March 2002

Body found after Ben Nevis search

Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team has recovered the body of a climber from Ben Nevis following a day-long search. Joined by teams from RAF Kinloss and RAF Leeming and an RAF helicopter from Lossiemouth, they were called out on Sunday, March 17, after the man, an ex-soldier, was reported overdue. The search centred on Five Finger Gully. It was the fourth search carried out over the weekend by the Lochaber team. Forty-year-old Glasgow woman Audrey Wood escaped unhurt after a fall of several hundred feet on Stob Coire Easain in Glen Spean. Rescuers battled against atrocious conditions on Ben Nevis to lead five stranded climbers to safety. The group were trapped on Tower Ridge on the evening of Thursday, March 14 after gale force winds forced them to abandon their attempt on the summit. The alarm was raised on Friday morning when one of the climbers used his mobile phone to call his wife. At that point there were eight people trapped 3,000ft up on the ridge. Three managed to get off the mountain at first light but the other five remained behind on the ridge waiting for help to arrive. Ferocious winds, gusting at up to 60mph, forced an RAF helicopter to turn back from the summit. But the crew managed to airlift members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team to a halfway point on the mountain and they reached the climbers on Friday afternoon. Rescuers said the group eventually made if off the mountain on Friday evening. They were taken to Belford Hospital, in Fort William, for medical checks. Another two climbers narrowly escaped being swept down Stag Horn Gully on Creag Meagaidh by an avalanche on Saturday afternoon. They were helped off the hill by the Lochaber team. Elsewhere, two climbers were caught in an avalanche on Liathach, Torridon, in Wester Ross, on Friday. Gordon Smith (24), from Applecross, had to be helped off the mountain by members of Torridon Mountain Rescue Team. He was taken to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, with a broken ankle. His friend was uninjured. The two climbers had been attempting a winter route on Corieag Dubh Mor when they were carried down the hill by the avalanche

Shieldaig hydro plans delayed

Controversial plans to develop a hydro-electric scheme at Shieldaig Forest, Wester Ross, have been delayed. Dundee-based Highland Light and Power, which first proposed construction of a £3million, 2.1 megawatt hydro scheme in January 1996, is to submit a new planning application for a larger, but it is claimed, less intrusive development in the same area. The planning application for the £6million 3.55MW hydro-scheme was due to go to Highland Council in early March, but a spokesman for Highland Light and Power said: "A new European directive about water levels has come in and we are making sure we follow that before submitting our application. However, the application should be going in soon." In an attempt to win over local opinion, the company has undertaken wide-ranging public consultation and has unveiled details of its proposed scheme, which, it claims, would power about 5,000 households. Its first proposal attracted 468 representations and led to a prolonged and expensive public inquiry in Gairloch in the autumn of 1997. The company originally proposed to dam three small lochs in an environmentally-scenic area on the Gairloch Estate. It withdrew its proposal in May 2000, after an initial report by Scottish Office reporter David Penman, which found that the scheme would have a significant effect on the landscape. Power company Hydro Electric, now Scottish and Southern Energy, lodged a separate planning application in September 1997, to construct a 4.5km 33KV overhead electricity line to connect the Shieldaig scheme with its grid. That led to a further public inquiry in April, 1998. Further proposals put forward by Scottish and Southern included the three original lochs in Shieldaig Forest and another in neighbouring Flowerdale Forest. The Scottish Executive has stressed that the public would have a full say on any plans for a major new hydro-electric scheme in Northern Scotland. The pledge came after Jim Forbes, chief executive of Scottish and Southern, said the firm had been in discussions with the Government about what would be the first such project in 40 years. Mr Forbes, who has not specified a location, said his firm was examining the possibility of a new scheme in the north of Scotland, possibly generating as much as 100megawatts of electricity. He said Scottish and Southern was actively exploring the planning aspects and had begun discussions with the Executive, which is the planning authority for power stations. The new scheme could be constructed for about £50million. An Executive spokeswoman said, "The Scottish Executive has had no formal application for consent from Scottish and Southern Energy for a hydro-electric dam. Any proposal for a hydro development over 1 MW capacity would be considered by Scottish ministers and would be subject to a rigorous public consultation process. The Scottish Executive is committed to promoting renewable energy in Scotland as part of our Climate Change programme." For more info, visit: Highland Light and Power Low Impact - A Gairloch-based website with local responses John Muir Trust

