Readers may recall our letter to the Forestry Commission for Scotland regarding new paths on Bennachie. We are now looking at waymarking on the hills, and a recent addition to signs on Bennachie is an example of what we are concerned about. The point is further illustrated by the "many a true word was sketched in fun" drawing provided for us by our artist, lain Macdonald.
NORTH EAST MOUNTAIN TRUST
A quality future for Hillwalkers and Mountaineers
PO Box 40
ABERDEEN AB11 6QQ
Scottish Charity No: SC008783
Dear Scottish Mountaineer
I'm writing in reply to Graham Forbes' article "Waymarking: Has the MCofS lost its way?"
First of all, I apologise for falling into the trap. Yes, I've risen to the bait and have firmly bitten. I don't think that my heart rate has risen or that my commentary on the latest offside decision is at risk. However, I do feel that Graham has succumbed to the heady climate that surrounded the Incredible String Band - yes, I'm old enough to have been one of their loyal following. However, even true heroes can falter.
First of all does Graham have any evidence that lack of waymarking is putting people off. I know plenty of young people taking to the hills and they, like me, appreciate the qualities of "wild land" thatyou can still find in Scotland. They take the challenge of learning to navigate as part of the "apprenticeship".
The comparison with Europe and America is disingenuous. The American National Parks have many unmarked trails. It's easy to find trails that give days of unmarked walking. Once you have left the notorious Valley in Yosemite, you can quickly be in essentially virgin territory. There is plenty of room for both marked and unmarked trails. In the European Alps, there are plenty of marked trails but also ample opportunity to venture onto unmarked trails. We have a far smaller area. lf we're not careful, there simply won't be any wild land left.
There are already plenty of marked trails. The epitome of the way marked trail, the West Highland Way, is a huge success and deservedly so. The extension on to Inverness via the Great Glen and the Southern Upland Way show how people are building on this success. Torridon has a network of paths, all well-signed, that take you into remote mountainous territory, where you will meet very few other people. If you want to reach a summit, then again, there are plenty of marked trails. I'm not suggesting that the cairns on the top of Ben Nevis be removed. The way to the top on Ben Lomond is also suitably obvious. I completely agree that Scotland needs to offer both alternatives. I think that we do. However, in my view, now is the time to stop. If we waymark too many more trails, then we won't have any wild land left. We quite simply don't have the millions of acres of virgin land that make up the American National Parks.
There has got to be more to exploring our countryside than simply treating it as a climbing wall. Tonight we'll do the pink route and tomorrow the black. I go to the climbing wall regularly and I enjoy the challenge of working on the pink route until I succeed, but equally importantly I enjoy going down to the cliffs, figuring out where the routes are and then trying them without marked foot and hand holds.
I attach a photograph of a sign on Bennachie, a well known Aberdeen hill. Can this be said to blend in, in any way? No, it's obtrusive and unsympathetic. Better signage at the car park would both be more helpful and infinitely less obtrusive. So, let's stop essentially where we are, maintain the existing waymarked routes and trails but notwaymark any more trails in wild land.
Apologies for adding to the pointless bickering - I'm now off to wallow in nostalgia, listening to my collection of old Incredible String Band records and dreaming of Scotland's wild land.
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