Check out the video under “Podcasts” called “The lost villages of Skye.” We visited these two cleared villages a couple of weekends ago and were impressed by the atmosphere of the places, touched by the resonances of the past. Taking away the emotions of the Highland Clearances it was also a great walk for what was a pretty grey and dull day, not really suitable for the high tops…
Archive for July, 2009
A copy of the letter sent to Ramblers Scotland Area Chairs - please feel free to pass on the information to anyone interested:
“I would like to inform the Area Chairs of Ramblers Scotland about the action taken by the Scottish Council Executive Committee in response to the decision taken on 30 May by the Board of Trustees of Ramblers GB to cut the budget of Ramblers Scotland by 79%.
When the Chair of the Board informed me of the decision, I told him that it was totally unacceptable and I called an emergency meeting of the Scottish Council Executive Committee (SCEC) who agreed with me and decided to set up a working party to prepare a submission to the Board. The detailed submission, containing a proposal for a fairer Scottish share of the savings required to balance the Ramblers GB budget, was sent to all Board members.
I also demanded that Rodney Whittaker, Chair of the Board, and Tom Franklin, Chief Executive of Ramblers GB, should meet with the SCEC working group. That meeting took place on 8 July but the Chair and the Chief Executive made it absolutely clear that they were standing by the Board decision of 30 May.
At a subsequent meeting of the working group on 21 July, we decided to recommend that serious consideration be given to the possibility of an independent organisation in Scotland and we shall be reporting this recommendation to the SCEC on 17 August with a view to taking appropriate action.
I would be grateful if you would be good enough to forward this message to all group chairs in your area so that they know about the action being taken by the SCEC. I am concerned about reports of members and even groups of members resigning or threatening to do so. I can well understand the anger at the Board decision but it is very important at this critical time for us to remain united and fight together to ensure the existence of an effective organisation in Scotland which will represent the interests of walkers.
Please therefore do what you can to get this message across to members in your area.
With best wishes
Convener of Ramblers Scotland
Following a very angry meeting with Tom Franklin, CEO of The Ramblers and Rodney Whittaker, chair of the Board of Trustees, the working group of the Ramblers Scotland Executive comittee, which I’m part of along with Dennis Canavan and Dick Balharry, had another meeting and we decided to advise the Scottish committee that the best course forward was independence. There is a meeting of the Ramblers Scotland Executive committee in August and the situation will be fully discussed then.
At the moment I would advise all Ramblers members to sit tight, bear with us during this difficult time, and look forward to a time when Ramblers Scotland won’t be dictated to by a bunch of individuals who know very little about the workings of devolution and who don’t seem to understand that Scotland is a nation in its own right, with a different government and different laws. Ramblers England (or perhaps I should call it Ramblers London) can then get on with their inner-city walking promotions while those of us here in Scotland can get on with what Dave Morris and his team have done so well over the years, helping protect the wild landscapes of Scotland and making sure we have good access to it.
In Wales the members are not taking things lying down either. They are trying to call an Extraordinary General Meeting in which they can propose a motion of no confidence in CEO Tom Franklin, who really does appear to be out of his depth in all of this. I would suggest they change that to a motion of no confidence in Tom Franklin and the entire Board of Trustees. And there also needs to be a wide ranging financial audit to find out how The Ramblers got into such a mess in the first place.
I wonder how much it cost to change the name from the Ramblers Association to The Ramblers?
Curlews were warbling from the mud flats at the end of the loch and on the water a great raft of black-headed gulls screeched incessantly. Beyond the old lazybeds below the farmhouse peewits dived and fluttered in that mad, acrobatic way of theirs.
I had walked over the hill on a fine old track from the Trinafour road, my only company the odd scraggly looking blackface – for this was sheep country. Indeed, the building that sheltered me from the breeze was once probably a sheep farm and as I walked along the south shore of Loch Errochty earlier in the day I passed a number of sheep pens, all in various stages of disintegration.
