Shiehallion Instameet with John Muir Trust
Many of us Instagramers had been sharing concerns about the possible impact social media has on many of our beloved beauty spots and wild places around Scotland.
Skye in particular had been taking a beating from bus-loads of visitors in places that maybe don’t have the infrastructure or capabilities to cope with a large footfall. Particularly places like the Fairy Pools and the Storr, Glencoe and Glen Etive.
No-one would deny there is a right to roam and I’m not above a selfie at a favourite landmark. We recognise that maybe we are promoting and possibly encouraging a certain behaviour by posting photos on platforms like Instagram. Katrina, an active member of the community took the reins and reached out to several organisations, asking if there was anything we might be able to do.
The John Muir Trust accepted the opportunity and invited us to meet up for a walk and talk at Shiehallion, one of the properties they are entrusted to look after.
A small band of us met in a drizzly car park and were introduced to the team from JMT. After a very welcome hot coffee and a map briefing, we set off on a low level walk into the valley at the foot of east Schiehallion.
Passing the information boards and recently finished dry-stone wall, we were soon onto the open hillside which consists mostly of a montane environment, with heather moorland, limestone outcrops and some forestry.
Learning about this landscape
We huddled around a large glacial rock which had been covered with cup marks throughout history. No-one really knows the purpose of these hand hewn markings. Could it just be for aesthetic reasons? Do they have deeper meaning in this landscape? Or could it just be something bored travellers did while they rested up on this large rock? Whatever the reason, it shows that this landscape has been home to people for hundreds if not thousands of years.
The valley itself is currently home to a resident black grouse lek. We didn’t see any grouse, but we were treated to a pair of short eared owls. One of which gave us a fly-by as it silently soared over our heads towards its partner. The croak of ravens also indicated their presence in the surrounding hills.
We passed some old shielings and discussed the ecology of the area and the surrounding countryside. The representatives from John Muir Trust then went in to more detail about what the organisation does. We touched on topics ranging from wind farms to access rights and responsibilities as well as volunteer and conservation work. It was great that the Trust were open to talk with us, the idea being that we start a dialogue between organisations and instagrammers like us, who can then reach out to the general public. While there are differing agendas amongst NGOs, as many as there are amongst individuals, we hope that between us, we can help to educate and advise where there may be need for it. That could be how and where to access popular spots or, suggest alternative locations to spread the footfall. Highlighting issues such as littering could be another approach. It’s early days though and the aim is to feel out what we may be able to do to help.
Social media and the Great Outdoors
I did listen to a BBC Radio Scotland episode a while ago, where they discussed the use of social media by the US National Parks to ‘forecast’ if you like, potential hot-spots and manage the levels of visitors. While I hope we never get to that level of management here in Scotland it does show that, as well as being a factor in the popularity of certain locations, social media may potentially be used to manage and reduce harm caused by an upturn in popularity.
I was unable to find a link to the BBC Scotland Out of Doors episode, but here are some other links that may be of interest:
The second part of the day consisted of a bunch of us continuing up the mountain itself. The weather did not look like it was changing from drizzle, but some had said it would improve. So we said thanks and goodbye to our hosts and others who had more important things to do before starting our way up the footpath (maintained by some of the volunteers for the John Muir Trust).
I had my concerns, and I don’t like to whinge. But as a middle aged man I am duty bound. A few weeks earlier I’d pulled something in my lower back. This now seemed to be manifesting itself in an extremely week left leg. I had in fact put off a hill walk the week before as I didn’t think this leg would make it. I bit the bullet and gave it a bash as I thought Schiehallion was pretty straight forward and it’s not a hill I’d been up before.
The leg worked, just! Flicking it under me as I went and locking the knee so as not to fall over, I imagined it a bit like an old time pirates peg leg. I struggled and soon found myself walking through the mist on my own, passing bedraggled walkers coming back down the hill. There wasn’t much in the way of scenery as the cloud clung to the scree covered slopes near to the summit.
The leg situation definitely didn’t help me as I clambered over the larger boulders near the summit. But at last I could make out the rest of the group, waiting patiently in the mist. We waited a short time for the rest of the party to make the top, then low and behold, the clouds parted and we could see the glens and lochs below. Silver ribbons flowing through velvet green. There was a mad flurry of shutters (or not, depending on the type of camera used).
It was also time to grab a bite to eat and we soon started the walk down, chatting amongst ourselves. As always the trip down can be more painful than the ascent, and the group soon strung out again. Eventually I met up with most in the carpark before we all went our separate ways.
A great day though, in a lovely part of the world with like minded folk.
What are the answers?
I hope it is the start of something we can do to help. It looks like education is the way forward in protecting places we love. Not forgetting that these can be working landscapes too, we must find ways to make things work for visitors as well as those who’s livelihoods may be rooted in these places we hold so dear.
It would be interesting to hear comments and suggestions on the subject, I am just one voice hoping to help where I can. And if you would like to find out more about what they do, visit the John Muir Trust website.
Last year we also spent time in Glencoe with the National Trust for Scotland at Lagangarbh Hut, highlighting the work they do on footpaths. You can read about that here.