of being watched. This was more apparent at the top, just before the spot where the trees meet the deer fence. When I left the trees, I left the feeling behind. It was very strange. I wonder how much of it had to do with light levels, and feeling isolated (it was early March and about 6:30am).
Anyway, enough of that - whilst I'm here, I have a question for your erudite readership. Mountain slugs. How come they are so bloody big? Where I was born we had our fair share of big black garden slugs, but I've seen some terrifying examples in my hillwalking travels. The biggest must have been heading for six inches (on Ben Chonzie). How about a slugometer rating for mountains?
Phil Rogers, Dundee
Why don't you rename it The Grumpy Corrie? Adam Watson's article in TAC64 (pp6-8) probably contains enough valid criticisms of the Cairngorms National Park Authority to fill about a third the space you gave him. But we can't tell, because the valid stuff is swamped by pettiness and bile. The CNPA is criticised for spending almost all its funds in its startup year on personnel and buildings: is that a surprise? It's then criticised for managing to get increased funding out of the Executive - suppose its budget had been cut: would Dr Watson have applauded this as a success? It's criticised for hiring lawyers to sort out a legal issue. Statements by Andrew Thin, the convenor of the CNPA, are presented as though they are evidence of CNPA incompetence or wrong-doing ("further vacuous babbling"); closer reading reveals that some are perfectly reasonable statements for a person in that position to make. Dr Watson even quotes himself, as though that lent academic weight to his arguments.
I suspect there is some personal antagonism at the bottom of this, which is a shame. We should be able to expect educated people to stick to rational analysis of facts. I approve of the idea of a shadow board for the CNPA, as this seems like a good thing for democracy, and I look forward to hearing how the shadow board will ensure it is itself democratic, in order to avoid becoming a self-selecting group of grumpy people. I also look forward to hearing more from Dr Watson in TAC on the doings of the CNPA, preferably more rational, less personal and more readable.
On the subject of car-park charging for hillwalkers, this is generally a sensible idea, for all the reasons listed by Mike Dales (TAC64 p19) in his options 2 and 3, and also because it will encourage more car-sharing. Anyone who opposes charging on principle has an unhealthy car-dependence. Anyone who considers that charges will discourage walkers doesn't realise how much their car is already costing them (and their waterproofs, boots, GPS, walking poles...).
I can suggest one practical step that would make the principle of charging more likely to be generally accepted: the money should be seen to be going either to provision and maintenance of the car parking facility, where there was none before, or to footpath and similar work. The MCofS could develop a system whereby it provides annual approval of the charges at a particular car park or on a particular estate, on the basis of evidence of the money raised and how it's being spent. A notice at the point of payment that the MCofS has reviewed the charges and the way the money was spent last year, and considers it reasonable, would help a lot.
Paul Gardner, Glasgow
There are a few topics in TAC64 upon which I would like to comment:
Cairngorms National Park - I find myself agreeing with Adam Watson, but perhaps for different reasons. I said before the National Park Bill was passed that it was a "quick win" for the new parliamentarians in Edinburgh and a flag-waving opportunity for them. National parks were an easy solution for the 1960s and 70s. I was impressed with the progress being made by the Cairngorms Partnership and felt that they would have achieved much with a bigger budget and a few more staff. What we have now is a job-creation exercise and another layer of bureaucracy. They have achieved little that could not have been achieved by other means, probably at far less cost (see also the Holyrood parliament).
LOAF - On a related subject, I have been put on to the Cairngorms LOAF (unknown yet whether yukky white sliced or wholesome wholemeal). Enlightened readers will know that this is the Local Outdoor Access Forum (another government triumph), and they are popping up all over the country. I would be interested to hear of access related issues/problems in the Cairngorms area, either direct or through this magazine. If you are not keen on my representation, there are 12 others to choose from. We await our first meeting with bated breath.
