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Dave Morris

The In Pinn – in the news <em>Picture: Perkin Warbeck</em>

The In Pinn – in the news Picture: Perkin Warbeck

Turning away – for a moment at least – from the politics and palaver of the Fisherfield hill-survey saga, a few other recent outdoors stories merit mention.

First up has to be the heartwarming tale of the charity donation box accidentally left on Ben Lomond by a team of path-repairers. This, rather than being snaffled or emptied as tends to be assumed to be the modern way, turned up not just intact but containing more money than when it was lost.

The incident was reported in the aftermath of the English riots, and formed a nice contrast to those, a kind of anti-looting story. Rather than taking stuff, people made donations (admittedly of cash, rather than of plasma TVs, iPhones and horrible designer sportswear) without any prompting.

It would be wrong to overanalyse this, however, and to portray it as Scottish generosity versus English graspingness – plenty of non-Scots climb Ben Lomond, after all, and there’s a fair chance that a charity box left inadvertently on, say, Skiddaw in England or Tryfan in Wales would likewise receive a top-up.

Neither is it metropolitan materialism versus gentler rural ways, given that the majority of people who climb Ben Lomond surely come from urban areas. It is, though, a nice story, from which everyone emerges in a good light.

Talking of boxes containing money, the latest pay-to-park story is being subjected to scrutiny and discussion. The latter part of this month sees the start of a two-year trial period in which visitors will be asked to make a voluntary £2 donation when parking at the humongous Coire Cas car park – alongside the funicular railway base station and at the branching-off point for a variety of hill paths, eg across towards the Northern Corries.

Whether the charge would then, come 2013, be made compulsory remains to be seen – but that has been the pattern elsewhere following voluntary trial periods. The donation scheme is being introduced by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), having been approved on 22 July by the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

It wouldn’t, strictly speaking, be something entirely new at Coire Cas. As Colin Kirkwood, chief executive of CML, has pointed out, until the early 1980s there was “a manned booth which charged on exit”. Kirkwood argues for the new charges on the basis of “looking to ask visitors to put something towards a reinvestment in footpaths, environmental projects, car parks and facilities”.

Certainly the path network hereabouts has been upgraded massively, to a high standard, and such things do not come cheap. On the other hand, there are those who see the whole going-like-a-fair aspect of Coire Cas as already being an unwelcome and very visible commercial intrusion into the hills.

Add to that the old tensions between skiers (who pay for all sorts of stuff – day passes etc) and walkers and climbers (easy to portray as freeloaders given that they simply park the car and march off self-reliantly on foot). Add also the old argument that £2 is next to nothing on top of fuel costs – which tends to assume everyone is a holidaymaker coming from miles away, rather than a Strathspey local who might like to go to Coire Cas every few days and for whom a regular £2 hit would feature much higher in the mix.

And add, too, the curious lopsidedness whereby pay-to-park for hill activities has become established in certain places on the east side of the Highlands – Glen Muick, Linn of Dee, etc – but not so much in the west (Loch Long excepted). What, if anything, does that say about different-area mentalities?

For now, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland – a key voice in the Coire Cas debate as it has an interest in walking, climbing and skiing – seems happy enough about the voluntary charge but cautious about what might happen thereafter.

See also the discussion at Winterhighland. One to watch.

Turning briefly to less serious matters, readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail last week were treated to – and perhaps puzzled by – a photo-story in which Graeme Ettle climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle, photographed by Dave Cuthbertson.

“He’s a Pinn-up”, was Wapping’s take on it, while Paul Dacre’s staff opted for the more formal “Conquering the In Pin: Intrepid free climber reaches the summit of Britain’s most Inaccessible Pinnacle without a rope”.

Nice pictures, for sure, and “daredevil” Ettle does appear to have made a free ascent of the steep end of the second-highest lump of rock in the Hebrides (although the Mail mentions “a flimsy rope”). But is not “Climber climbs In Pinn” roughly along the same lines, in newsworthiness terms, as “Walker completes West Highland Way”, or “Motorist drives along M25”?

Quiet news day, perhaps.

Finally, mention should be made of two recent deaths. Alan Blackshaw was one of the great and the good of the mountaineering world, heavily involved in matters domestic and Alpine, both in terms of actual on-hill activity and in the committee rooms. He was, for instance, president of the British Mountaineering Council 1973–76, of the Ski Club of Great Britain 1997–2003, and of the Alpine Club 2001–04. He undertook numerous other roles over the years, including being heavily involved in the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), again with a spell (2004–05) in the presidency.

