August 2008


Big Country

Big Country is a documentary that I found through BBC iPlayer and I downloaded Episode 2 before flying out to Ghana to give me something to watch in the evenings. The documentary focuses on the ranger staff  that look after the three national parks in Wales; the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and the Pemrokeshire Coastal Park.

The programme features the stunning landscape photography you would expect from a BBC documentary, displaying these wild parts of Wales at their very best. It gives an interesting, if somewhat superficial, insight into the working life of the rangers and the challenges they face. The need to ensure our National Parks are not only protected for future generations but allowed to be dynamic, living parks where a variety of leisure activities can co-exist is explored.

It will be no surprise that the Health and Safety police have spread their pernicious tentacles in to the parks as well. We are shown conversations between park rangers and mountain rescue teams discussing the suitability of a location next to a waterfall for a choir to be filmed singing. Not only are risk assessments undertaken but trees are removed along the route and leaves removed from stone steps in case someone should slip. It is sad, that what is in essence an unchallenging walk along good paths and steps, has to be sanitised and scrutinised to prevent every conceivable mishap. It makes me angry that our park rangers are forced to take these over the top precautions because so many people are unprepared to take personal responsibility in our someone else must be to blame culture.

Away but not idle!

No walking in Ghana, just Landcruiser rides from one air-conditioned hotel training room to another identikit air-conditioned training room in another hotel. However, my thoughts continuously return to the open hillsides of the West Highlands and a desire to don my walking boots again. This expectation is blunted as I look at my diary for September and realise that opportunities to get out walking will be limited.

Whilst travelling in Ghana I have had the opportunity to listen to several of the TGO Challenge 07 podcasts from the Outdoors Station as well as their book reviews on a number of Cicerone publications. These have prompted me to have a quick look at Memorymap to sketch out a route in my mind across Scotland, with the aim of taking part in the challenge in a few years time.

So although I have been away I have plenty of material to go on the blog over the next week or so.

Buachaille Etive Mor (from Glen Etive)

This is a somewhat unusual approach to Buachaille Etive Mor, tackling the mountain from behind, starting just east of Dalness and the Lairig Gartain path. The downside of starting in Glen Etive, is that you will be welcomed by hordes of midges and their ferocious bite. So be prepared and bring suitable repellant. (…)

The two books I am reviewing for the November edition of The Scottish Mountaineer have arrived extremely quickly. This is good news as I wish to read them long before the copy deadline in mid-September.

They are:

  • The High Places: Leaves from a Lakeland Notebook;                     A. Harry Griffen, Frances Lincoln Publishers
  • A year in the life of the Isle of Skye;                                               Bill Birkett, Frances Lincoln Publishers

Both books look interesting but are completely different in style and format. Bill Birkett will be familiar to anyone who has seen his wonderfully evocative photographs of the Lake District or more recently Glencoe. This latest book is the next instalment of his, “A year in the life” series.  I had never come across A.H.Griffin before but he had written the country diary column in the Guardian for over 50 years. I am slightly sceptical about this book as it is prominently billed as including illustrations by A. Wainwright. Is this more cynical cashing in of the Wainwright franchise by developing a tenuous link to fill the coffers of greedy publishers? At a glance my initial reaction may be wrong and the illustrations do illuminate the words.

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You would think surrounded by mountains, with some of the best hillwalking in Scotland on my doorstep, that I would frequently puts on my boots and head for the hills. Alas, even with these temptations so close to hand weeks can pass by without stepping forth. Work or other commitments get in the way, the long Bank Holiday weekend coming up when I had planned so much walking, will now see me flying off to Ghana to undertake some consultancy work.

The other walk blocker is the weather; I don’t mind walking in the rain but it will often stop me from going out. When walking in a group there is a collective motivation if walking in poor weather. However, if I am out on my own the last thing I want to do is spend hours trudging in a downpour. So, the appalling weather sweeping across the country in recent weeks has curtailed the munro bagging.

Tomorrow will see two more added to the list, as I join the walking club to tackle Buachaille Etive Mor. This is one of our members last munros, so I have to make a bit of effort, even if the weather will be far from perfect. I am looking forward to a glass of bubbly at the top. Then I hope to be out again midweek, on my own, to tackle its little brother Buachaille Etive Beag. That is, if the weather doesn’t conspire against me again.

What motivates the blogging fraternity to publish their thoughts online? Is it a form  of cyber exhibitionism, a need to say “hey look at me!”? Or is it a need to share with our fellow men our thoughts to create a kind of collective communal sense of well being?

I think it is something more basic than that; it is because most of us are frustrated writers. We would like to see our words in print, we are attracted by the idea of a different way of life, the romanticised world of a writer. Restful days spent in front of a keyboard, as we ponder the next word to be typed, we gaze out of the window upon honeyed fields of corn to the lush hills beyond. Life is good in the idyllic world of a writer.

I have had a career in back-room politics, where I have frequently seen my carefully crafted words reproduced in thousands of leaflets just about to be stuffed through unsuspecting letterboxes. Now with a gentler second career, I miss this regular opportunity to write and my deep unconsciousness must have recognised this and the subsequent result is this blog. 

Now I am taking this frustration one step further and agreed to review some books for The Scottish Mountaineer magazine produced by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. If you have never seen a copy it is being given away free with this month’s edition of TGO Magazine. Don’t be put off by the title it aimed at mountain walkers as well as climbers. Hopefully my first review will appear in the November issue.

I feel less frustrated already.

I received an interesting email from my local hill-walking club Chairman this week, who had come across a litter problem outside a mobile phone mast site. I have copied the letter below for others to see as well.

Vodafone Installation at Am Meall, Ballachulish, Grid Reference NN096576

Whilst walking in the Glencoe area on Sunday afternoon, 10th. August 2008, my route took me past your installation at an elevation of 414 metres. I was disgusted to find rubbish strewn about outside one of the cabins, amongst which were empty alcohol and pot-noodle containers, and cigarette packets.

The track to the site had signs of recent use by a vehicle. There can be no doubt that your employees or contractors are responsible for the rubbish. Neither local nor visiting yobs stray far above sea-level for drinking sessions. Smokers are not noted for their inclination or lung capacity for the sustained steep ascent to your site without mechanical aid, carrying the equipment, appliance and fuel necessary to prepare pot-noodles. Genuine hillwalkers would find a more pleasant and radiation-free picnic site a few steps away.

I am sure that Vodafone is a reputable company and conforms to strict operating standards, and note from your website that your environmental management system has been accredited to ISO 140001. I would be pleased to learn that you have taken action to clean up this site and prevent such occurrences at all your sites.

Meanwhile I will inform fellow members of the local walking clubs of the matter, and collectively we can assess if the problem is widespread, requiring a demand for action by the local authority.

I am sure Vodafone can not be the only company that has problems like this. When I visited the Isle of Eigg in May I was impressed by the new hydroelectric installations that have been recently installed around the island. I wasn’t impressed by the amount of detritus the electric company and their contractors had left around the newly installed machinery. I just hope that they have tidied up since then, now that the network is operating and has been handed over to the local community.

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