Foot and mouth - I read Ian R Mitchell's comments on the foot and mouth farce with interest (TAC64 pp16-17). I also was at the Cairnwell ski centre frequently in March 2001 and became increasingly anxious that there was something drastically wrong with thousands of skiers being welcomed, but a mile down the road no walkers. I even had a farmer ring me up saying "what do I have to do to get the ski centres closed down?" - the assumption being that his little business was more important than the whole of the Scottish winter sports economy. It didn't make sense. Encouraged by a Scottish Executive statement that it might be safe to open the hills again, Invercauld issued a press release stating that walkers were again welcome. Balmoral quickly followed suit. We believed we were the first to open up for walkers. We then had a very worrying few weeks waiting to see if we had made a big mistake. Eventually other landowners across the country also opened up. NTS/JMT who are generally considered by politicians and others as beyond criticism were very dilatory about opening up. They preferred to listen to the woolly-maggot-keeping crofters, rather than their members! I remember your editor commenting in his articles at the time very favourably on Invercauld's prompt reopening (see my pieces in the Scotland Online archive, and the comments by Iain Price and Mike Smith on p3 and p8 of TAC50 - Ed.), and I rather resent Ian's inference in his 13 May diary entry that Invercauld were still in the "sin bin" along with NTS/JMT!
Playboy bunny - I also have seen the Playboy bunny cut into the heather at Tillyprony, Donside (TAC64 p18) and would congratulate the anonymous artist, who was a gamekeeper with a sense of humour!
Car parks - I cannot duck out of this debate. We constructed here at Invercauld a new car park and provided a WC / shelter, which was a vast improvement to the previous arrangements. We charge £2 per visit, which is in line with other Deeside car parks, some of which provide rather fewer facilities. The charge is voluntary and all proceeds go into maintaining the car park and paths/bridges/stiles on the estate.
Some 85% of visitors pay, and all the people I have spoken to are delighted with the arrangements. We are considering another new car park with similar facilities at the west end of Jock's Road, which is a nightmare in summer.
Factor, Invercauld Estates, Braemar
Laminated copies of TAC cover cartoons are decorating the toilet walls at Keiloch (Invercauld), where incidentally I think you get a good £2's worth - clean heated toilet and covered area to change before piling into your car. It is also far safer than roadside parking.
I have also used the Glen Muick car park, but am not convinced that £2 is justified there. The jury is still out for Linn of Dee - bur Anna and I are NTS members so wouldn't pay anyway. If they installed toilets then I would support the charge - far too many outdoor areas in Scotland are attracting very large numbers of people with no effort at basic hygiene. Something on the lines of the Boat of Garten osprey centre (composting toilet), and as also seen in most areas of Canadian Rockies, would cost little and should be standard in our new national parks.
I feel that Ian R Mitchell's article on FMD was a bit one-sided, with no sympathy for the farmers who may have built up livestock herds which cannot be replaced. Coming on the back of BSE, the disease posed real problems for export sales. I suspect that few made "profits" on compensation, and some were devastated to point of suicide. I agree that closure of the whole country was unnecessary and excessive - I even helped personally to "liberate" some areas - but were it to happen again, an initial ban of 4-6 weeks might be useful to determine the extent of the problem - then a lot more common-sense and less panic would be required.
The biggest positive thing to come out of FMD was the economic value of the hillwalking fraternity. While we all felt we were helping the local economy, there was a school of thought that the Munrobaggers were driving up north, parking in the lay-by, nipping up the hill and returning south without buying a beer, food or accommodation. Now we know the true cost of shutting down the countryside. Perhaps TAC should conduct a survey on a hillwalker's most expensive hill - eg cost of transport, accommodation, food, several failed attempts and paying for a guide (as on the In Pinn). The round of 284 Munros over several decades must cost more than £10,000 - and that's before we buy the magazines, books, boots and outdoor gear!
