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Tormore Forest <em>Picture: John Knox</em>

Tormore Forest Picture: John Knox

By John Knox

A wood on the Isle of Skye has become the latest community land buyout in Scotland. And although the pine trees may not know it, they have joined a new experiment in community living in which the Big Society is becoming the Small Society.

Tormore Forest near the southern tip of Skye has been bought from the Forestry Commission (FC) by the Sleat Community Trust (SCT) for £330,000. The community itself has contributed just £16,000 – but, cleverly, it has borrowed half the total sum from the bank and will be repaid by harvesting some of the mature trees already growing in the forest. Grants from Highland Council and the Scottish government made up the rest.

Supporters of the buyout – and only seven of the 350 local householders voted against it – say it’s a “win-win” proposition. The FC gets £330,000 to invest in new forests elsewhere. The SCT can go on to develop the forest for fuel, timber, recreation, school projects, tourism etc on its own terms. And the council and the government get rural development for a fraction of the cost of doing it through state agencies.

Reassuringly, the SCT is no fly-by-night amateur organisation. It already runs the village shop and post office at Armadale, a local repair garage, a woodchip business, a machine-hire operation, a taxi service, a tourism agency – and it’s considering building a 900kW windmill on top of a local hill. It has just won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is the prime minister’s Big Society in action, except it’s a small society of just 350 people.

These 440 hectares of forest are just the latest example of localism in a country which is gradually reclaiming its land from the mighty landlords of the past. Over 100 community land buyouts, involving 200,000 hectares, have been made since the Scottish parliament passed the Land Reform Act in 2003. This has allowed communities in places such as Assynt, Knoydart, Harris, Gigha and Rum to buy their estates and develop them for themselves. Woodlands, golf courses, churches, a youth hostel – even an avenue of trees – have all been bought by the communities living around them.

So far, all buyouts have been amicable affairs, with the landlord willing or persuaded to sell. But the 10,000-hectare Pairc Estate on Lewis appears to be the exception, with threats of court action by the landlord, a Warwickshire accountant whose family have owned the estate since the 1920s. The Daily Telegraph, predictably, has called the islanders’ attempt to buy the estate a Mugabe-style land grab.

David Cameron, chair of the umbrella body Community Land Scotland, would presumably disagree. His organisation believes that land-ownership by communities increases its value as a source of jobs, revenue and services – and what is called “social capital”, the ability of communities to help themselves. Two recent studies have backed this up: one from the Scottish Agriculture College, the other from the Perth-based Centre for Mountain Studies.

The other David Cameron, he of the Big Society, would presumably agree that services being run by local trusts is a good thing. The problem seems to be making the model work across the country, not just in the Highlands and Islands. The key, and frightening, element is ownership.

Making people feel they are the owners of their local school or park or forest or factory or street seems to bring out their commitment and hard work. In the Highlands, that can be done village by village. In the cities, it is being attempted by councils but it may, in the end, have to be done by neighbourhoods. It depends how small we want the Big Society.

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Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan <em>Picture: Nigel Brown</em>

Beinn a’Chlaidheimh (right) from Lochan na Brathan Picture: Nigel Brown

Some responses and reactions to Monday’s announcement that a survey by the Munro Society (TMS) has suggested that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh in Fisherfield is not 916 metres in height as currently mapped, but 913.96m.

Given that the threshold for Munro status is 3,000ft – which converts to 914.4m – this would appear to indicate that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is below Munro height by 44cm (or 39cm, given that the surveyors claim a confidence interval of +/-5cm).

Whether or not any hill has a place in the list of the Munros is not, however, in the gift of TMS (founded 2002); it is decided by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (founded 1889 and publishers of the list since 1891). Thus far, the SMC’s stated line on the Beinn a’Chlaidheimh situation is that the club “has been notified of these survey results and has undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey [OS] update its map of the area.”

Here are a few thoughts on this from a variety of experienced hillgoers:

David Gibson, chief officer, Mountaineering Council of Scotland
Regardless of the measurement, I am sure our members would agree that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh is a fine mountain and well worth a visit due to its fantastic location and views of An Teallach and the other delights of the Fisherfield wilderness. We look forward to seeing the future publication of the SMC’s Munros and Corbetts tables for the official verdict.

Robin Howie, multiple Munroist and hillwalking columnist in the Scotsman
The recent announcement is an interesting one for the four parties involved: the SMC, self-styled arbitrators in all matters Munro; TMS, new to the game and arguably elitist in only permitting membership to those who have climbed all the current 283 Munros; the OS who have confirmed the new height, albeit using TMS as unpaid surveyors; and lastly and by no means least the ordinary hillwalker.

