Upland Footpath Repair in the Cairngorms - a Technical Review

The National Trust for Scotland hosted a meeting in the sumptuous surroundings of Mar Lodge on Friday 11th February. Present were many of those involved in Footpath Maintenance around Scotland. The purpose of the meeting was to identify local solutions to the problems that are specific to the Cairngorms. There was general agreement on the nature of these problems:

No comparable location has been found that could give clues to the solutions. It was noted that the area does not have the same problems of deep peat and high rainfall that are found in the west. The basic footpath armamentarium of drainage with a constructed aggregate path and stone pitching on the steeper ground goes some way in the Cairngorms, but is not solving all the problems. Some recent paths have been (re-)constructed and then left. Without proper maintenance even the best path will deteriorate. Funding that is available at present is for capital works, so that is what is being carried out. Path maintenance is unglamorous and people would rather be involved with building x hundred metres of new path. It was soon realised that better auditing is needed. Only once a proper maintenance programme is working can we tell how specific techniques stand the test of time.

There was less agreement on what the local solutions might be. A case was made for "managed maintenance". Rather than diving in with capital works, some locations would benefit from small-scale work. Even if it does not control the problem everywhere, little would be lost if major work were subsequently required in a proportion of these locations. We were given the choice of a magic cure. The fundamental needs to manage drainage and to continue maintenance were repeatedly acknowledged. Other wishes were for a method of treating gravel to improve its binding qualities and some means of establishing suitable vegetation to permit reinstatement of eroded areas. For the former it may be possible to use washed out gravel that has found its way into the glens or to add clay or other materials to locally won gravel. Most heather is too woody to survive transplanting and turfs just die. It may be possible to propagate local seed and harden off the plants at altitude. It is hoped that some of the ideas will be found successful in less sensitive areas and be suitable for corrie backwalls and the high plateaux.

Path managers are well aware of the sensitivities of the area and few would propose a highly engineered path over a high plateau. It is less clear where the cut-off points lie and the user's view is often sought. The thoughts of concerned users need to be heard.

Donald Thomas, 27th February 2000

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