Bert Mackenzie, Bo'ness
Re Ian R Mitchell's splendidly angry set of journal extracts from the time of foot and mouth disease (FMD). Despite the passage of time, I felt the anger coming back to me, too. It wasn't simply that I, and those like me, were denied access to the hills - that our "toy" had been taken from us. It was the series of injustices and blatantly false justifications of actions that were perpetrated, causing things to work to the best perceived advantage of the farming/landed/moneymaking interests. Just consider two items raised by Ian: footpaths across golf courses closed while the golfers continued to play, and hillgoers wearing ski boots allowed on the same hillsides denied to those wearing walking boots.
As Ian noted, if we had to pay to go to the hills, they'd have been open. Surely the root of the attitude of land-holders towards us is that, despite the money we spend in travelling to and staying in the hills, and despite all the cash shelled out on gear, once we're there, our enjoyment is essentially free. What resentment it must cause in some quarters, and no wonder there was no eagerness to reopen land.
Informed scientific opinion held that the transmission of FMD by walkers would be extremely unlikely (there doesn't seem to have been a single walker-transmitted infection, either in 2001 or the 1960s outbreak - Ed.), yet once the blanket land-closure policy had been adopted there was massive resistance to rescinding or moderating it, surely a testimony to the influence of land-holding interests. This policy, quite apart from its effects on the general public, had many other country businesses in dire difficulties without the prospect of any real official assistance; that assistance was all reserved for farmers, whose potential financial losses from FMD were entirely underwritten.
Please don't think that this is an anti-farmer rant: I had then, and I retain, sympathy for those who lived with the Damoclean sword of herd and flock slaughter suspended above them for many months. But I believe Ian R Mitchell's piece was a condemnation of the perversely unfair handling of the whole affair.
Trevor Littlewood, Wolsingham
PS - Astonishingly (well, perhaps not), the paper-trail of evidence of FMD is still with us. Recently Sue and I went up Aberedw Hill and Carneddau in mid-Wales. At the end of a road leading to open ground there was a laminated FMD notice - which at least declared the common land beyond to be open! Then, on our descent at the main road, another FMD notice told that the way was closed ... a £5000 fine ... etc. How rapidly those notices went up, how reluctantly have they come down.
We removed both.
It was good to be reminded of the good work done by Ian Mitchell and others during the foot and mouth madness. We must not sit back. There is still work to be done. As Steve Haley writes (TAC64 p20), the Braemore Estate has been a blackspot for many years. Some 25 years ago Ann and I were told off by the lodge keeper for upsetting his hogs by merely walking past them in their pens.
A few weeks ago we set off to climb the Graham Top Carn Fiaclach (a fine hill) and the Sub Graham Top Meall Dubh just north of Kinloch Rannoch. After a short distance along the path a sign asks walkers only to climb to the Craig Varr viewpoint. Needless to say we climbed all three. I tried to demolish the sign but did not have adequate tools.
We should remove all similar signs, by joint effort if necessary.
Rowland Bowker, Portinscale
Regarding the letter on access to Tinto in TAC63 (p18, see also TAC64 pp18-19), I can confirm that, as a regular, roughly weekly, walker of the hill, a herd of cows was loose for a few weeks in, I think, the autumn. I didn't record when, but remember them as a hairy scruffy lot - or was that the hillwalkers? I can recall seeing no bulls (though I wasn't checking), but the herd this year was quite extensive. It had been there in previous years at roughly the same time. The use of the word "huge" seems somewhat emotive.
I think the idea of the farmer deliberately trying to intimidate hillwalkers is simply unreasonable. Surely cows/bulls on the lower reaches of mountains are a common sight in Scotland, especially in the Southern Uplands. The cow crap is unfortunate, but the public toilets in the area are a fair distance from the path and don't appear to admit bovines.
I have generally found on Tinto that if you request the cows/bulls to move along then they do so. I think they hang about the path area for a bit of interest in life as it goes by. Personally, I have never had any problem with them (or with access to the hill from Fallburn). Other regular walkers I know also seem to be little inconvenienced by the cows.
