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Tartan Tories

As the Scottish Referendum approaches, I find myself increasingly irritated by the political spin presented by both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. This is an example of something I think is particularly dishonest.


A persuasive argument put forward by the SNP is that independence means that Scotland will get the government it votes for. The point is continually made that Conservative governments have been imposed on Scotland for many years although Scottish voters have not elected a majority of Tory MPs since the 1950s. To my mind, this argument is the most compelling reason for voting ‘yes’ in the forthcoming referendum.

Alongside the argument for independence is the spin that independence will mean that Scotland can create a ‘fairer society’, with the implication that this will benefit poorer members of society, although those making the argument are very careful to avoid making any hard commitments here.  There is also the implication that current politicians are the best people to deliver this ‘fairer society’ after independence and policies such as the abolition of university fees and prescription charges are contributors to this.

The SNP’s PR have done a good job here in convincing people of their ‘fairness’ credentials but if we look a bit deeper, what we see are policies that benefit the salaried middle classes rather than poorer members of our society. The SNP have their roots in areas that were previously Tory and the epithet ‘Tartan Tories’ is, I believe still valid. Here are some examples of middle-class policies:

1.     Freezing of council tax. The more expensive your home, the more you save. Funded by cutting council services many of which are predominantly used by the old, sick and disabled. Benefit claimants did not pay council tax anyway so they gain nothing from this. This policy has been copied in England by the current coalition government.

2.     Abolition of university fees. Universities are dominated by middle class students so the savings accrue mostly to them and their parents. Funded by cutting college places that are mostly taken up by students from poorer backgrounds. In England there has been some (not enough) targeting of funding to poorer students.

3.     Abolition of prescription charges. Only 10% of people paid prescription charges and most of them could afford to do so. Loss of revenue to the health service that could be used to improve healthcare in general.

4.     Reducing corporation tax (a stated SNP policy in an independent Scotland). Predominantly will benefit business owners, many of whom may not even live in Scotland.

You may or may not be in favour of these policies but it is dishonest to suggest that these policies are contributors to a fairer society. The current SNP government has penalised the poor and those on benefits to try to preserve the incomes of the salaried middle classes.  This may be a good political strategy but it certainly isn’t fair.

Of course, independence is not about re-electing the current Government although I imagine they will reinvent themselves as an alternative political party in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Perhaps they will be the new ‘Scottish Conservatives’?

Disclaimer: I am a home owner and require regular medication, which I no longer pay for, so I have benefited from the current Scottish government policies.

A new windfarm is proposed between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. This will have profound effects on the local landscape and my objection to this development is here.  Please join me in objecting to this inappropriate industrial development – feel free to reuse and amend any text from here.

More information on the MCS website.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to object to the proposals by Talladh a Bheithe Wind Farm Ltd to erect 24 wind turbines on moorland between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. The basis of my objection is the negative visual impact of these turbines, the damage to wild land that will ensue and the effects on tourism in the local communities.

Scotland’s wild landscape is a unique asset and I am disappointed that the Government’s encouragement of wind farms in remote and beautiful areas does not seem to recognise this. This area has a particular resonance for me as it was in 1967, aged 16, where I climbed Schiehallion, my first Munro. The visual impact of a major industrial site from this summit and the neighbouring hills will irrevocably ruin the landscape for generations to come. It is not just the local hills that will be affected – the outlooks from the Ben Alder hills, the Glencoe hills and the Glen Lyon hills will all be affected.

We have seen, since I started going to the hills, a very welcome and significant increase in people exercising in and enjoying the Scottish Landscape. Not only is this beneficial for the individuals themselves, it has also led to a major expansion of tourism in the Highlands. We have, without doubt, a health crisis in Scotland and anything that can be done to encourage exercise should be done. Hill walking will be rather less attractive to future generations when the view is blighted by these wind turbines. And this, of course, is likely to have serious effects on our developing tourist industry.