I wondered how many farmsteads and shielings were now hidden from sight, below the blue waters of the loch that looks so natural in its fold in the hills between Beinn a’ Chuallaich and Sron Chon, for Loch Errochty is a man-made reservoir, created in 1957 as part of phase two of the Tummel hydro-electric power scheme.
A dam was built at the head of Glen Errochty to capture the waters of Allt Sléibh and the Allt Ruighe nan Saorach, which both rise in the high ground to the west of the head of the loch. Other small streams flow directly off Beinn na Cuallaich which rises just to the south.
It was hard to believe that I was looking at an industrial landscape, and I wondered if I’d feel so sanguine about gazing across at a forest of wind turbines. I don’t think so. Here at the western end of the loch, far removed from its concrete dam above Trinafour, there was still a great sense of wildness and the loch appears as an integral, and natural part of this mountainous landscape that rises between Loch Ericht and Glen Garry.
The hill that rose behind me was another clue to the legacy of sheep farming in the area. Beinn a’ Chuallaich is the hill of herding, and is a Corbett. It had been my intention to simply climb the hill from Drumglas on Dunalastair Water but I had noticed on the map a hill track that ran over the hill’s Meall na Moine outlier and down to Loch Errochty. From the old farmstead at Ruighe nan Saorach, on the shores of the loch, another track ran over the hill and back to Drumglas offering a fine hill circuit of 11 or 12 miles or so, just the job for a fine early summer’s Sunday.
Beinn a’ Chuallaich, which rises above the Perthshire village of Kinloch Rannoch, falls just short of the three thousand foot marker, and lacks any real individual feature that would make it special. As part of a longer circuit it would offer a fine vantage point for Schiehallion in the south, and out along Loch Rannoch, the old road to the isles, to the hills of the west.
I had left the car by the roadside above the forest and found the track that eased its way north over the Meall na Moine and then down to Loch Errochty’s shoreline. It was like stepping back in time. A vintage tractor-of-sorts stood by the old sheep pens, its tyres embedded in the earth, the grass and bracken fronds growing into its engine. I’ve no doubt it has stood there since the late fifties when these sheep farms were abandoned in favour of flooding the glen.
All the way along the shoreline track the signs of man’s past occupation was evident – the old bridges across the streams; the ruckles of stones that betrayed the whereabouts of the old shielings; the lichen-tinged drystone walls that still tilted uphill from the shore; the ruined farmsteads. It was only when I climbed high above the old buildings at Ruighe nan Saorach that I could escape the feeling that this was a landscape that had been emptied and abandoned in our incessant need for energy. I wonder what the next chapter holds for areas like this?
It didn’t take long to climb south to Beinn a’Chullaich and from its tall summit cairn I returned to the broad footpath that offered an easy descent route, down to Drumglass by the twinkling music of the burns running down to Dunalastair Water. Only a couple of miles on the quiet road were left to complete a grand hill circuit that gave me a little glimpse of times gone by.
Photo: Approaching Loch Errochty with a red deer antler in my pack. My collection is gradually growing…
I left the meeting at the Ramblers Scotland office in Milnathort today with a very heavy heart. The office will shortly close and the bulk of the staff, the most effective part of the Ramblers organisation in the past 20 years, is now scattered to the winds. The only good news to come out of the meeting we had with Ramblers London-office officials Tom Franklin, Rodney Whittaker and Campaigns Director Keith Roberts was that Dave Morris is, for the moment, still there.
It was a very angry meeting. Dennis Canavan, Ramblers Scotland convenor, was furious that he hadn’t been consulted at all and that there had been no response to a very lengthy submission he had sent to Ramblers GB chairman Rodney Whitaker. Likewise, Ramblers Scotland President Dick Balharry had emailed the chairman, chief exec Tom Franklin and the Ramblers treasurer and hadn’t had a reply from any of them. Dick, quite correctly, described their attitude as ‘arrogant.’