I agree that the other access route seems to have caused problems, though I have never been stopped or discouraged when using it. As you say, hopefully these problems will fade as the new legislation takes effect.
Bill Shepherd, Carwood, Biggar
Ed. - In theory at least (it remains to be seen how well this will operate in practice), the changes to access law mean that there are now local-government officers specifically tasked with dealing with unlawful/inappropriate signs etc. The MCofS has supplied TAC with a list of these access officers, for Scotland anyway. This can be forward on request, and will hopefully be published in TAC66.
Some wonderful names were given to mountains in the Caucasus first ascended in the Soviet era. In many cases these are being Islamicised, or recast in pre-Soviet nomenclature, inappropriately since first ascenders have the right to name unnamed peaks. Thus in 2001 one could still gaze at the Peak of the Railway-workers' Brigade, or at that of the Soviet Warrior. These will doubtless disappear, but it is unlikely that the peak of a hitherto-unspecified Scottish warrior, Ben Armine in Sutherland, will go the same way.
Ben Armine, the Hill of the Warrior or Hero, has long fascinated me because of its unique name, and its unique location. Lying in a largely unihabited area of eastern Sutherland, it must have a claim to being the remotest summit over 2000ft in Scotland, or indeed the British Isles. The three possible routes of approach, from the Crask Inn to the west, from Kinbrace Station to the east and from Sciberscross to the south are all, by my admittedly rough and ready calculations, 14-15 miles from starting-point to summit.
I recently walked in to Ben Armine, and its neighbouring Graham Creag Mhor, from Sciberscross, navigating to the summit in sleet and walking out next day to Crask in glorious sunshine. The task was made harder than it would have formerly been because of the steady destruction of once-excellent paths by all-terrain vehicles. Nevertheless, it was a fine wilderness experience, amongst hills whose remoteness is their main attraction.
At the Crask I asked an old man if it was true that the mountain was named after the prophesy by an ancient seer that the last hero of the Stobcross Gentleman's Climbing Club would one day come and climb it. "Och yes," he said, confirming my theory. So remember, you read it here first.
But is the Hill of the Stobcross Warrior the remotest 2000-plus hill in the UK? I await responses.
Ian R Mitchell, Glasgow
Ed. - Is there still a golf club and a ball or two at the cairn on Ben Armine? I've yet to go there, but seem to recall several reports of this from years gone by.
I was entertained by the descriptions of the hazards of lightning in the Scottish hills, not to mention the European mountains. (See TAC62 pp2-3, TAC63 p16.) Here in the Sydney region of Australia we also have lightning hazards, but of a different variety. They are equally lethal.
We have forests of very tall gum trees. We also get big electrical storms. Lacking anything else to hit, the lightning sometimes targets the top of a gum tree. If it has been raining the lightning can run down the wet outside of the tree, leaving a huge scorch mark to the ground. But if the tree is dry, the current has to go down the inside of the tree in the sap. Now you have several thousand amps running down a sappy core. The usual result is tremendous heat, lots of steam, and the tree trunk explodes. This sends match-like splinters flying in all directions.
The trouble is, these "matches" can be a couple of metres long, as thick as your wrist, and made of hardwood. They can fly for ten metres or more. I leave the rest to the reader's imagination.
Roger Caffin, Sydney
As a Tom Weir fan I was delighted to read about the disc which has been recorded about the great man by the "Aberfeldy" beat combo (TAC64 p8). But perhaps the chances of the song reaching the hit parade are not as remote as you suggest; witness the success of "John Kettley is a weatherman" by A Tribe of Toffs, which reached no.21 in the UK charts in December 1988. As I recall, the chorus was: "John Kettley reads the weather and so does Michael Fish."
Andy Beaton, Dingwall
Ed. - Re the weather, TAC66 will include some thoughts on the dumbed-down BBC forecast. (Isobars? Who needs isobars? It's only pressure and wind after all.) And TAC66 will return to the subject of bings, which recently hit the airwaves bigtime (well, sort of).
TAC 65 Index