July 2001

Dentist to scale Arctic peaks

A Scots dentist is preparing himself for an expedition to one of the most remote reaches of the Arctic. Colwyn Jones, a consultant in dental public health with Highland Health Board, has been planning the trip to north-east Greenland for more than two years. Next week, Mr Jones, who is also a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, the British Alpine Club and the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, will be dropped into by helicopter with the rest of his six-man crew. Mr Jones, who is the expedition medical officer, said: "We need four flights in fixed-wing aircraft and a final helicopter lift to get to the heart of the mountains. If there were to be an accident or emergency, there would be little chance of rescue for at least three days and this assumes good weather. Everyone treads wearily in the Arctic." The team plans to scale some of the area's unclimbed mountains from a base camp on the ice cap. One target is the highest mountain, Dansketinde, which translates as Denmark's Peak. The team also plans to scale a huge vertical face on a peak called Sussex, which they believe will be the hardest technical climb attempted in the area. Once they arrive, the mountaineers will not see another living thing for the entire four weeks of their stay. The only exception to this, said Mr Jones, might be a polar bear or wolf, and the Greenland authorities have insisted that the team takes a rifle for protection against attack by such predators. However, they are hopeful that with the area's 24-hour daylight at this time of year they will spot any threats from the wildlife a long way off. The team will be acutely aware of the environment on their visit. No tins or glass waste is being taken on the expedition, in an effort to preserve the pristine wilderness of the area. They will rely solely on dehydrated foods, fruit and vegetables. Mr Jones will, of course, be making sure that the team follows proper dental hygiene throughout their stay. On his previous trip, he researched different toothpastes for his profession, while this time round he will be monitoring the effects of the climate on gum disease. Mr Jones concluded: "Even in the Arctic, you have to brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste."

E.coli camping warning

People are being warned not to camp in fields recently used by animals because of fears they could contract E.coli O157. A group of experts, established to cut the number of E.coli cases, is to recommend that children especially should not use farm fields until several weeks after animals have left. The warning comes after 13 Scottish girl guides and their leader contracted E.coli O157 after camping in a field in Inverclyde. The guides, one of whom is still in hospital, are believed to have contracted the potentially deadly condition from water supplies at their camp site near Inverkip. The expert group, led by Professor Bill Reilly of the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health, was set up in September following a rise in the number of cases of people contracting the disease from the environment. Professor Hugh Pennington - a member of the task force - suggested that children should not be allowed on farms at all, to reduce the risk of them catching E.coli.

He said: "We have realised that many of the cases are not transmitted by food, but are picked up in the environment. That's what the task force will be looking at. Looking at farming practices, people visiting the countryside, water supplies, all these kind of things. "We will be coming up with a series of recommendations of how people should comport themselves in the countryside to avoid infection, but at the same time to enjoy the countryside. What we don't want people to do, for example, is to go camping on a field where cattle and sheep have just left that field leaving it covered with animal manure. "Last year, for example, we had a really rather large 20-case outbreak in a scout camp where that very thing happened. It is obviously wise to have the animals off the field for three weeks before the camp. We're not going to stop people camping but to ensure that as far as possible the camping is safe. "The issue I think here is that 20 years ago this bug was not a problem, or it was a very minor problem. Over the last decade it has become commoner. What one did as a child one cannot do now with the same degree of freedom because of this particular bug." Approximately 250 people in Scotland are infected with E.coli every year.

Borders re-open

Much of the Scottish Borders is being officially re-opened in the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis. Selected precautions and restrictions will remain in force in the area, which has seen 11 cases of the disease. The move comes as the Scottish Executive vowed to use the internet to crack down on farmers and landowners imposing unauthorised restrictions on access to the countryside. Environment minister Ross Finnie said all official closures would be posted on the executive website and the public would be able to ignore any signs not on the list. He said local authorities had been asked to notify the executive of any official closures before the list goes out on the internet on Friday, June 29. Mr Finnie said he had issued guidance on May 15 about the marginal risks of spreading foot-and-mouth by allowing access to provisionally free areas. He said the guidance had clearly stated there should be a presumption in favour of openness. He insisted closures were only allowed on the basis of a risk assessment agreed with the local authority and divisional veterinary manager. Mr Finnie added: "On May 24 this guidance was extended to the whole of Scotland excluding Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. However, I have been made aware that there are some areas of the countryside which remain closed and that unofficial notices have been posted by landowners and, or farmers. This is giving a confusing message to those who want to enjoy the countryside. To overcome this confusion we will be publishing a list of all closures notified to Scottish Ministers on the Scottish Executive website. Unless an area is listed on this website the public can assume that it is access as normal." An executive spokesman said the public in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders should also check with local authority websites because the situation was likely to change more quickly. Meanwhile, members of the local Countryside Access Group in the Borders have decided that - with some exceptions - visitors should now be formally welcomed back. The total number of foot-and-mouth outbreaks in the Borders has been well below the level in neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway, which experienced the majority the country's cases. However, the impact on a region where the economy mainly relies on agriculture and tourism has been devastating.