Of course, the problem with wind farms is not simply the turbines themselves. The access roads in fact do far more damage to the land and, given the climate, the ensuing scars take tens or even hundreds of years to repair. Furthermore, because of the damage to peatland caused by road construction and the excavations for the turbines themselves, the study by Aberdeen University showed that the carbon saved by the use of wind energy rather than fossil fuels is often negative because of the loss of the peat’s carbon sink.

Finally, I note that there is considerable local opposition to this development by local tourist businesses. Small businesses are far more effective than multinationals in creating local employment and, critically, retaining and using the profits of that employment in the local community. A loss of even a small proportion of the tourists in this area as a result of the landscape destructions may make a significant proportion of existing businesses unviable. I believe that the Government have a greater responsibility to those living in Scotland than they do to multinational power companies and that everything possible should be done to ensure that local initiative is not stifled by inappropriate industrial development.

Yours sincerely

Professor Ian Sommerville

Eating the Highlands

Just after I finished this year’s TGO Challenge, my wife had a knee operation and, as part of her recuperation, we planned a short holiday in the Highlands. After a rather unfortunate post-pub nocturnal experience with midges in Mull, Anne insists on indoor plumbing rather than a tent so we planned this around places that had a reputation for good food. It was a pottering and eating rather than a walking holiday as Anne’s knee was still pretty fragile.

You might think that good food in the Highlands is hard to come by and 20 years ago, you would have been right. But things have now completely changed and lots of places now offer great food based on local ingredients – fish and shellfish, lamb and venison.

We started in Arisaig at the Old Library and Lodge in Arisaig where our room had a view of Eigg.

Eigg from OL-1

Eigg from the Old Library, Arisaig

We stayed here for two nights – highlights were the smoked mackerel cheesecake and perfectly cooked lamb. Highly recommended – good food, comfortable rooms and friendly people.

Smoked mackeral cheesecake (OL)-1

Smoked mackerel cheesecake

Lamb Cutlets-1

Lamb cutlets

We had a day trip to Moidart as I fancied checking out Acharacle as a starting point for a future TGO Challenge (It didn’t really appeal). We stopped at the Glenuig Inn for an excellent Cullen Skink and were intimidated by this monster on the way to Kentra Bay.

The Monster Midge

The Monster Midge

On our last day, when we planned to take the ferry to Skye from Mallaig, we came down to breakfast and, amazingly, met a couple of Challengers, last seen in Mar Lodge. Graham and Marion  were also heading to Skye to take the ferry to the Outer Isles. Unfortunately, CalMac cancelled all ferries from Mallaig so instead of pottering around Skye with plenty time, we had a long drive round to Kyle to cross the bridge.

In Skye, we were heading for the Three Chimneys restaurant in Colbost but stopped to take an obligatory picture at Sligachan.

Glen Sligachan

Glen Sligachan

We also stopped at Mor Books at Struan for excellent coffee and cake – if you like older mountaineering books this is place to go – they have a great selection and I bought a couple of classics that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. They are also just opposite Cioch Clothing who make made to measure outdoor clothing. I have one of their jackets which is generally excellent although it has the general problem of Analogy fabric of leaking in driving rain.

The Three Chimneys was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. It has a great reputation for its food and offers luxurious (and ridiculously expensive) accommodation.  But we decided to push the boat out and booked for dinner, bed and breakfast. I must say that the accommodation was really first-class but, to put it mildly, we were disappointed in the quality of the food.

Dinner started well – my starter of West Coast Fruits de Mer was fabulous. Langoustine, crab, prawns and oysters. One of the oysters had a dressing that looked a bit like green slime but which was minty and wonderful.

West Coast Fruits de Mer

West Coast Fruits de Mer

Sadly, however, it was downhill from then on. My main course of ‘River Esk Sea Trout’ was cooked on a griddle and, frankly, burnt. The taste of charred skin overwhelmed the delicate taste of the sea trout. Anne, who is not vegetarian, didn’t really fancy either the fish or the meat on the menu so decided on open lasagne of seasonal vegetables. This was underwhelming, to say the least. It was simply a few vegetables with a couple of sheets of pasta – a classic example of an unimaginative vegetarian dish.