He was the author of Mountaineering: From Hillwalking to Alpine Climbing, published in 1966 and often referred to simply as “Blackshaw” in the same way that Eric Langmuir’s Mountaincraft and Leadership is just “Langmuir”.

Blackshaw’s death on 4 August, aged 78, prompted numerous obituaries and tributes: see the Daily Telegraph, the Herald, the Scotsman, the UIAA, the Alpine Club, the BMC and the MCofS. Also by Dave Morris at the Ramblers, fellow Newtonmore hill man Cameron McNeish, and Chris Townsend.

Also widely reported has been the death of Ian Redmond, aged 30, who was attacked by a shark on 16 August while snorkelling off the Seychelles. He and his wife Gemma were on their honeymoon.

Amid all the sadness and horror of the incident, and the discussion about the dangers of sharks, there has been little mention of Redmond – from Lancashire – having been a climber. Condolences and tributes can be found in a thread on UKBouldering.com, including this, from a friend named Adam Jeewooth: “To me Ian is a bouldering, sport climbing and a genuine friend. We both have shared many experiences in the time I knew him from meeting at BoulderUK, getting snowed off in Northumberland, drinking wine in Ceuse in a shit rental car and bouldering in font [Fontainebleau]. He was totally in love with Gemma (his wife) and was a family man.”

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Warning flag at Warcop military training area <em>Picture: Helen Wilkinson</em>

Warning flag at Warcop military training area Picture: Helen Wilkinson

Monday’s statement by defence secretary Liam Fox on changes to the military setup in Scotland has been widely reported in terms of its effect on defence capability and the employment situation in the areas involved. What hasn’t as yet been discussed anywhere near as fully are the consequences for the outdoor recreational community – even though these will be profound and far-reaching.

There are two main issues. The first, and the one most discussed thus far, is the effect that changes to the three Ls – RAF Kinloss, RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Leuchars – will have on the search and rescue (SAR) situation, given the heavy and historical involvement these bases have had in that area of work.

As things stand, Kinloss and Leuchars host the two Scotland-based RAF mountain rescue teams (MRTs) – there are two further teams down south, at Leeming in North Yorkshire and Valley on Anglesey. Both Scottish teams are busy: RAF Kinloss MRT attended 150 incidents during the five-year period 2005–09, while the Leuchars team responded to 73 callouts during that same five-year period. Kinloss has also been home to the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), which provides military/police/civilian coordination in rescue-related matters.

With both Kinloss and Leuchars due to close in RAF terms, the SAR situation will undergo upheaval – but the retention of Lossiemouth as an RAF base does appear to make the situation clearer at least in relation to the Moray bases.

“The powers that be have not decided what is happening with the [Leuchars] team,” says former RAF Leuchars MRT leader David “Heavy” Whalley. “Kinloss are moving to RAF Lossiemouth – the only problem is that they will not be able to use the purpose-built MRT section at Kinloss. They will be nearer the helicopter, though.”

Given the end of RAF involvement at the Fife base, Whalley doesn’t see any hope that the MRT there will survive. “I would imagine Leuchars MRT will close,” he says, “[but] the civilian teams are so strong now I do not think it will affect rescue in Scotland. In a big rescue in the 1970–1990s we would supply 50-plus [people] for big incidents. Nowadays we are lucky if we get 25. This is due to the Gulf conflict and overstretch.

“No one is saying what is happening to the RAF teams, they have a huge historical influence and have saved many lives, but things change. I was team leader there during Lockerbie and have so many memories of the station and the local people. It will be a huge loss to the area. The country is in a mess – no money, yet we continue to fight wars in Libya and Afghanistan, crazy.”

The enormous value of the RAF SAR involvement is acknowledged by David Gibson, chief officer of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland: “Whatever the future holds for the Leuchars MRT, the MCofS wishes to put on record its appreciation of the superb work by its members on behalf of all mountaineers and the public over the years. We hope that a way forward will be found so that their essential search and rescue work will be allowed to continue in the future.”

This is echoed by Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland: “The RAF MRTs have played a superb role over many years in helping with search and rescue operations in the Scottish hills. They are an essential complement to the civilian, volunteer-based MRT teams which form the cornerstone of mountain rescue in Scotland. We will be seeking assurances from the UK government that the forthcoming changes in RAF airbases will not diminish the effectiveness of the existing RAF mountain rescue teams in their support of search and rescue operations in all parts of Scotland.”

Away from the SAR side of things, the second change arising from Monday’s Ministry of Defence announcement could prove to be even more contentious, as it involves that perennial hot potato – access. Liam Fox spoke of a “new training area” in southern Scotland, the details of which have “yet to be finalised”. There has been talk of a Scottish Salisbury Plain, while another comparison could be with the Warcop training area in the northern Pennines, where upland access has long been subject to considerable restriction, both in terms of actual training activity and the risk from unexploded ordnance lying around.