The SMC’s stance – of having “undertaken to consider the implications for Munro’s and Corbett’s tables when the Ordnance Survey update its map of the area” – is a curious one. The height is now known, so the delay smacks of not being sure what to do when usurped by the Johnny-come-lately TMS.

TMS are now seen by many as the driving force in matters Munro, albeit acting as unpaid advisers to the OS – which, along with other government bodies, is abrogating its duties by offloading some of its work to unpaid charities and other societies.

And finally the hillwalker will do as he has always done: ignore the shenanigans and vote with his feet. When a previous Corbett was promoted to Munro status they went there in their droves… regardless of the SMC.

It is to be hoped, however, that Beinn a’Chlaidheimh will be just as popular as ever – to those on a Corbett round and to those who regard the hill as one of the finest peaks in Fisherfield, regardless of its height. For myself, I have still to climb the hill on this my tenth Munro round… and that I look forward to.

Ralph Storer, author of The Ultimate Guide to the Munros
Who’d be a writer of guidebooks to the Munros? As if the vagaries of Scottish weather didn’t increasingly reduce the number of days suitable for on-the-ground research, and the increasing cost of reaching the Munros not eat into royalties, it now seems that we may be climbing the wrong mountains.

You’d think the height of a mountain would be more or less immutable over the lifespan of a guidebook, but it is becoming apparent that the list of Munros is a moveable feast. We’re used to SMC worthies tinkering with the Tables to “rationalise” them – but, when even a long-standing OS height measurement can’t be relied on, the guidebook fraternity is in deep peat.

To cap it all, the new surveys always seem to result in a height decrease. Is it too much to ask the surveyors to give us some new Munros so we at least have an excuse to stimulate sales by publishing new editions? Would bribery help?

Steven Fallon, professional mountain guide and completer of 14 rounds of Munros –
All very interesting. We’ve had two trips to Fisherfield already this year to bag what we call the “Fisherfield Big 6”. I’ll need to rename the trip the “Fisherfield Not-So-Big 5”!

What’s next? The 4,000ers? Surely either Carn Mor Dearg or Aonach Mor must be a contender to be demoted to just a mere Munro?

Nowt seems to be getting promoted – wouldn’t it be interesting if Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in Knoydart was upped to Munro status?

Richard Webb, Munroist and experienced all-round hill man –
I would like to point out the difference between the SMC altering their list by changing hill/top designations and actually finding out the heights of hills in relation to 3,000ft. The hill in question has been shown by the best measurement possible to date – using skills and technology far in excess of someone in Southampton driving a photogrammetry machine – to be less than 3,000ft. The whole point of Munro’s tables is that the hill has to be above that level. If not, it’s out.

In the past, Beinn an Lochain and Beinn Teallach were changed without fuss, Beinn Teallach remarkably quickly, so I do not expect any problems this time. This does not mean a second opinion would not be valued, and that will probably come with time. I wonder if the same fuss would be made if a hill was admitted? Beinn Bhreac, perhaps.

This process is now coming to an end as [the surveyors] run out of candidates. There are those who want to stick to the original list. What is stopping them? Which original list? It was a work in progress. And this is not really relevant here as Beinn a’Chlaidheimh was not a Munro in the old lists and this is not a top/hill tinkering exercise.

Oh, and they should all get out more and enjoy other hills!

Changing top status is of course the sole responsibility of the SMC, whose silly fiddling is the reason I don’t really care about Munros. They still have the right to do it, though.

Elsewhere, bloggers on the subject include Chris Townsend and Heavy Whalley, while there have also been discussion threads on Walk Highlands, Scottish Hills, UKC and elsewhere. As yet, grough doesn’t appear to have anything on the story.

Generally, the SMC has remained tight-lipped apart from the initial formal statement, although the Herald did obtain a quote from Noel Williams (or “Noel William” as they styled him), who edits the SMC Journal: “Once the OS verifies the figures it really is a formality for the SMC to accept them.”

However, on being asked about this, Williams has indicated that he was speaking in a personal capacity rather than on behalf of the SMC, and did not intend to be quoted.

Incidentally, the surveyors from TMS measured Sgurr a’Choire-bheithe in 2009 and reckoned it to be 913.32m, roughly a metre short of 3,000ft.

Update 13 August: grough now has a piece on the situation.

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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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Stephen Pyke takes a breather on Beinn Narnain

Stephen Pyke takes a breather on Beinn Narnain

“He is definitely having an easy day.” So said a text message from John Clemens on Wednesday morning, as I arranged a time to intercept Stephen Pyke – aka Spyke – on day 18 of his rapid-fire, self-propelled round of the Munros.