The Borders' busiest tourist information centre at Jedburgh has seen its number of visitors fall by a third from the same period last year. Councillor David Lindores, the chairman of the access group, says it is still difficult maintaining parity between the interests of recreational users of the outdoors and landowners. The cost of foot-and-mouth to the area's tourist industry alone has been estimated to be at least £30m. Most of its members believe it will take years rather than months to recover, and they are seeking more help from the government. Last month Scotland's First Minister Henry McLeish was told that £12m was needed as a first step to help the area's economic recovery. No cases of foot-and-mouth have been confirmed in the area since the end of May.

E-commerce on top of the world

Scottish web entrepreneur Michael Jackson is currently running his business by satellite link while on an expedition to climb two of the highest mountains in the world. So far, while taking care of his business on the road, Michael has almost been arrested, shot at and narrowly avoided being buried in an avalanche. In late June, the boss of online outdoor equipment retailer WildDay.com, set off on an expedition to scale K2 and a neighbouring mountain called Broad Peak. A keen mountaineer and climber, he wanted to stay in touch with his company and partners to help manage the growing business. To this end, Michael has taken a laptop, an Iridium satellite phone and data kit that allows him to send e-mail and log in to the shop site while on the mountainside. This week, he sent back the first instalment of his expedition diary that covers the first two weeks of the trip. He filed the diary entry while 4,100 metres above sea level in the foothills surrounding K2.

The expedition almost failed at the first hurdle at Heathrow when customs officials found the team was carrying military grade signal flares in their baggage. After much haggling, the climbers were escorted to the aircraft by police armed with machine guns. Nerves were not settled by the in-flight movie - the climbing disaster movie Vertical Limit. Automatic weapons made another appearance once the team reached Gilgar, the capital of Northern Pakistan. Unbeknownst to the climbers, the local government had arrested the spiritual leader of the Sunni muslims and his followers made an armed attempt to rescue him just as Michael and his colleagues rode into town. Everyone escaped the gunfire and explosions successfully, but soon after had to make another dash for safety when an avalanche struck as the expedition was making its way back to base from a higher camp at 5,800 metres. He said: "A part of me wondered how on earth I had managed to contrive so many ways to test my mortality within such a short space of time. This was meant to be, after all, just another week at the office." The remote management of the WildDay website has so far gone without a hitch, but Michael said that many of the locals employed as guides were intrigued by the array of technology the expedition was using. "Surrounded by solar panels, sat' phones and laptops, I feel as if I've just beamed in from outer space,'' he continued. "I seem to be so conditioned by the sound of my laptop booting up that the minute I hear it whirring, my mind gets down to business, regardless of whether I am on a glacier, in a mountain village, or by the side of the River Indus."

Youngsters injured in outdoor accidents

A teenage boy lost part of his foot and a young girl was hospitalised after two separate walking accidents in the West Highlands. The teenager, who has not been named, is recovering in hospital after a rock fell off a wall, smashing into his foot and partially severing a toe. The accident happened as the 17-year-old was climbing on a wall at the ruined Ba Cottage near Loch Ba in Glencoe on Tuesday, July 24. A Royal Naval Sea King helicopter airlifted two members of Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team to the scene after a friend of the youth alerted emergency services using a mobile phone. He was airlifted to the Belford Hospital in Fort William, where his condition was described as stable. Rescue team leader, John Grieve said: "He was just climbing on a wall at a ruined cottage which is on the West Highland Way and he pulled this big stone off on to his foot." Earlier the same day, a six year-old girl suffered pelvic, wrist and head injuries after falling 50ft down an embankment at a Lochaber beauty spot. The child had been walking with her mother and aunt on a path near the Steall Waterfall car park at Glen Nevis when she slipped and fell on Tuesday evening. Six members of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, along with police and ambulance personnel, went to the aid of the child, six-year-old Ruby Skelton, who was on holiday with her family from Northampton. The accident happened when the child turned round to let a group of other tourists past on the narrow path and tumbled over the edge. Alan Knox, an ambulance paramedic who went to the girl's aid, said: "She's very lucky to be alive. She bounced twice on the way down but she was really brave. When I heard she was in the gorge I thought she was going to be very seriously hurt or if not a fatality." He and his colleague, ambulance technician Gary Blackmore, and Constable John Ross gave the girl emergency treatment at the foot of the gorge as she passed in and out of consciousness. Mr Knox said: "It was quite a difficult rescue operation. She was right down among the rocks but we managed to get her onto a special spinal board." They lifted her up the side of the gorge and transferred her to the Belford Hospital in Fort William, where her condition was said to be stable.