It was also obvious to me that the three Ramblers officials hadn’t the slightest idea of what devolution was all about. Rodney Whittaker made the anaIogy of a large commercial company setting up regional offices. When times got tough it was the regional offices that were closed. I suggested that was a bad analogy, and Scottish members see the Milnathort office as their ‘national’ office. Ramblers GB have their London office close to the centre of politics. Likewise, it is essential that Ramblers Scotland have their office close to the Scottish centre of political power, not Westminster but Edinburgh. Scotland is a nation, a different country, with different laws, customs and systems. I think, on reflection, I was making the argument for an indepedent Scottish Ramblers, and that’s how it will shape up I suspect.
The guys we spoke to today live in a metropolitan bubble, don’t seem to want to understand the needs of those of us who live in Scotland and those who travel to Scotland to climb the hills. The new-Labour, PC-correct Ramblers appear to be more concerned about inner-city walking groups and walking for health projects, because these are part funded by Government. In essence, the Ramblers are now doing the work of the Government Health departments. That’s not why I joined Ramblers and that’s not why I have long supported the work of Dave Morris and his team, the best assets the Ramblers have had for years.
I now have to reflect on my own membership and if, and how, I should best help campaign to create an independent Ramblers Scotland, or some such beast. I’m sure many of you will support such a project and the only way the London-based board will begin to understand the feeling in Scotland is when resignations flood in and support is given to the Pheonix that rises from the ashes of this mis-managed affair. I’ll keep you posted…
I’ve spent the morning saying sad farewells to most of the Ramblers Scotland office staff, a fantastically talented bunch of people who have built up a huge knowledge and experience of Scottish conservation politics over a long period of time. Now, on the whim of a London-centric board of The Ramblers, most of them are gone. What a waste of talent.
I’m relieved that the Director of Ramblers Scotland, Dave Morris, is still there for the moment. I’m also hopeful that one of the other staff members will apply for the other job, for the sake of continuity if nothing else. The plan is for both of these new officers to report to some Director of Campaigning in London who, you can be sure, will have little idea of Scots countryside and landscape legislation. Indeed, I’m tempted to ask what campaigning takes place from the London office of The Ramblers at all? Since the days of Alan Mattingly (ex-director) there has been an appreciable fall-off in the profile of the Ramblers, and even the redoubtable Kate Ashbrook (ex-chair) seems to do all her campaigning through the relatively obscure Open Spaces Society.
I wonder how much it cost the Charity to change it’s public profile recently - what was the charge for coming up with the revolutionary name change from the Ramblers Association to The Ramblers? How much did it cost The Ramblers to produce their recent book of British views? How much does it cost the charity to sell their members’ magazine WALK through the newsagents of Britain? And the biggest question of all - what is the bill for the Get Walking- Keep Walking urban walks programme? What’s the raison d’etre of that programme - surely it’s the job of the Government to fund and encourage inner-city exercise programmes, not the job of The Ramblers? While they’re spending their resources on that project there is a very important access appeal coming up shortly which could change the face of Scotland’s Land Reform Act; wind factories are being built on wild land throughout the country (you rarely hear a sniff of protest about windfarms from Ramblers London) and good ‘ole Donald Trump continues to try and keep people out of his golf club development in the north-east. The Ramblers need to be fighting all these issues, and they can’t be fought from London.
I’m meeting Ramblers boss Tom Franklin and the chairman of that London board, Rodney Whittaker, next week. I certainly won’t mince my words and I want to tell Franklin that he and his southern cohorts are in grave danger of bringing about the demise of the Ramblers as we have known it. The legacy of that once proud organisation has benefited all of us who go to the hills or walk in the countryside. The reputation of that once proud charity, which dates back to the Kinder Trespass, is now in tatters. Members groups from throughout England, Wales and Scotland are hugely concerned about the London-centric attitude of the Chief Executive and his southern board and I’m not sure the Ramblers can recover from this recent bout of mis-management.