A story with a happy ending…

Talladh-a-Bheithe – what does it matter? (06/08/2014)

My first ever Munro was Schiehallion; climbed, many years ago, in winter conditions. It was between Christmas and New Year, the snow line was at about two thousand feet, I was well wrapped up and with a good supply of food and hot drink and – most importantly – I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing!

Starting from the Braes of Foss, there wasn’t much scope for navigational error but the succession of false summits, combined with the marked drop in temperature as I gained height, taught me a few new lessons along the way. There were two brief blizzards, both of which seemed to materialise from clear blue sky and dissipate just as mysteriously; I quickly became grateful that this was a straightforward ascent, 180 degree turn, descent, and nothing more complex.

But I got to the top, stood for a while in a thigh-deep drift drinking coffee, survived and loved it. One other lesson learned that day was the speed with which weather systems can move. At the summit, I looked over towards the west, saw evidence of a serious storm and – with the wind blowing in our direction – reckoned that we would be getting some of that weather in a couple of hours or so. I might have been twenty minutes into the descent when the storm front moved overhead and a mixture of snow and frozen rain began to pepper the ridge. Quite a few were still passing on the way up at this point but, although the storm passed quickly, the light never really returned.

Oh, I almost forgot: the views! Like nothing I’d ever seen – space, distance, tops, valleys, layer upon layer of this thing which, in the round, we call landscape; knowing exactly what that word means without ever having the vocabulary to do justice to it. You’ll know it when you see it!

The likelihood is that that landscape will soon be blighted by yet another inappropriately sited cluster of turbines. Turbines, plus access roads, pylon runs, sub-stations… landscape exploited, job done – move on to the next! It’s the mentality of the alien invaders in Independence Day.

And so what? All we’re talking about here is one individual’s personal recollections; hardly significant in the broader context. Throw in the accumulated reminiscences of every other walker who ever made that same journey and – even for a relatively busy hill like Schiehallion – it’s a tiny proportion of the population. Weighed in the overall balance, does anyone really care much for the opinions of what is, when all’s said and done, a tiny demographic? Should anyone really care?

It’s a question I’ll return to, but only after another trip down memory lane…

There’s a round of hills above Loch An Daimh, which lies slightly to the north and east of Loch Lyon. The complete round – starting from and returning to the dam – takes in a couple of munros (Stuchd an Lochain and Meall Buidhe), two corbetts and at least one other significant but un-named top. For a big raptor, it’s about a couple of flaps and a glide from Schiehallion, and I’ve walked it approximately one point six times!

The point six was the first time. Setting off from the dam (which another blogger once described as a fine example of soviet-era architecture) in weather which would have persuaded a more sensible person to get back in the car and drive to a pub, I somehow managed to convince myself that it was bound to clear up later. In the highlands!

Well, it didn’t – it got progressively worse; a wind so strong that it actually kept me upright on a couple of occasions when I would otherwise have fallen. In the end, I crawled under the edge of a small copse of tightly-packed conifers and ate lunch, knowing that I would be turning back. The sound of grunts and snapping twigs from the gloom behind me was a bit disconcerting; I assumed it would be deer. It was the kind of thoroughly miserable, wretched, frustrating day that just makes you want to come back and give it another go.

The second time could hardly have been more different: little or no wind, mostly clear skies with some high altitude cumulus clouds; Loch An Daimh blue and disturbed only by rising trout; the temperature just about perfect for walking in light clothing. Again, it’s the views that lodge most firmly in the memory – in every direction: The hills of Glencoe; The Ben; Schiehallion itself; the Lawers range back to the east; Ben More to the south; a distant glint of what might have been Loch Linnhe; the seemingly limitless space of Rannoch Moor.

Well, we know by now what an illusion limitless space can be. And how temporary…

So back to the question: does it matter, and why?

Certainly, Schiehallion and the hills at the western end of Glen Lyon matter to me personally because of my recollections of times spent. And it’s just possible that my reminiscences will strike a chord with a few others, just as theirs resonate with me when I read them. But that’s not the point: landscapes like these don’t matter to me just because I once walked the hill, or had a couple of good days out – those considerations are incidental. Schiehallion, Glen Lyon, Rannoch Moor, Ben More, would matter if I’d never set eyes on any of them; these places matter for their own sake – they need no endorsement.

We are supposed to be the custodians: the environment should be safe in our hands. We have the information and the wherewithal; politicians get no credit from me for pretending to acknowledge their responsibilities while continuing to approve the trashing of the landscape. But what hope is there when power rests in the hands of a species which apparently can’t even co-exist with a few hundred hen harrier?