Clemens is the road manager and general factotum for Spyke’s effort – driving the support van, cooking the food, loading the bikes, collecting bags of muscle-soothing ice from the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, that kind of thing. And the “easy day” comment shows just how strong his man is, and how well he is going.

By the day’s close, Spyke had canoed across Loch Lomond, then climbed the four Munros of the Arrochar group: Ben Vorlich, Ben Vane, Beinn Ime and – the hill where we met – Beinn Narnain.

Rough, steep hills with substantial drops between – but the original plan had been to take in these, then cycle to Glen Fyne for the isolated Beinn Bhuidhe, then cross the Ben Lui group.

That’s typical of what he’s up to. The day before, he had climbed the seven Crianlarich Munros and added Ben Lomond in the evening. The first day of the second week featured the ten Munros of the eastern/central Cairngorms, in snow. “Pretty gruelling,” was Spyke’s description. “Sub-zero all day, plus the wind, and we were out for 15 hours.” But he said it with a smile.

Despite this series of absurdly huge days, things are going smoothly. The first week brought 51 Munros, the second a further 57. The halfway hill, mighty Ben Starav, was climbed during an 11-Munro clearout of the Cruachan and Etive groups two days after we met.

Psychologically, he seems fine. Physically, nothing major has gone wrong, “just general aches and pains when I get up” – although when we met he was feeling his right Achilles, hence the “easy day” and a switch from running to walking. He is confident it is merely the high tab on the back of his running shoe – duly hacked off – rather than overuse.

Asked about mishaps, Spyke does have one story to tell. “I might as well own up to this now,” he says. “On the second day I managed to lose my map. I was coming off the back of Ben Nevis in clag, and fumbling around getting the ice axe out. The map slipped out from under my jacket and disappeared off down the mountain.” Fortunately he was on familiar hills, and the cloud soon lifted. (There were consequences next day, however: he walked right past Chno Dearg – on the same missing map – before realising he was off-route.)

Starting in late April courted risk. The winter had been long and the snow was lingering. “In March I thought about delaying for a week or two,” he says, “but too many things were in place – canoeing arrangements, for instance.”

Spyke, 45, lives in Stone, just south of Stoke-on-Trent, handy for both the M6 and the Derbyshire moors. He was born in the Essex flatlands, though – “On the fringes of Basildon” – and even a move to Leeds University failed to spark any real hill activity.

“I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy,” he says, and he was in his 30s before discovering an aptitude for running: “Initially on the roads and cross-country, only regularly on the hills the past six or seven years”. His first Munro came late, too, the Buachaille at Easter 1999, but he completed a “normal” round just before the start of his current effort: “I finished on Sgurr nan Gillean during a ridge recce.”

Spyke first caught the attention of the hill world in 2006, becoming the 41st person to complete the Charlie Ramsay Round, the 24-hour, 23-Munro out-and-back from Glen Nevis. Then, in 2008, he beat the fastest time for the nine 4000ft Munros, and had a pop at Jon Broxap’s 1988 record of 29 Munros in 24 hours. He failed, choosing the very day when a fortnight of fine weather caved in. “There is a sense of unfinished business,” he says when asked why he hasn’t given it another go, “but I have a short attention span.”

There was nothing much in 2009 – “I had one or two injuries, and concentrated on shorter races”. Then, in November, he was laid off from his job in renewable energy technology for an offshoot-company of Rolls-Royce. Many would have been despondent, but Spyke says it was “quite fortuitous” – and this was when the serious interest in Charlie Campbell’s 48-day Munros record really began.

He spent the winter training, establishing a support structure (friends from Stone, plus various like-minded runners), and converting his VW Transporter to sleep his roadie downstairs and himself in the roof.

And now, suddenly, a 40-day finish looks a distinct possibility. Spyke is so far ahead of Campbell’s record – itself an amazing achievement – that he could devote a week to touristy downtime and still beat it.

Not that he intends any pauses. Snow ought not now to be a factor, but most of the remote, awkward stuff awaits. Knoydart, the Affric/Mullardoch hinterland, Fisherfield – wonderful hill country, but a real test. Then, of course, there is Skye.

Spyke makes an interesting point about Sgurr nan Ceannaichean, a Munro until chalked off in last autumn’s resurvey. It’s a trivial add-on to neighbouring Moruisg, so will he include it anyway and thus complete the same “course” as Campbell in 2000?