One of the Three Chimney’s signature dishes is its marmalade pudding. Anne ordered this and I had a variant – marmalade pudding soufflé. Mine was dreadful – soggy and claggy and Anne wasn’t really impressed with hers either. Not quite a school dinner puddling but not far off.

To be fair, when we complained about the food, they knocked off the price of a bottle of wine but that’s not really the point. We wanted and were willing to pay for outstanding food. What we got was the poorest food of our trip.

We had a trip around Skye in clearing weather where the Quirang looked very dramatic. Then back across the Skye Bridge to Plockton, where we stayed in the Plockton Hotel.

The Quirang, Skye

The Quirang, Skye

From the Skye Bridge-1

Eilean Ban and the narrows of Skye

Again, we had a great room with a view over the bay. Dinner was simple and fishy – queen scallops with bacon followed by herring in oatmeal. The best of Highland ingredients cooked simply really is better than more elaborate creations.

Plockton view-1

Our view from the Plockton Hotel

Queen scallops and bacon

Queen scallops and bacon

Herring in oatmeal

Herring in oatmeal

From Plockton, we had a short trip to Applecross. Another day where early mist cleared in the sunshine at Loch Kishorn.

Loch Kishorn

Loch Kishorn

We arrived in Applecross in time for lunch at the Potting Shed. Lots of people have heard of the Applecross Inn but the Potting Shed is an unknown gem – their dressed crab salad was probably the best I’ve ever had.  Well worth a visit and we’d have been happy to eat here in the evening.

Dressed crab (Potting Shed)-1

Dressed crab salad – the Potting Shed, Applecross

We were staying in the Applecross Inn, where we met old friends Peter and Alison. The Applecross Inn is a great pub which has been central to the revival of the community in Applecross. Judy Fish (very appropriate name) took over the Inn 25 years ago and has created a wonderful pub and restaurant. Rooms are neither large nor luxurious but are very comfortable and the overall atmosphere and welcome is fabulous. Fish (of course) is their speciality and Jon who served our meal, also caught some some it earlier that day. My squat lobster and sole was superb.

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Squat lobster and sole, Applecross Inn

Our week in the Highlands passed all too quickly – lots of sunshine and , remarkably, neither rain nor midges. We drove home over the wonderful Bealach na Ba – the highest road in Britain.

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross

The Bealach na Ba, Applecross


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TGOC-14. A list of blogs

I’ve started putting together a list of blogs from 2014 Challengers. These vary from long and detailed accounts to more impressionistic presentations. Some of very factual, others perhaps embellish the truth for effect.

This list is in no particular order except my blog (which isn’t a diary) is first.

If you have a blog that isn’t on this list, please send me the address and I’ll add it.

Daunerin’ Aboot 

Over the Hills and Far Away


Around the Hills

Al’s Outdoor World


Alan Sloman’s Big Walk


Fast Track to Nowhere in Particular

Lady on a Rock

Two Routes Across Scotland

A Blog on the Landscape

Whiteburn’s Wanderings

JJ’s Stuff 

A Trundle in the Hills

Gordon’s Off

Louise’s Big Adventure

Steve Smith

Must Explore 

Chris Townsend Outdoors


I am unashamed of my opposition to wind farms in wild areas of Scotland. The industrialisation of our landscape is a disgraceful policy by a government that has no understanding of landscape value or, indeed, of the requirements of a secure energy supply.

A recent email from my pal Ian (last seen in Maol Bhuide) made the point – what’s the alternative? It is perfectly reasonable to ask this and those of us who reject the Gadarene rush to wind power should indeed put up or shut up and propose a viable alternative energy strategy.

In the long term, it makes sense to move to sustainable natural energy from wind, waves, tide and sunlight. Irrespective of your views on climate change and CO2 emissions, burning natural resources to create electricity doesn’t really make sense. I believe that tidal and wave power, in the longer term, has the potential to generate much more energy than wind turbines at a much lower environmental cost. But this technology still needs several years of development and we have to address our energy needs now.