If the energy companies, developers and wrong-headed politicians have their way, every summit in Scotland will eventually look out on its own particular Talladh-a-Bheithe. Its own particular, local tragedy.

They won’t care. To them, it won’t matter.

The happy ending? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-34684039

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Talladh-a-Bheithe power station (01/08/2014)

This proposal is, even by the insensitive standards of proposals past, astonishingly brazen. The detail has been much better dealt with than I could ever manage elsewhere, but could I just urge anyone who passes this way to take the time to look at any (preferably all) of the following:

This is the text of my own letter of objection (already sent):
Dear Sir/Madam
 
This is to lodge my personal objection to the application, by Eventus Duurzaam BV, for consent to construct a windfarm on a site at Talladh-a-Bheithe,  near Rannoch.
Coming immediately after the recent (June 2014) Scottish National Heritage publication of the wild land map of Scotland, this proposal is for a wind farm to be sited in Area 14 of the map; in other words, a place designated by the Scottish Government as worthy of “strong protection”. It also lies immediately adjacent to Glen Lyon National Scenic Area and the scale of the area of impact is probably unprecedented, even in the context of other insensitive turbine installations.
Continuing to approve developments of this kind in areas of wild land will ultimately have a devastating effect on visitor numbers to Scotland in general and The Highlands in particular. A devastating effect which will be felt by the local businesses and communities who depend on tourism for their livelihoods. 
To someone who has been a regular visitor to Scotland for more than 25 years, the current direction of policy with regard to wild land and precious landscapes make no sense. The Scottish government seems to be actively pursuing a policy which will deter tourism; an independent Scotland (should that be the outcome) with its income from tourism decimated – has this been thought through?
If the opinions of visitors are to be disregarded, at least take note of the local opposition to this development. Shops, guesthouses, B&Bs, visitor attractions may not be able to finance aggressive lobbying and slick PR, but they are entitled to at least the same consideration as the multinationals who are driving this incessant flood of applications
Some of it is original, some unashamedly cribbed from other, better letters – all with permission having been given. In the same spirit, please feel free to use anything from mine which might be helpful in compiling your own.
But time is short – the closing date for objections to be notified is August 5th.

Fields of gold (01/08/14)

Our local farmer is a good sort: maintains some hedgerows, which the birds love; keeps the public footpaths clear and unobstructed. A few years back he told me one way to judge a grain harvest was to look at the way the drill tracks fill over as the summer progresses. In a good year they will all but disappear. There are no doubt other, more technical ways of evaluating grain yields, but it’s something I’ve looked for ever since.

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This year has the look of a good one, assuming there are no catastrophes between now and harvesting. The characteristic lines across fields of wheat, oats and barley have become all but absorbed as the crops thicken out; and there are very few weeds – apparently another good sign. 2014 might well turn out to be a vintage year for breakfast cereals, beer and whisk(e)y.

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It’s not just the cultivated crops that seem to be enjoying a bumper summer either. I can’t remember another year, certainly not a recent one, where footpaths have become so overgrown, almost disappearing in places and becoming impassable to all but the most determined. Nettles, brambles, and a good few non-natives like balsam and knotweed, have combined with a sustained spell of hot weather to create some unusual conditions in familiar places. It will be interesting to see how quickly the established paths reappear when time comes for the temporary jungle to recede.

Wildflower meadows have a long way to go to recover from the years of decimation since the middle of the last century (95% lost according to some estimates), but this year’s combination of heavy spring rainfall and sustained summer sunshine has allowed a few undisturbed places to be recolonized…

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The benefits of the local farmer’s enlightened approach to land management has been evidenced by the increased number of whitethroats taking advantage of the hedgerow habitat…

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And by the ever-growing numbers of the resident yellowhammer population, with their admirable approach to personal hygiene…

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Rob’s fascination with his new camera (it’s a Sony HSC 300 and the pictures are all his!) has yielded some interesting results. Thankfully digital allows for unlimited shooting, at least within the constraints of SD card capacity and battery life. In the days of film he would have been penniless by now.

On one recent evening walk, he managed to capture:

On full (50x) zoom, a distant, silhouetted, buzzard, carrying what looked like a bedraggled grey squirrel…

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And an indication that somewhere, not too far away, it was probably raining…

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Despite what appearances might suggest, the walkers below were sticking strictly to a designated path…

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It’s one of life’s inevitabilities that when we reach a railway line we have to wait a while. The distant glow of a green signal just acted as further confirmation…

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At least, when it arrived, it did have a locomotive on the front…

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The trainspotting interlude meant that we walked quite a bit of the return route in gathering gloom and with the temperature beginning to fall quite appreciably. The sun also dropped quickly and within a very short space of time we saw a flaming sunset replaced by a full, silver moon.

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