“I haven’t decided yet,” Spyke says. “I might, but I like the idea of leaving it out, so that if I do finish faster than Charlie he keeps the record for 284 Munros”.

He’s halfway round, he’s magnanimous and respectful – and he’s also sounding confident.


The Samye Ling retreat, near Lockerbie

The Samye Ling retreat, near Lockerbie

By Allan Laing

Here’s the deal. You’re one of the thousands of Scots travellers still licking your wounds after a lengthy displacement overseas courtesy of that pesky ash cloud. The phrase “never again” springs to mind as you take a scunner to any thought of repeating the ordeal by jetting off abroad a few months down the line for your summer holibags.

So what can you do that won’t involve passports, departure lounges and boarding passes?

Well, you could always just wave the white flag, declare that “hame’ll dae me”, invest in The Wire boxed set, and spend a fortnight with your eyes glued to the telly.

But no. You are made of sterner stuff. Just because you decide to eschew the exotic delights of a trip to some far-flung corner of the world, it doesn’t mean you can’t stay home and broaden your horizons. Because, with a little imagination, you might end up with a holiday to remember – and this time not for the fortune it cost you to get home.

You could enjoy the genuine pleasures which await in your own back yard – and we’re not talking kilts and haggis and a warm welcome at a Highland bed and breakfast. The truth is there’s no shortage of unusual ways to holiday in Scotland.

There’s currently a camping boom in the UK – 20,000 people sleeping under canvas on any given night during the summer – but pitching your tent at a commercial campsite is for wimps. So why not try wild camping?

Down South it wasn’t until relatively recently that the idea of wandering around the countryside, putting your tent up wherever you fancied, really took off. For a long time it was only tramps, dippy New Age travellers and those slightly weird survivalist types who indulged in the practice.

But in Scotland, thanks to the fact that there are effectively no trespass laws, we’ve been doing it for years. It has a lot to recommend it. It doesn’t cost you anything, it’s eco-friendly (providing you leave your campsite the way you found it), and it gives you the freedom to go where you please and do what you want, thus allowing the wild campers to avoid the commercial sites where the “mild campers” take their mobile homes and designer three-apartment tents.

Serious wild campers travel as light as is safe to do so and, as much as they can do, eat off the land. There are no wild camping sites (defeats the purpose) but the whole idea is to go wherever the notion takes you, be it the Cairngorms, the Knoydart peninsula or the Cuillin of Skye.

Of course, if you’re more used to lying on a Mediterranean beach for your holidays, then it might be an idea to prepare yourself before you tackle wild camping. Outdoor Extreme, an Ayrshire-based wilderness survival school, runs a special course for families. Parents and children as young as six learn survival techniques including how to build a shelter, how to light fires, trapping and snaring for food, campfire cooking, and navigation and mapwork. It’s a bit like the Boy Scouts but with real attitude.

Outdoor Extreme also runs a week-long adventure activity course on the Hebridean island of Taransay, the setting for the BBC series Castaway in 2000. Fun for all the family as you learn how to make knives and use them to gut and skin animals. OK, maybe not fun for ALL the family. Not cheap either at more than £700 per person.

If this is all too much for you, then you could always opt out and retreat to, er, a retreat. Maybe it’s a mutual affinity with the mountains, but Scotland has more than its fair share of Tibetan monasteries where people are invited to drop in and drop out of the rat race for a while.

Set in its own grounds, complete with waterfalls and ancient woodland, on the shores of Loch Voil in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Dhanakosa Buddhist Retreat Centre offers worldly souls a chance to rest their weary minds as much as their bones.

The emphasis is on meditation but, depending on the course you choose, it’s combined with hillwalking, painting, tai chi, shiatsu, yoga, photography, poetry, clowning and (my personal favourite) sitting.

There is another Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Kagyu Samye Ling, at Eskdalemuir,  Dumfries-shire – the first in the western world when it opened in 1967 – which also operates as a meditation retreat.

Set up in 1931, Loch Ossian youth hostel is one of the oldest in Scotland. Seven years ago, after a £130,000 refurbishment, it became one of the most modern and environmentally-friendly buildings in Britain. So, if you want to do something about that nasty carbon footprint you made in your frantic efforts to get back to Scotland during the flight chaos, then you could always book in to this former boat house for your next holiday.

Situated high up on the roadless northern edge of Rannoch Moor, the eco-hostel is wind and solar powered and boasts composting dry toilets, a grey water drainage system and even bat-friendly paint. The hostel, which sleeps 20, runs on electricity and needs just 24 volts, the same as a car battery, to keep it going.