Wherever the new training area is established, it will be of interest to Ramblers Scotland, which monitors not just upland access issues but also lower and mid-height ground as well. “We are surprised that the recent UK government announcement of changes in MoD operations has not clarified where and how large this training area will be,” says Dave Morris, “and what type of training will be involved. The decision to establish one of the UK’s five Multi-Role Brigades in Kirknewton, between Edinburgh and Livingston, inevitably raises questions about their associated training area.

“Proposals to extend an MoD live firing range in the nearby Pentland Hills Regional Park were defeated in the early 1990s, as was an earlier proposal to purchase a large tract of Knoydart for military training.

“In general, military training facilities and the use of the Scottish countryside for adventure training by service personnel has worked well over many years and there is good integration with other outdoor activity enthusiasts. But the scale of military training operations in Scotland looks as though it might change substantially with the Kirknewton development.

“If this leads to a large training area with high impacts from equipment use, from live firing and access restrictions, then there will be potential controversy. We will be seeking a meeting with the appropriate UK government minister at an early opportunity to get a clearer idea of their proposals and options.”

It remains to be seen which part of “southern Scotland” will play host to the proposed training area – The Caledonian Mercury has asked the Scottish environment minister for clarification without as yet receiving any reply. But wherever it is – somewhere such as Kirknewton in or near the Central Belt, in one of the huge forested areas such as Craik or Galloway, or in more traditional hill-farming Borders country – it will be very disruptive in terms of both day-to-day life and general public access.

To an extent, the weight of objection and unhappiness is likely to be related to whether the eventual area includes any significant listed hills. In the Warcop militarised zone, part of the problem is that one of the hills concerned, Mickle Fell, is not only the highest point of modern County Durham but also of the old county of Yorkshire, and the only reliable access being via a convoluted route from the east has created ill-feeling. (Even more so with neighbouring Little Fell, more or less completely “closed” despite its status as one of the English 2,000-foot summits and thus being a significant target for walkers.)

This was also part of the concern with the old proposals to militarise Knoydart mentioned by Morris – although there the threat was not just to hill access but to the wild and undeveloped character of the peninsula as a whole.

Another possible – and more recent – analogy could be with Alladale in the north of Scotland, where there have been proposals to partly close a large tract of land and create a wildlife reserve. The situation there is civilian rather than military, but again there are significant hills in play – for instance the remote Corbett Carn Ban – and this has added to the strength of feeling in the debate.

It remains to be seen whether the new military training area sparks an Alladale-type debate but with tanks instead of wolves. In “quality of land” terms, somewhere in or close to the Central Belt would be less contentious than in the bigger-hill country of the Borders – the trig point-bagging and HuMPing communities are not major constituencies, after all. There would, however, be high-profile concern from the Ramblers and other access agencies regardless of where the proposals came. Popular low-level walks exist right across the country, and as things stand the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 holds sway unless there is a clear legal reason for it to be locally revoked.

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<em>Picture: John Thomson</em>

Picture: John Thomson

by Rob Edwards

Gamekeepers have been accused of setting potentially lethal booby traps in the countryside after green-coloured barbed wire was strung at head-height across a woodland track near Fettercairn in Aberdeenshire.

Long-distance horse rider, John Thomson, was only saved from serious injury because his pure-bred Arabian gelding, Prince Omar, came to a juddering halt just in front of the wire during an early morning training run last week. “It was a narrow escape,” Thomson said.

“We normally canter this section into the woods, and against the background of trees and bushes the wire was difficult to see. This was a deliberate action to prevent access by horses, designed to cause maximum damage.”

Thomson blamed inexperienced gamekeepers for setting a trap that could have caused a “catastrophe” for riders, cyclists or quad-bikers. “This was a stupid act of gross insensitivity in countryside matters,” he said.

He complained to Grampian Police, and to the Fettercairn Estate, whose land includes the woodland track. As a result, the wire was taken down after a couple of days, though it remains in the undergrowth and could be put up again.

The wire was described as “nasty” and “horrific” by countryside recreation groups, who back Thomson’s complaint. “This seems like a very vindictive way of preventing access,” said Helene Mauchlen, Scottish development officer for the British Horse Society.

“The incident occurred in area where horse riders are hemmed in on all sides by land managers using various means to deny equestrians their right of responsible access.”