Bennachie path upgrade

Work to upgrade one of the main paths to the summit of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire has been completed. The renewed Rowantree path, running from the Rowantree car park, near Chapel of Garioch, to the Mither Tap, was officially opened by Mr Theo Smith, who owns the nearby Macdonald Pittodrie House Hotel and whose family has been involved with the local estate for over a century. More than 2000 metres of pathway has been improved as part of the £122,000 scheme which builds upon work previously carried out by the Forestry Commission who have extensive plantations in the area. The main contractors, Highland Conservation Services, worked through difficult winter conditions and foot and mouth restrictions to complete the job. Granite from nearby Kemnay Quarry was used to build the path and was airlifted on to the site. The final section required the laying of a pitched pavement to the summit of Mither Tap to prevent further erosion. Due to the sensitive nature of the high elevation site, much of the work had to be done by hand to minimise disturbance to adjacent woodland. Initiated and supported by Macdonald Pittodrie House Hotel, the project involved Scottish Natural Heritage, Grampian Enterprise, the Forestry Commission and Aberdeenshire Council.

Doubt over Glen Doll campsite

The future of the popular Glen Doll campsite is uncertain. The site was closed as a precautionary measure at the start of the foot and mouth outbreak and, although all restrictions in the area have since been lifted, it remains out of bounds. The move has prompted concern from hill-goers who use it as a base for walking and climbing in the Clova hills, which include a number of Munros. The Forestry Commission, who are responsible for the area, say it is not an officially designated campsite. A spokesman said: ''The Glen Doll facility was actually established some years ago to try to help with the problems of illegal camping in the glen. We tried to designate this place as something to stop people going everywhere. The site has been very much over-used and in some instances there have been over 100 tents on any one night. It's overcrowded and it's really not doing what it's supposed to do. We are now looking to see if it will be possible to open it again. We are having to speak to the local community but there are a lot of difficulties to overcome and I think that overcrowding is quite unacceptable,'' he added. Facilities are basic. The site is effectively an open field and campers make use of a toilet block adjacent to the Glen Doll car park which is provided for visitors to the glen. This has toilets and basins, but no showers.

New twist in Black Cuillin sale saga

The long-standing controversy over the sale of the Black Cuillin mountain range on Skye has taken another twist. Owner John MacLeod of MacLeod, chief of the Clan MacLeod, said he would be willing to consider proposals to take either the Cuillin or his Dunvegan Castle into public ownership. Mr MacLeod claims he is being forced to sell off the 35sq miles where the range stands to pay for repairs to the roof of his 800-year-old family castle. He estimates the repairs will cost £6.5million, but he needs to make some £10million from the Cuillin to meet the repair work and tax demands from the land sale. Mr MacLeod said: "The reason the Cuillin is on the market is to repair the castle. If I manage to get £10million for the Cuillin, I would be in a fiscally safe position to take out these repairs." However, Mr MacLeod says if the money could be raised by a public body, such as the National Trust or Historic Scotland, then the Cuillin could come into public ownership. Alternatively, the castle could be handed over to the nation, effectively removing the reason to sell off the mountain range. Mr MacLeod said he would be "keen" to talk to Government agencies about public ownership of Dunvegan. He said: "I'm trying to repair the castle roof. It has been 800-years in existence. If I fail to raise the money, that is something I'd think about." Simon Walton, a spokesman for the National Trust for Scotland, said taking over the castle would be considered. The Black Cuillin has have been on the market since March last year. The move was widely criticised at the time and sparked an investigation by the Crown Estate into ownership. The inquiry eventually ruled that MacLeod was the rightful owner of the estate. Estate agents for the sale, FPD Savills, remain confident that an owner will be found for the mountain range.