One of the key advantages of carbon-based energy production is that we can store energy (in the fuel) and this allows us to coordinate energy generation and energy demands. Storage of natural energy is currently impossible so we have to over-provision so that we have the ludicrous situation of paying wind farm operators not to produce energy when demand is low. Therefore, it seems to me that a natural energy policy will only become viable when we have cost-effective energy storage facilities. This is a long-term research challenge so it will be tens of years before we can move away completely from other methods of energy generation.

The most sensible current alternative to wind farms is nuclear power, where a single power station could generate more energy as all of the turbines currently installed in Scotland put together. The costs of nuclear power are high and subsidy is certainly required – but this subsidy is in practice not that different from our current subsidy to the landscape vandals for wind turbines. The era of cheap energy has passed and we may as well get used to this.

But what of the environmental costs of nuclear power I hear you ask. There’s the issue of storage of irradiated material for hundreds of years and, of course, the possibility of nuclear accidents such as that in Fukushima in Japan where a tsunami overwhelmed a nuclear power station. Let’s deal with each of these:

1.    Waste storage. This is certainly a problem but it’s one we have already. We have had nuclear power for 50 years and have the problem of storing waste. Building new facilities may actually make the currently problem simpler as it will be more cost-effective to create long-lifetime storage technologies if waste continues to be generated.

2.     Accidents. There is a theoretical possibility of a nuclear accident in Scotland although it is unlikely that natural disasters such as those in Japan will strike here. However, the chances of death or injury from a nuclear accident are some orders of magnitude less than those from travelling in a car so these kinds of concerns are irrational. Fukushima also led to widespread land contamination and this is certainly a concern. However, all recent nuclear accidents were from older stations and modern containment technology and safety systems mean that the chances of this happening here are extremely low. I think that the environmental benefits of nuclear power are so great that it’s worth the risk.

Of course, nuclear power stations are ugly things. But, unlike wind farms, they don’t take up a lot of land and we don’t build them on hills. In fact, the sensible place to build new nuclear stations is on the site of existing stations so landscape despoliation is minimal.

There are no easy answers to assuring a secure future energy supply. Some people will disagree with my conclusions, including those who, like me, have no time for wind farms in wild areas. However, what we lack at the moment is a reasoned debate on energy strategy that takes into account landscape damage as well as CO2 reductions.

Sadly, it seems to me that the current Scottish Government is unwilling to engage in such a debate.

PS   There is no doubt that fewer people have been killed by wind farms than nuclear installations. So wind farms are safer – unless you’re a bird where somewhere between 140, 000 and 328, 000 are estimated to be killed each year by wind turbines  (not clear if that’s a worldwide or a US figure).

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Today, the Scottish Government approved the construction of a 67 turbine windfarm at Stronelarig in the Monadliaths.  This is what I wrote to Fergus Ewing about this.


Mr Fergus Ewing,
The Scottish Parliament,

Dear Mr Ewing,

I am writing to you to express my dismay at your recent decision to approve the construction of a large-scale wind farm at Stronelairg in the Monadliath Mountains. This industrial development will irrevocably damage one of the finest landscapes in Scotland and will undoubtedly cause considerable damage to the local tourist industry.

The Scottish landscape is a priceless and unique part of our heritage and I am disappointed that the Scottish Government is willing to damage this for the sake of arbitrary targets on renewable energy. As an engineer, I am equally disappointed that the Government has not subjected the claims by power companies to a more stringent independent analysis. Their claims are, frankly, incredibly optimistic and I am convinced that the actual power generated and the consequent economic benefits will be significantly less than has been claimed. The main beneficiaries of your decision will not be the Scottish people but rather wealthy landowners and the power companies who are being subsidised by your Government’s policy.

It is not too late to rescind this decision and to ensure that future decisions on the siting of industrial developments take into account the need to preserve our wonderful landscape. I urge you to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Ian Sommerville

I haven’t written a day by day account but a few separate posts inspired by my TGO Challenge walk from Strathcarron to St Cyrus.