According to Dave Morris, the director of Ramblers Scotland, there are too many places in Scotland where barbed wire, electric fences or locked gates prevented walkers and others from their rightful access to the countryside. There is an “awkward minority of landowners who spoil the hard work of others”, he said.

“In upland areas we are seeing the increasing use of electrified wires on deer fencing, making it impossible to climb over such fencing when crossing the hillsides. Electrified fencing of this sort should be prohibited.”

Morris called on MSPs and councilors to act to remove the barriers to responsible access. “Private kingdoms for the exclusive use of the few are no longer acceptable in modern Scotland,” he said.

Thomson, who completed a 200-mile ride across Scotland on Prince Omar in 2008 and has written a book about endurance riding, was also backed by his local MSP, Nigel Don. “I am very concerned to hear about this very dangerous occurrence,” Don said.

“Regardless of the legal rights of access, which may be in dispute, I can see no justification for the use of barbed or razor wire across what was previously an established route.”

Euan Barclay, the factor for the 40,000-acre Fettercairn estate, said the wire had not been put up by any member of his staff. But there were several shooting and other tenants on the estate, he pointed out.

“When I was notified of this incident, I made an investigation, contacted tenants and met them,” Barclay said. He is meeting with tenants again this week to discuss what should happen next, and has instructed that the wire be removed in the meantime.

The wire could have been put up for health and safety reasons to prevent people from accessing an area where deer or vermin were being shot, Barclay suggested. Green was a common colour meant to be sympathetic with the countryside, and was “nothing sinister”, he said.

“This has given me a bit of angst,” Barclay said. “It’s got a bit heated, but I’m sure we will find an amicable solution.”

A police spokeswoman said: “Grampian Police can confirm they received a report regarding fencing at Goskiehill, Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, on 6 June 2011. An officer has attended and suitable advice has been given to all parties concerned.”

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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A9 near Crubenmore <em>Picture: J M Briscoe</em>

A9 near Crubenmore Picture: J M Briscoe

By Rob Edwards

Walkers, cyclists and horse-riders who threatened to blockade the A9 on the west side of the Cairngorms have forced a government U-turn after the personal intervention of the first minister, Alex Salmond.

Transport Scotland has previously refused to provide access for a historic route across the newly dualled stretch of the trunk road at Crubenmore, just south of Newtonmore. But now it is planning to construct an underpass.

The government agency’s change of heart follows an intervention by the first minister during the election. Mr Salmond told campaigners he shared their concerns and, if re-elected, would instruct officials to go ahead with a crossing.

Transport Scotland said it was now determining the feasibility of building an underpass with a view to bringing forward the necessary road orders. “It is expected this work could be completed by mid-August,” said a spokeswoman for the agency.

It may take another two years, though, until the crossing is actually built. Officials met with representatives of walking and horse-riding groups last Friday to discuss what was required.

According to Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, it was a “productive meeting”. He was “very pleased” that the government had changed its mind after the first minister had met with Ramblers Scotland convenor and former MSP, Dennis Canavan.

“Officials were clearly acting on the first minister’s instructions to investigate the action needed to build an underpass at Crubenmore and we had discussions about the detailed design and location requirements, all of which seemed satisfactory,” said Morris.

“There is an intention to construct an underpass, or bridge if this proves to be a better alternative, which will fully meet the needs of walkers, cyclists and horseriders and comply with disability requirements.”

Ruaridh Ormiston, who runs the Newtonmore Riding Centre, also welcomed the discussions on a new underpass. He was disappointed, though, that it had taken eight months and the intervention of Mr Salmond to reach this stage.

He said: “Earlier discussions would have ensured that an underpass was included in the current works. It will not be ready when the new dual carriageway opens this August so some interim arrangement will need to be made.”

Countryside access groups had been angry that the dualling of the A9 barred them from following one of the old military roads built by General Wade to control the Jacobites in the early 18th century. The route crosses the A9, and has long been popular with pony-trekkers, cyclists and walkers.

“It is vitally important that these ancient routes are preserved and kept safe for future generations to enjoy,” said Candy Cameron, from the British Horse Society. “It would be irresponsible of us to allow them to be closed forever by barriers like the new A9 dual carriageway at Crubenmore.”

In March, campaigners unveiled plans for an escalating series of protests on the A9 this summer which would have delayed motorists. But with an underpass now promised, the protests have been called off.

A spokesman for the first minister confirmed that he had instructed Transport Scotland to undertake further survey work “with a view to promoting new road orders that include establishing an underpass.”

He added: “Furthermore, in making a final decision about the A9 at Crubenmore the Scottish government, and indeed Transport Scotland, will consult with all interested parties, including the Ramblers.”

Rob Edwards, environmental news and comment.

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