IT’S eleven years since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was published ,the hard-won legislation that gives the public a right of responsible access, a codification, if you like, of the traditional right to roam that Scottish walkers and mountaineers have enjoyed for generations.
Even after eleven years the legislation doesn’t please everyone of course, and there are still hotbeds of discontent amongst some of Scotland’s landowners, many of whom have been trying to interpret the term “responsible access” to suit their own purposes.
A few years ago the huge metal gate that once barricaded the track to the Cairn Mairg hills in Glen Lyon had become infamous amongst regular hill-goers. A notice board, pinned to the gate, spouted forth all sorts of conservationist gobbledygook about why people shouldn’t walk on the hills during the stag shooting season, the hind culling season, the deer calving season and the lambing season. Many walkers interpreted all that as simply “keep out”.
Well, the gate is still there, together with a plethora of signs, and some leaflets are available for walkers to take away and study. In general the estate appears happy to conform by the new access law, but have also made up some rules of their own that are certainly not in the spirit of the legislation. For example, the leaflet orders you to “walk clockwise and stay on the recognised route.” It then goes on to tell you to “stay out of all the corries and glens.”
It is a pity that the Chestill Estate has seen fit to try and impose its own rules on walkers, rules that have no legitimacy under the Land Reform Act legislation, for the high level walk around the Munros of Carn Gorm, 3376ft, Meall Garbh, 3176ft, Carn Mairg, 3415ft, and Meall nan Aighean (sometimes referred to as Creag Mhor), 3218ft offers one of the best expeditions in the area, a walk of about 11 miles. Go and enjoy it. Act responsibly and if you experience undue harassment by estate staff report them to the police.
My mate Steve and I had arranged to meet in Glen Lyon with the intention of walking at least part of the route. The weather forecast suggested a brief lull in the gale force winds and driving rain that had been battering Scotland all week and we knew that if the weather really closed in we could escape from the route by descending through one of the corries back to the glen – despite the local Chesthill rules. (This was well outside the stag stalking season)
As it was we didn’t have to. What wind there was had torn great patches of blue in the cloud layers and thin drifting mists only enhanced the views up and down the length of Glen Lyon. Carn Gorm was snow-capped, and after a long pull over rising moorland and the final steep pull to the summit, we delighted in the prospect of the high-level walk that lay before us.
The broad, rolling nature of these Carn Mairg ridges allow you to stride out purposefully and navigation is made simple, even in foul weather, by the rusting uprights of an old boundary fence that march their companionable way over the tops. We used them to good effect, for the spells of glistening, clear weather were interspersed with curtains of black cloud that obliterated the views across the deep, tree-lined chasm of Glen Lyon towards the Ben Lawers hills and to the north where the wide open landscape rolls on towards the broad swell of mountains beyond Loch Rannoch. During the clear spells nearby Schiehallion stood out supreme, not as the bold conical shape as it’s so often portrayed, but as a long whale-backed ridge.
It was on Carn Mairg itself that we might have come to grief. The fenceposts had lulled us into a false sense of security but a sixth sense convinced me we were heading the wrong way, and none too soon. A check with the map and compass confirmed it. A steep crag lies immediately below the summit slopes and it’s best to traverse east for a bit from the summit cairn, before descending grassy slopes down to the high bealach above Coire Chearcaill. Our little error was hardly serious, but it did mean we had to negotiate a slope of boulders that were covered in wet, slobbery snow; more ankle-threatening than life-threatening.
Double-topped Meall nan Aighean was our final Munro, the summit of which is the rock capped north-east top. With black storm clouds gathering in the distant recesses of Glen Lyon we were keen not to outstay our welcome. Taking issue with hostile landowners is one thing; riding your luck with Biera, the Celtic queen of winter, is another thing entirely. A quick trot down the grassy ridge on the south side of the Allt Coir Chearcaill soon dropped us back at the footpath by the Invervar Burn. We beat the rain by minutes.