I have come across another mountain related saying in my pamphlet of Gaelic proverbs:

Anail a Ghaidheil, air a mhullach!

The Gael’s breathing place – on the summit!


Is that so? Why is it so many of my neighbours have never set foot on a footpath let alone a hillside?


Successive governments, encouraged by their army of bureaucrats, have always rushed to solve problems within society by legislating. This is not surprising when public opinion whipped up by media frenzy requires clear action by politicians. It is easy to say we have banned something or made an activity illegal. It is more difficult to solve the root cause of a problem, that takes time and money. So the politician will always opt for the eye-catching immediacy of a new law.

Too often this knee-jerk legislating does little to solve the problem and instead leads to unintended consequences further exacerbated by over-zealous officials relishing their additional powers. In addition, you have extra costs to police the laws that have been created. Think of the small army of council inspectors that visited business premises following the ban on smoking in public places. Their sole aim to check business owners were displaying the correct number of “No Smoking” signs for the size of their premises. If you were not displaying these signs or they were considered not be in a suitable location (as in my case) you risked a fine.

I have written before about the effect new licensing laws in Scotland are having on small rural communities. Now it seems the network of country shows and Highland games, a feature of the summer season in Scotland are also under threat. The volunteer organisers of the New Deer Show, probably considered one of the best in the North-East of Scotland, face spiraling costs as they attempt to comply with the new law.

The list of new requirements include:-

  • Hiring additional security, bar and stewarding staff. Roles which in the past would have been undertaken by volunteers.
  • Erection of compulsory safety fences around marquees if used for evening events serving alcohol.
  • The cost of closing roads if required on health and safety grounds.
  • The prior selling of evening event tickets. No one can purchase tickets on the door.
  • And the list goes on.

These events are often the most important date in the social calendar for rural communities when everyone is able to come together and celebrate.  They do not tend to be a hotbed of anti-social behaviour, as by their very nature they are self-regulating. Yet they have fallen foul of new legislation being enforced by civil servants. It is difficult enough encouraging people to volunteer when faced with a mountain of paperwork, forms, disclosure checks, risk assessments, health and safety briefings and funding applications. New burdens will only result in many of these quiet heroes saying, “Enough is enough, why bother?”

British actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones
Image via Wikipedia

I have been eagerly awaiting the new Sunday night offering from BBC1, that starts on 26th July at 9pm. The series, River, will see presenter Griff Rhys Jones celebrate the different views, roles and aspects of rivers in the British Isles.

Last autumn, the film crew were in the village with Griff to film for the first programme in the series, that saw him climb down the Grey Mare’s Waterfall and visit the Blackwater Dam to learn about the power of water. As the local community trust chairman, I had met with the series producer to help with some background information and put the programme makers in touch with people who could help make the programme. I am looking forward to seeing local lady Avril, tell Griff about the role of the river in the making of aluminium in this part of Scotland and the communities that grew up around the industry.

If the recent press articles I have read about the series are anything to go by this is going to be another high-quality, fascinating offering from the BEEB. You should take a look at Griff’s account of swimming in the River Tay in the Mail on Sunday, it will bring a smile to you face even if it didn’t to his.

Related links:

Times Online Preview Article

Mail on Sunday Preview Article

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  1. Lonely Loch Errochty – Cameron McNeish reflects on the scars that man leaves behind on the landscape as he comes across the remnants of farm buildings alongside Loch Errochty, before being confronted by the dam at Trinfour.
  2.  Just a minute, Mr Naismith, can this be right? – Outdoor news website, Grough, is challenging  a century old walking rule. Naismith’s rule is used by most walkers to estimate the time it will take to complete a trip.  However, it always assumes we will descend quicker then we ascend a hill taking no account of steepness of gradient. Grough is exploring an aspect of hillwalking that many of us have thought about for a long time – steep descents can slow us down.
  3. Mornington Crescent (South Down Rules) – Obviously a fan of the panel game that beats all other panel games, Alan Sloman takes a wry look at place names in the South Downs. Warning – if you are not a Radio 4 listener this particular blogpost will make no sense at all. Thinking about it, even for many Radio 4 listeners, Mornington Crescent makes no sense at all.
  4. Trail Magazine are running their Homemade Mountain Movie Awards again this year encouraging amateurs to submit a 3 minute film with a hillwalking theme. You might not be tempted to take your video camera with you on your next expedition but you can take a look at some of the early entries on the website. I would recommend the trek on Mount Toukbal.
  5. Outdoor Blips is an American based outdoor aggregation site that has a fair number of UK blogs listed, many I hadn’t come across before. If you are looking for something a bit different some of the US sites highlighted are worth a look. Some of the sites focusing on the US National Parks have great photographs that make you long to be in the depths of Yosemite this summer.
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Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery.
Image via Wikipedia

I have been thinking about joining the newly revamped Scottish Wild Land Group for the last few months. A rash of new stories about the onward march of windfarms backed by their environmental apologists has spurred me into action.

This week alone there have been stories about:

  1. New plans to erect 59 turbines above Dufftown in the heart of whisky country.

  2. Both the UK and Scottish Government’s determination to push ahead with renewable (meaning more windfarms) energy. Why is it politicians seem to believe that windfarms are the only renewable option avaialble to us.

  3. The Peak District National Park Authority losing a court appeal to prevent plans for a windfarm just outside the park boundary that would have a significant visual impact within the national park.

I am not against the use of wind power, I think there are some great examples of where there siting has had minimal or no major impact on the local area. For example, the Scratby Sands Windfarm off the coast of Norfolk near Great Yarmouth. However, there are plenty of examples of inappropriate development that is scarring our countryside all in the name of the environment.