Cash for Cairngorms paths

Efforts to preserve paths around a Deeside estate in and outside the southern Cairngorms have been handed £511,000 of European and Scottish Natural Heritage funding. Mar Lodge Estate has been given the cash gift, which will cover the costs of five years of work on its lands, stretching into the mountain range. Money from the European Regional Development Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage makes up the grant, providing support for sustainable "green" tourism development. Work on the National Trust for Scotland-owned estate began in May 2000, and is set to continue to preserve pathways in the mountains. Mar Lodge Estate property manager Alister Clunas expressed delight at the award, which he said would see paths protected before erosion sets in, and those already heavily worn-down restored. Mr Clunas said: "Half a million pounds is a lot of money, and receiving confirmation of this grant has been tremendous news for us. We are working with the aim of restoring pathways which have been heavily eroded, and working proactively to ensure others are not allowed to deteriorate in the same way. "It is important to stress that what we are not doing here is creating lots of new pathways in the Cairngorms, but preserving existing routes for the future. In total, the work which we believe needs to be done to preserve the paths amounts to £1million - and this latest grant takes us a long way towards meeting that. Restoration work which began in the Coire Etchachan area in 2000 will continue, and will stretch to other areas throughout the estate." Initial footpath works which went ahead in May 2000 were carried out by teams of experts who lived on the mountain, in portable accommodation units airlifted to the site by helicopter. The estate is being made ready to take a pivotal role in the future Cairngorms National Park - with path redevelopment a major part of the estate's draw for tourists. National Trust for Scotland chief executive, Robin Pellew, said: "These awards represent both national and international affirmation of the trust's continued good conservation work throughout Scotland. They are vital contributions towards a total project of over £700,000 which is serving to help rejuvenate a tourist industry so ravaged by the terrible events of last year." Previous European Union assistance was provided by two separate awards from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. This funding began the development programme of healing scars created by the bulldozing of tracks, the provision of sustainable footpaths, the removal of deer fences and non-native trees in plantations, the provision of interpretation and the collation and researching of information on the estate's ecology and archaeology.

Two die in Glencoe fall

Two climbers have died after falling 900ft down a Scottish mountain. The man and woman, thought to have been roped together, were part of a party of five climbing Stob Coire nan Lochan in Glencoe. Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team were called to the scene after the alarm was raised, but the woman had already died. The man was airlifted to Belford hospital at Fort William, where he died later. Other members of the party were helped off the mountain by the rescue team. The names of the two dead climbers have not yet been released by the police. Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team leader Davy Gunn said the accident happened when the climbers were descending from the 3,500ft summit, at about 2pm on Saturday, March 30. The climbers had travelled to a point known as the Pearly Gates. "The man tried to grab the woman as she slipped and they both went over," Mr Gunn said. "The whole thing was witnessed by an independent climber who raised the alarm on his mobile. It was a particularly nasty accident." Mr Gunn said the weather deteriorated very quickly, with snow, wind and mist making the conditions treacherous. "The descent gets very narrow where the accident happened and the snow was really very hard and icy. In the poor visibility they strayed onto a part of the route that was much steeper and the fall occurred. We had a very fast response to the call-out and were on the scene in 25 minutes."

Big problem for SNH

A conservation agency has landed a giant-sized problem - how to stabilise a 21-tonne boulder on Scotland's highest peak. The mighty stone has lain in place on Ben Nevis since being deposited there by glaciers thousands of years ago. But soil and gravel which hold it in place have been eroded by wind and water and it now poses a considerable safety risk. "There is a serious risk that the boulder could roll or slide downhill and cause serious damage to anything in its way," said Debbie Greene, Scottish Natural Heritage's east Lochaber area officer. Glen Nevis ranger service has now commissioned contractors Corrie Construction to stabilise the boulder as part of a £7,293 project being financed by the agency and Highland Council. It will also see repairs to two aluminium bridges on the so-called tourist path up the 4,046ft mountain. Debbie added: "The bridges have been in place since the 60s but have suffered from heavy use, weathering and damage from fallen rocks. On a path which attracts so many people, it is important that any problems are dealt with before they affect the access of people to the mountain.'' Council ranger Jock MacGillivray has been keeping a close watch on the work that needs to be done. He said: "This rather unusual project has a dual purpose, to ensure the safety of the public and to protect the path passing below. It also has the added bonus that this mighty stone gets to remain where the glaciers deposited it thousands of years ago." The tourist path was constructed last century by the Victorians to sservice the weather observatory on the summit. But its use has grown and both agencies have fought a never-ending battle against erosion since 1994. Work is under way and scheduled for completion by the end of March.