Finally, if you’re not impressed by any of these suggestions, and you want to maintain both your green credentials and your home comforts, then take a look at Wilderness Cottages, an environmentally-friendly company which offers everything from remote crofts in the Highlands to luxury apartments in a converted Benedictine abbey.

Their self-catering properties, mostly based around Loch Ness with others on the north-west coast and in Cairngorms National Park, are eco-friendly with recycling facilities, a compost heap and green cleaning materials and detergents. Almost all the cottages are pet-friendly and the owners, who have five labradors, encourage guests to bring their dogs with them.

For information about wild camping, check out thehappycampers.co.uk

Details about the retreats are at Samyeling.org and dhanakosa.com

The survival course website is outdoor-extreme.co.uk

The eco-friendly self-catering is Wildernesscottages.co.uk

Information about the Ossian eco-friendly youth hostel is at syha.org.uk

Malcolm Fleming

As the general election approaches, The Caledonian Mercury is interviewing  candidates who have an interest in the outdoors.  First up is Malcolm Fleming,  the SNP candidate for Glasgow South.

So, you’ve climbed 56 Munros. Are you aiming to climb all 283?

Yes, eventually. I always really enjoy going hillwalking, it’s great exercise and a great way to spend time with like-minded friends. It’s also mentally relaxing and, with so many of Scotland’s mountainous areas having a dramatic history, it’s also good at stirring the imagination.

What was your first one – and how old were you?

I think my first Munro was probably Lochnagar on Deeside. I’d have been 20 or 21. I did lots of hillwalking in my teens, but as I grew up in Clydesdale most of the walking was in the Border and Lowther hills.

What’s the most you’ve ever done in a day?

Five. Carn an Tuirc, Tolmount, Tom Buidhe, Cairn of Claise and Glas Maol, all of which are near Glenshee.

Been up any of the Skye ones yet?

No, not yet. I’m not particularly nervous about the Skye ones, although I dare say I might be if I was about to climb them. It’s just that I haven’t got round to them yet, and am enjoying the ones on the mainland.

Any of the awkward-to-get-at ones in Fisherfield or Knoydart, or round the back of Affric?

I’ve done five of the Munros on Knoydart. I did these in two separate trips with my good friend Mark Kiehlmann. On both occasions we kayaked in from Mallaig. The first time we kayaked down Loch Nevis, stayed at Sourlies bothy and climbed Sgurr na Ciche, Garbh Choich Mhor and Sgurr nan Coireachan. The second time we kayaked over to Inverie, camped there and then climbed Meall Buidhe and Luinne Bheinn.

Both of these trips were fantastic and I’d thoroughly recommend them. The remoteness of the Munros gives the kayaking a good sense of purpose and I recall paddling down Loch Nevis with the sight of mighty Sgurr na Ciche pulling us on. Good weather helps, of course! In addition, I like the ethos of the Knoydart Foundation.

Favourite hill?

Difficult one, as so many to choose from, but I did really enjoy climbing Beinn Eighe in Torridon, a spectacular mountain.

And least favourite?

None really.

Any accidents / near misses?

Nothing of particular concern. (Best not say anything more, as my mum may read this!)

Ever been lost?

Have been “temporarily misplaced” a few times, but never for long and mostly in very bad weather conditions. Luckily I have a reasonably good sense of direction.

Do you climb smaller hills as well?

I have climbed lots of the border and Galloway hills and I grew up in the village of Symington, at the foot of Tinto Hill, so I’ve been up it a few times. The Galloway hills are fantastic and well worth climbing even though none of them are Munros. There are some fantastic names in the Galloway Hills as well. The Rig of the Jarkness and the Range of the Awful Hand spring to mind.

Do you go out on the hill with friends or alone?

I’m not in a club, but I always go walking with friends.

What do you wear on your feet?

I got new boots last summer after my old ones finally bit the dust after many years and many miles. The new boots are made by Raichle and are very comfy.

Which of the following pieces of equipment do you use when the need arises: ice axe, crampons, GPS, walking poles, bobble hat?

I’ve recently started using an ice axe.

Been up any Munros this past winter?

No, partly because of spending lots of time election campaigning.

Three famous mountaineers: Sherpa Tenzing, Dougal Haston, Tom Weir. Which one would you most have liked to have met?

It is a hard choice between Sherpa Tenzing and Tom Weir, but probably Tenzing.

If elected to Westminster, what hill-related legislation would you like to see introduced?

To be honest I am not aware of a particular need for any hill-related legislation, but no doubt someone reading this will tell me otherwise, and I’d be happy to listen!