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