Emergency clear up for Southern Upland Way

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has funded repairs to parts of the Southern Upland Way long distance path following damage caused by wet and windy weather over the winter. Scottish Borders Council (SBC) has recently finished the repairs, at a cost of almost £20,000, thanks to a 75% emergency grant of almost £15,000 given by SNH. The money has paid for repairs to two bridges, one at Abbey St Bathans and the other at Blackhouse, near St Mary's Loch, and track repairs at Crosscleuch, near St Mary's Loch, and at Woodheads, near Lauder. The Southern Upland Way, from Portpatrick on the west coast to Cockburnspath on the east, was Britain's first official coast-to-coast footpath. The approximately 140km long section in the Borders is regularly inspected by SBC rangers and repaired under a three year management and development plan but recent unexpected heavy damage has meant SNH stepping in. Chris Badenoch, SNH operational manager at Galashiels, said: ''The Southern Upland Way is a well used route. Families use it for short Sunday walks as well as the traditional long distance walker and it is important to make sure that it is safe to use. ''When SBC approached us for money to mend sections we were pleased to be able to help, so that locals and visitors can continue to enjoy the natural heritage on this route.' Keith Robeson, senior ranger with SBC, added: ''We are grateful to SNH for the cost of these emergency repairs. The recently finished repairs mean that this important part of life in the Borders is up to strength again.''

Fears for future of Pentlands

The future of the Pentland Hills Regional Park is in doubt after one of its main funders threatened to pull out. Midlothian Council, which provides almost half the cash for the 22,000-acre park, says it can no longer afford the cost. The growing popularity of the Pentlands led to the regional park being set up to protect the hills from being damaged by the ever increasing legions of visitors. But the question over its future today raised fears that the beauty of the Pentlands would be destroyed without that vital protection. Midlothian has said the only way it can continue to support the Pentlands park is if the total bill for managing the hills is cut. Otherwise, it will have to walk away completely. But it is feared that even just cuts to the park's £300,000 annual running costs would mean making rangers redundant, or spending less on nature conservation , educational work and facilities, such as the Flotterstone visitor centre, footpaths and signs. Each year, more than half a million people visit the park, which includes the main ridge of the Pentland Hills, two smaller country parks and Midlothian Ski Centre. It is a major draw for walkers and mountain bikers but is also an important farming area and has swathes of valuable wildlife habitat. Its 12 staff liaise with farmers over issues including access, oversee maintenance work and conservation projects, and look after the safety of walkers and run educational events. Set up in 1986, it is funded by Edinburgh City Council, which contributes 52 per cent of the cost, Midlothian 45 per cent and West Lothian three per cent. But Midlothian Council has just had to make more than £3 million of cuts in its budget and is looking at options to reduce spending. One is its contribution to the hills, which this year will be £140,000. The authority has given the statutory one year's notice of intention to pull out, although that could be rescinded if a new funding formula can be found. Councillor Adam Montgomery, Midlothian's depute leader and a member of the joint committee which runs the park, said: "We are going to be looking at reducing our costs in relation to the park, but there's every possibility that we will continue funding it, possibly at a reduced level." He said he did not believe Edinburgh would agree to pick up Midlothian's share of the bill, so any new funding formula would have to mean each partner paying less. "We are going to explore every avenue ." But he added: "The option of withdrawing remains." Asked if a new funding formula would mean cuts, he said: "There's no doubt about that. It could be staff reductions." He said the ski centre, which is run separately, would not be affected. But cuts could hit any or all aspects of the park's work. Edinburgh councillor and fellow committee member Daphne Sleigh said it would be "nonsense" to expect Edinburgh to bail out Midlothian, but claimed cuts were also unacceptable. "The safety of the public would be put at risk," she said. "Midlothian needs to be jolted into some kind of common sense here. To lose one of our major partners would be a disaster." Committee chairman Councillor Jack O'Donnell said: "Withdrawal would be the worst-case scenario but I hope it won't come to that. We've got a year to sort this out and I'm hopeful we can find options which wouldn't mean cuts in the service.