The SWLG seem to be an effective organisation in camapaignng to protect and conserve Scottish wild land. Summed up in the following four points from their website:

  • SWLG campaigns on the wider political issues

  • SWLG makes detailed contributions to national and local government proposals

  • SWLG responds to individual developments

  • SWLG believes in action – not reaction

  • As a member I hope I can play a part in furthering these aims.

    Recommended links:

    Scottish Wild Land Group

    Chris Townsend Blogpost on the SWLG 

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    Your perception of distance can play tricks on you in the mountains. Perhaps, it’s the unique mountain light that causes your brain to go haywire and pretend that the summit in the distance is closer than you think. More likely the boost of exercise related hormones, that are triggered when you lace up your boots and put one foot in front of the other, have clouded your judgment and estimation of your own abilities. We have all been there, leaning against a summit cairn taking in the panorama around us when our eyes alight on another airy ridge and a temptingly gnarly summit just beyond.  In that moment of “topping-out” euphoria your brain’s normally fairly accurate computation of time and distance fail, egged on by your own sense of achievement you find yourself stepping forward to bag that extra peak. After all, you are so close; it would be a shame to miss it out. If the body produced a reality hormone it would be coursing through your veins by now triggering an involuntary but rational movement of arms to map and then focusing of eyes.  This simple physiological move would confirm that the summit is further than first thought and involve a nastily steep ascent following that knee-crunching descent. All to be repeated in the opposite direction.  In combination with the “let’s be rational about this” hormone this would result in an abrupt about turn and murmurs of, “perhaps I will leave it for another day.”

    Setting out to bag the lonely peak of Gulvain there was no risk of overestimating my own abilities but I had lost all sense of distance. Striding out along the track beside the Fionn Lighe, the heat of the early morning sun already rising, I knew that it was a long walk in before we would start climbing. Pausing briefly as we crossed the river I gazed in to temptingly cool, inky black pools as the water lazily slid underneath the bridge. Yet still there was no sign of my goal. I quickened my pace beside the forestry plantation desperate to get to higher ground. There I knew I would be out of reach of the slashing, slicing razor-sharp teeth of the clegs that hovered around me, ready to silently ambush any exposed piece of skin. They had plenty to aim for as I had foolishly opted to wear walking shorts for this outing, providing a Heathrow-sized space for these airborne insect terrorists to hijack my blood. A decision that I came to regret the next day as my legs turned to itchy islands of blotchy, red inflammation and swelling.

    The mountain getting ever so slightly closer The welcome first glimpse of the twin-peaked Gulvain, the footpath leaving a clear stony scar on its lower slopes, encouraged me onwards. Yet no matter how many steps I took forward the mountain never seemed to get any closer.

    Push forward one hundred metres. Stop. Look upwards. The mountain seemed further away than ever.

    Focus on the summit whilst walking. Surely, then it will gradually seem closer.

    Another kilometre effortlessly glides by and the grassy slopes obstinately stand still.

    Temporary distance perception disorder had definitely kicked in. Then all of a sudden it disappears as the steep slope towers above you, shutting out any view of the first summit. The path zigzags relentlessly upwards, the clegs left safely behind. Instead I am joined by bumblebees heavily laden with ruby red pollen and jewel-like dragonflies, emerald green, sapphire blue and jet-black darting to and fro. Their target the carpets of wild thyme and lady’s mantle providing a purple and yellow fringe to the path. These natural delights divert me from the climb and soon I am leaning against the trig point of the minor top. Glancing at the Munro beyond, I wondered if my brain is playing distance tricks again. The summit looks suspiciously close and the drop before any re-ascent only minimal. Not wanting to risk a step too far I check the map. It’s only six hundred metres with a drop of fifty. No delusional distances.

    From the summit of Gulvain On fine summer days you linger at the top desperately wanting to make up for all those days where, blasted by wind and rain you barely pause at a summit. I did just that on Gulvain carefully crossing off the other mountains I could identify, noting the enticing ones not yet climbed. I wanted to remain high for as long as possible as I retraced my steps along the ridge. Even more so, when confronted with a squadron of flying insects primed for their next kamikaze mission towards human skin.

    Heat, tiredness and mountain air all contributed to severe distance distortion when I reached the track below. Six kilometres seemed like sixty. The landmarks I had mentally noted in the morning, the tumble-down croft, the fire-break in the trees, the small bend in the track were all further apart than before. The car was never just round that corner or over that hump, instead I was always confronted with just dusty track stretching off into the distance. Eventually that track ran out and slumped against my car I realised that time, distance and space often have no real meaning in the mountains

    Recommended Links:

    Walk Highlands Route Description

    “Cairn in the Mist” Blog Route Report

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    Ben Hope
    Image by Ade Milne via Flickr

    I came across a pamphlet from the 1902s about Gaelic proverbs and sayings. It focuses on those sayings that are unique to Gaelic or have no direct equivalent in another language. Not surprisingly for a language so deeply rooted in the countryside and so descriptive of the natural world many of the proverbs use natural features or phenomena as metaphor. I will enjoy dipping in and out of the seventy-plus pages for inspiration.

    One piece jumped out from the page, although it seems to have no Gaelic basis and is not attributed to anyone. All the same it encapsulates the feelings that those of us who are fortunate to live, work or play in our mountain areas have about the natural wonder around us.

    “Mountains are the great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of clouds, choirs of steam and stone, and altars of snow.”

    Related posts:  A New Year thought for hillwalkers

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