Is pathbuilding getting out of hand?
I've managed quite a number of hillwalks since the start of 2007, not all of which have found their way yet to the on-line pages of Walking Stories. And it's no exaggeration to say that (with the exception of the Hill of Alyth) on EVERY ONE of these there is evidence of current or very recent footpath building activity.
At Mount Battock in the New Year we walked up a wide raised track made of coarse sand on gravel, passing two big diggers which were parked ready to continue operations. I noted in the summary that "The worst bit was the new road which took away from the sense of wild country".
At Glen Affric in May, on our way up An Sochach, we followed a half-built path past a collection of digging implements and a digger truck. The path builders were staying at the hostel with us.
Climbing Mayar, Glendoll, in May, we followed the new path built through the lovely Corrie Fee and halfway up the back of the corrie, making it a much easier route than last time I was there a few years ago. A friend who had climbed to Loch Brandy in nearby Glen Clova said a new sloping path there had made it more difficult and uncomfortable to walk.
When I stopped off for a run over Kinnoull Hill above Perth - one of my favourite spots, in June, I was horrified to see wide new paths built all the way to the hilltop. The new material stopped abruptly when it reached the summit area, looking particularly intrusive. I think this was the worst example.
At Creag Meagaidh in June, we walked back down the glen from Coire Ardair along sections of new path interspersed with really rough sections of old path, past some large strange yellow metal boxes that looked like they must have been airlifted in, and a digger truck at an encampment for path workers.
Climbing Meall Corranaich and Meall Choire Leith, behind Ben Lawers, in July, we returned past sacks of material being used to build a new path across a boggy area on the lower slopes.
And now, in August, we've just come back from a wet climb of Ben Macdui, via Carn a' Mhaim where a new path is being built up the southern slope. A well-built new path descends from Carn Crom towards Derry Lodge.
So it seems that there is an unprecedented amount of path-building going on across the hills and highlands of Scotland.
Therefore I wasn't surprised to hear the report just now (Weds 8 August) on the Radio 4 programme "You and Yours", raising questions about the construction of new paths in the Lake District. Starting with a path being built up Latrigg above Keswick, which is apparently suitable for wheelchair users to climb the hill without having to cope with stiles, there were mixed opinions. One wheelchair user was very pleased with the path, another felt that the landscape shouldn't be spoilt for this reason. Everyone had to accept their limitations. Barney Hill of the Lake District National Park Authority defended the work.
The other location was Blea Tarn, further south, where the National Trust were building a bulldozed track across an SSSI. It was argued that it looked artificial in this natural environment, and these new paths signified creeping urbanisation. The NT representative said it was the worst time to see it, and that it should be judged when it had had time to settle in.
There is no doubt that many routes are in need of improvement, either because of erosion from over-use or simply because of the ground conditions, but does this mean they have to be upgraded to wide, solidly built raised paths with big rocks protecting drainage channels? Is this necessary for the work to withstand the thousands of boots and the rough weather for several years?
I remember my first experience of this sort of footpath work, which was in the Lake District at the Langdale Pikes about 20 or 30 years ago! The main tourist route had become seriously eroded, and the new path was a big improvement. Are all these new paths just as welcome?