Cairngorm funicular breakdown

The new Cairngorm funicular railway has suffered another breakdown with passengers being evacuated from its carriages. The incident happened on March 29 when around 1,500 skiers were out on the slopes. Passengers on the mid-afternoon funicular service had their journey interrupted unexpectedly when the carriages stopped as a result of a fault being detected. An attempt to start them via the auxiliary motors was unsuccessful and, after some 30 minutes, it was decided, in the interests of passenger comfort, to evacuate both carriages. Although the carriages were close to the middle station one carriage stopped on a sector of the track some 20 feet above ground level and, as a result, passengers were evacuated using the safety slings and harnesses. On a positive note, the carriage attendants carried out the evacuation smoothly and efficiently. Many of the skiers and snowboarders opted to take the more traditional way downhill via Coire Cas and then walk down from the middle station, but around 40 non-skiers were looked after in the restaurant area at the Ptarmigan before the could be brought down to the Base Station. Some beginner skiers who had been skiing at the top of the mountain were also inconvenienced, having to wait for the Funicular to resume operations late in the afternoon. A spokesman for operators CairnGorm Mountain Ltd said, ''At no time was anyone in danger and arrangements were made to bring passengers from both carriages back to the Base Station by ground transport. "Around 40 non-skiers were at the top station when the stoppage occurred and they were moved into the warmth and comfort of the Ptarmigan Restaurant, now nearing completion, where staff looked after them and provided them with refreshments. "After evacuating the carriages, a successful attempt was made to move them to their respective stations using their auxiliary motors. After testing their systems again, both carriages went back into operation, using the auxiliary drives, and all remaining passengers were brought back to the Base Station via the funicular railway. "Clearly, we are concerned that this has happened and, particularly, that people have had their visit disrupted because of an electrical failure. We offer our sincere apologies to everyone involved, including those skiers who were unable to ski back to the Day Lodge and were left with no other option but to walk for the last part of the way." "Unfortunately, with all forms of transport, stoppages can occur but, fortunately, these have been very infrequent during the three months in which we have been operating. We have systems in place to minimise such happenings and inconvenience to our passengers and, particularly during this commissioning phase for the funicular, we are working hard to try to eradicate such faults completely."

Soldiers survive avalanche

Eight soldiers on a winter mountain skills exercise have escaped without serious injury after being swept away by an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands. Three of the men were unable to walk after apparently suffering spinal injuries but none was thought to be serious. The others were described as "walking wounded". At one point, there were fears that the soldiers could be hit by a large slab of snow left hanging over them after they were swept hundreds of feet to the foot of Coire an Lochain, near the Cairn Gorm ski area near Aviemore. The alarm was raised by one of the soldiers using a mobile phone. Three helicopters - one from RAF Lossiemouth and one from the Royal Navy detachment at HMS Gannet, Prestwick - were involved in the rescue response, along with a civilian air ambulance based in Inverness. The RAF mobilised its mountain rescue team from Kinloss, comprising up to 30 members. The Cairngorm team and instructors from the Glenmore Lodge Outdoor Training Centre teams were also called in. They were already out on the mountain on an endurance exercise. After being assessed at the scene, the soldiers needing hospital treatment were flown to Glenmore Lodge. The air ambulance then flew them 40 miles to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Police said one solder had suffered head injuries, one back injuries and two leg injuries. RAF spokesman Mike Mulford said: "The impression we have is that this is one of those things that can and does happen, a sudden, spontaneous avalanche which does pose huge threats to anyone caught in its path." An Army spokesman said the eight soldiers were from 662 Squadron 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, based at RAF Wattisham, near Ipswich. The unit's pet dog - a black spaniel - also escaped from the avalanche.

There's treasure in them thar hills

A community arts project, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Arts Council and National Museums of Scotland and drawing on archaeology, local history and the natural environment of Southern Scotland will add intrigue to walking on the Southern Upland Way this year. Thirteen kists containing hoards of waymerks - small lead and copper tokens - have been concealed at remote locations along the Southern Upland Way. Although concealed there is no need to dig and the kists are close to the track. They will remain there from April to the end of October 2002. People are invited to walk the Way, or sections of it, to find the kists and help themselves to a waymerk. The merks have been designed by Borders artist John Behm who conceived the idea of the project. The heads side shows a pattern of ancient earthworks which might occur anywhere in the Southern Uplands. The tails sides are different for each of the thirteen hoards. They refer to different aspects of living, making and livelihood in this challenging environment over the six millennia of its human occupation. Though they are not of valuable metal, each is a miniature work of art. John is curious about the 'erotic life' of the merks. ''I imagine that some will be moved from kist to kist along the way, some will go home with their finders, and others may be scattered. They'll go with anybody,'' he said. Each kist, made from a variety of different materials, holding the merks is made by a different local artist from along the route. The Scottish Borders Sculptors Collective and Dumfries & Galloway Arts Association have co-operated in their creation and installation. The project has the backing of SNH, the Scottish Arts Council (through the Awards for All scheme) and the National Museums of Scotland