Walking from Strathcarron to St Cyrus (in the May sunshine)

Blogging the Challenge

Mainly dry with sunny intervals and scattered showers

Maol Bhuide

Star Trek, Pork Pies and Primula Cheese

Photographic impressions

Highs and a few lows

Reflections on the crossing




One of the best bits of advice that I’ve come across about the Challenge was to remember that it’s a holiday, not something to be endured. There is no point in planning an ambitious route if you end up over-tired, injured and miserable. So, my aim was just to have a wee wander across Scotland, without worrying too much about knocking off Munros or covering huge distances in a day.

I’m lucky that I can get shoes (and boots) that fit. I haven’t had  a blister for more than 20 years and I didn’t do anything daft and injure myself. I deliberately chose a ‘trade route’ with some classic Challenge experiences – Ault-na-Goire, Glen Mazeran, Mar Lodge and Tarfside.  I spent more time talking to people rather than just pressing on as I did in 2013 and that was definitely the right thing to do.  So I had a great holiday, revisiting familiar parts of the country and getting to some places that I’d never been to before.

Dennis having breakfast outside his tent in Strathfarrer

Dennis having breakfast outside his tent in Strathfarrer 

Lousie snapping Laura hugging a redwood tree (but her arms weren't quite long enough).  They apparently did this regularly all the way across.

Lousie snapping Laura hugging a redwood tree (but her arms weren’t quite long enough). They apparently did this regularly all the way across.

Does my pack look big in this? Robin in the Monadliath - his pack really wasn't that big.

Does my pack look big in this? Robin in the Monadliath – his pack really wasn’t that big.

Camping in the sunshine at Mar Lodge. Certainly the lushest camp site of the crossing.

Camping in the sunshine at Mar Lodge. Certainly the lushest camp site of the crossing.

John and David - their first experiments at Tarfside with innovative uses for Primula cheese.

John and David – their first experiments at Tarfside with innovative uses for Primula cheese.

My gear was all tried and tested and worked without problems although I made the mistake of taking socks that had already done a couple of hundred miles. They didn’t look warn but as I was walking through the Larig Ghru, I noticed that my feet felt is if they were taking a pounding. Luckily, I had taken last year’s freebie socks as a spare pair and when I changed them at the Pools of Dee, I really noticed the difference in cushioning.  Next time, I think I’ll buy a new pair before I start.

For the first few days after it was over, it was nice to be back in ‘civilisation’. No need to blow up your bed every evening, cook in a single pot, wear smelly clothes or dig a hole when nature called. Everyday comforts such as sit-down toilets, chairs and electric light, which we take for granted, were a delight. Then, it began to pall – the simplicity of the Challenge seemed very appealing compared to tedious phone conferences and emails on topics I couldn’t care less about.

I think it is the simplicity is what I like most. Life is eating, sleeping and walking (with a wee bit of social drinking of course) with no need to worry about the complexities of modern existence. So, I’ve started to wonder what it would be like to do a really big walk over a couple of months rather than a 2-week Challenge although, domestically, I think that would be about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.

Last year I wondered if the Challenge was a one-off – an itch I had to scratch – and once I’d done it that was that. I wasn’t sure I’d come back in 2014 but I thought, last September, I’d stick the form in and see what happened.  I’m delighted that I did and now, like so many others, I guess I’m addicted and, all being well, I’ll be back.

