I looked forward to reading this book, partly because I was keen to find out more about how a ranger fills the day but also, having climbed with Nic in the distant past, I was interested in his take on the controversies that continue to bedevil the north side of the hill.
The book is pitched at the interested tourist, rather than regular hills goers; the latter will want to skip the sections on such things as basic equipment and what factors to consider if venturing out in winter. The experienced should not be put off however. Nic's detailed knowledge certainly opened the eyes of this reader to things which he has ignored on his way to the plateau. The first part of the book sees Nic act as guide on various walks on the north side of the massive and on the plateau. He is a congenial companion, encouraging the reader to stop regularly to view the flora, fauna and landforms. Dealing with quirks and follies of some who venture beyond the car park is the ranger's bread and butter, although he dwells on this aspect too long for this reader's taste.
Best environmental practice is a strong theme throughout and guides Nic's views on the controversies which make up much of the second part of the book. He was strongly opposed to the plans to develop mechanised skiing in corries t'Sneachda and Lochan but seems to have been less concerned initially about Lurchers until he was persuaded otherwise. He is coy about the funicular, although he does point out that a new lift would also have required some form of closed system if the designated areas, and their surroundings, where to be protected from erosion. He doesn't, however, address the argument that Drennan Watson has often made, namely that infrastructure should never be constructed in mountain areas if it is too costly or problematic to remove and that is the case with the funicular. Nic also bemoans the fact that Bob Kinnaird's plan for creating a National Centre for the Mountain Environment disappeared without trace; this was certainly an idea with commercial potential and appropriate to the setting. He says little about Natural Retreats, probably because they were still his employer when he was writing.
Nic chides people whose lack of thought has environmental consequences such as the use of crampons on snowless ground, climbing on unfrozen turf and ascending the scar on the west side of the Fiacaill Coire an t'Sneachda, a place beyond the reach of path repairers.
All is not doom and gloom though. The environmental damage caused during the early ski development is a thing of the past, the removal of Jean's Hut has benefited Coire an Lochan and, while the repaired paths may create something of an urban feel, they are much preferable to the braided and water logged horrors of times gone by. Monitoring suggests that the closed system is protecting the environment.
All in all a wide ranging and worthwhile read and yes, I now know a lot more about what a ranger does!
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