250kms of new paths planned for Tweeddale

The sound of marching feet and horses' hooves could once again be heard on the routes used hundreds of years ago by Roman armies, cattle drovers and the reivers who robbed and pillaged their way across the Borders hills. The Tweed Trails project has just published a feasibility study on extensive plans for an integrated network of paths in the Tweed catchment area. Local communities in Tweeddale and the British Horse Society (Scotland) started the project which is now being led by the Southern Uplands Partnership. The first stage of the project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Paths for All Partnership, is the feasibility study. Specialist consultants surveyed all the proposed routes and produced costed specifications for the work needed to restore public access to historic tracks and create new paths where none existed before. In total the project aims to develop 250km of paths, nearly all of which will be multi-use for walkers, cyclists and riders. Community paths around West Linton, Peebles, Innerleithen and Broughton and Biggar are proposed alongside longer paths from Hawick to Newcastleton and to Dumfries and Galloway. Work will include signposting, drainage and construction of new bridges across burns and rivers. Self-closing bridlegates will also be installed to make access easier for walkers and riders, and allay farmers' fears of livestock straying if gates are inadvertently left open. Barbara Kelly, chair of the Southern Uplands Partnership, is delighted with the study results. She said: ''A lot of hard work has gone into preparing the ground for this study. The results show that our plans are not only possible but that with funding from interested parties, they will become a reality.'' Following the positive feasibility study, Tweed Forum has helped secure the first stage of approval of further significant funding through Heritage Lottery Fund, final confirmation of which is anticipated by June 2002. Additional funds are currently being sought through Forest Enterprise, SNH and South of Scotland European Partnership. Chris Badenoch, SNH's operational manager for the Borders, added: ''This network of paths will be a valuable resource for local people but Tweed Trails should also attract more tourists to the Scottish Borders, generating a welcome boost to the local economy.'' Tweed Trails started off as a series of community projects and local people will continue to be involved through physical work such as erection of waymarks and signposts, monitoring of route usage and promoting use of routes by local people.

Nevis £100,000 path appeal

A £100,000 appeal has been launched to pay for the upgrading of the Allt a'Mhulinn approach to Ben Nevis. The Lochaber Mountain Access Group (LMAG) is campaigning for a better path line on the popular route from Torlundy, near Fort William, to the CIC hut and has already raised '2000. Local climber and guide Alan Kimber said, ''We are sick and tired of waiting for the public purse to be bled on our behalf. We are aiming to do the job on our own. ''All of you out there who climb on the North Face of Ben Nevis please search your conscience and wallet and please help. We make a mess of the track, so we should fix it. If you can offer path-building skills in lieu of cash we would also like to here from you,'' he added. In recent years climbers and walkers have been forced away from the golf course approach and the route via the distillery is little used. As a result, many hikers still park on the A82 trunk road in order to use the more direct approach across the golf course. This route is dangerous due to the fast blind bends on the road at this point and there have also been instances of climbers being approached by golfers, annoyed at them walking across the course. Forest Enterprise, local climbers, guides and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) negotiated for access to the forest and a new climbers' car park (The North Face car park) was built. At the time the MCofS and the local Highland Council rangers said that the line of the new path was not the most direct and in future efforts should look towards improving the line of the track to make it more direct. At present it is necessary for most people to walk for almost a kilometre up and down hill before gaining the upward track. LMAG has identified what it considers is a new more logical and direct approach to the Allt a'Mhuilinn and are consulting with landowners in the area. All donations should be made payable to LMAG and sent to Dave Wrigglesworth at West Coast Outdoor Leisure, High St, Fort William, PH33 6AD. Progress reports will be posted on Alan Kimber's website at

Bothy news

The bothy at Glas Allt Shiel on the Balmoral Estate is available to use once again after vandals smashed windows, broke furniture and setting fire to the rafters in the upstairs sleeping area in December. The Dundee University Rucksacks Club, which maintains the bothy, said emergency repairs have been carried out and a full work party is planned soon. Glen Pean bothy will be closed for one week from May 25, 2002, to allow woodworm treatment to be carried out. Users should be aware of the possibility of residual fumes for a few weeks after that. Suradalen bothy has been damaged by a small fire in the living room. Repairs will be undertaken to make good charred panels and smoke damage. The MBA Management Committee has rubber stamped the decision of the Eastern Highlands area committee not to go ahead with a new bothy project at Slugain Lodge for environmental reasons. The MBA has been forced to abandon the bothy at Manquhill due to ongoing problems with vandalism. A work party will be held to repair damage. Uidhe on Taransay - closed while the BBC filmed its Castaway series on the island - remains unavailable for the time being. Strathan has been cleaned up after a couple and their animals ''squatted'' there and is once again open for use. Following last year's foot and mouth epidemic which forced the cancellation of many work parties, a large number of work parties is planned for this year. For more info, log on to