Realising that it wasn’t raining on Day 1

Finding that the rowan I planted at Meal Bhuide in 1980 had thrived

Venison steaks and Glen Garioch whisky at Meal Bhuide with my pal Ian

My 4 hour struggle on my own through the dreadful bogs between An Cruachan and An Riabhachan (low – if a passing helicopter had offered me a lift, I would have jumped on)

Failing (on my first attempt) to find the bridge over the River Farrer  (lowish but really just stupidity)

Negotiating the ‘off road’ route from Cannich to Bearnock (low then high when I found the path)

Crossing Loch Ness in the sunshine

Janet’s fabulous dinner at Ault-na-Goire

Sunshine and social walking in the Monadliath

My first visit to Glen Mazeran

The Burma Road – never again (low)

Going through the Lairig Ghru with a great campsite by Devil’s Point

A sunny campsite in the garden, food and socialising at Mar Lodge

Listening to Rhoda in the Old Bakery discussing her experiences as a vegan while she was tucking into a sausage toastie (unclassifiable – really quite surreal)

Eating and drinking in Braemar

Walking with David and John and finding Shieling of Mark bothy first time

Learning new uses for Primula cheese (another surreal experience)

Excellent Forfar bridie  from the butchers in Edzell

Northwaterbridge camp site (low – I really didn’t like the road noise)

St Cyrus beach [high - it was finished :-) then low, it was finished :-(  ]

I guess that most Challengers take photos of their walk and there are some great landscape photos on Challenger blogs.  I’ve been learning about digital photo manipulation recently so I thought that instead of the usual colour pictures, I’d present a more impressionistic view of my Challenge, in monochrome. Some of these I’m pleased with and I think they capture the atmosphere well; others, I’m not so sure. I’d like to know what others think (please be candid). Click on a photo to see a larger version.

Improving weather - Loch Calavie. Five minutes after I took this, it was pouring rain.

Improving weather – Loch Calavie. Five minutes after I took this, it was pouring rain.

Into the Monadliaths

Into the Monadliaths

Textbook erosion - Allt Mhor.  See Robin Evans's blog for a colour version of this (http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tgo-challenge-2014-day-5/)

Textbook erosion – Allt Mhor. See Robin Evans’s blog for a colour version of this (http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/tgo-challenge-2014-day-5/)

Glen Mazeran-mono-1

Camping in Glen Mazeran

The Lairig Ghru. This is my favourite shot as I think it captures the bleak beauty of the Lairig much better than a 'prettier' colour shot

The Lairig Ghru. This is my favourite shot as I think it captures the bleak beauty of the Lairig much better than a ‘prettier’ colour shot

The Devil's Point. A great pitch across the river from the Corrour bothy.

The Devil’s Point. A great pitch across the river from the Corrour bothy.

Fallen pine near Mar Lodge. I tried a slightly different treatment here to highlight the texture of the tree.

Fallen pine near Mar Lodge. I tried a slightly different treatment here to highlight the texture of the tree.

Morrone birchwoods between Mar Lodge and Braemar. This is another example of where the monochrome captures the light much better than its colour equivalent

Morrone birchwoods between Mar Lodge and Braemar. This is another example of where the monochrome captures the light much better than its colour equivalent

River North Esk, downriver from Tarfside. A dull day.

River North Esk, downriver from Tarfside. A dull day.

Dreaming of St Cyrus. I tried to achieve a slightly ethereal quality in this picture from the cliffs at St Cyrus.

Dreaming of St Cyrus. I tried to achieve a slightly ethereal quality in this picture from the cliffs at St Cyrus.

A note on equipment. After reading Chris Townsend’s blog post (and a bunch of other stuff) I bought a Sony mirrorless camera a couple of years ago to replace an ageing DSLR. I agree with Chris that it’s an excellent camera for walking and backpacking and I haven’t regretted this decision at all.

I took it on the Challenge last year but this year decided to take a compact camera as I found I didn’t really like carrying a separate camera case and it was a pain to get it in and out of my rucksack. My compact camera is a Sony RX-100 and I’m delighted with the quality for a pocket camera. It lived in my trouser pocket and got a few knocks without any problems. I’d certainly take it again and recommend it as a great quality:weight trade-off.

If you are interested in landscape photography, you might like this article ‘Digital Landscape Photography – Yes, But is it Art’, which critiques the technically perfect approach to landscape photography by people like Colin Prior. While I think that discussions on what is and isn’t art are completely pointless, I can see what this guy is getting at – sometimes imperfect images convey the essence of a scene far more effectively. (thanks to Chris Townsend’s tweet for the link)

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