Our Wee Mountain

Mike Flaherty The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS)

21 July 2016

My pal Graham and I have an impressive record in mountain ranges on several continents, I specialise in failing to summit and Graham is renowned for falling, at least once, on most of the mountains that we’ve been on. 2 stone and 10 years ago, training for these proud achievements was mostly on our wee mountain– Bennachie. I used to run in the evenings to avoid the crowds, well actually I would wait until nearly dark in order to avoid being seen. I could make an action that resembled running but in slow motion, accompanied by heaving breath and profuse sweating. For me being ‘in the zone’ meant having insufficient oxygen left for higher consciousness. I was in the zone near Mither Tap one evening when our local super-athlete Freyja Prentice skipped past, gazelle-like, barely a glow to her cheeks, humming along to her MP3 player. After my hypoxic brain registered the humiliation I consoled myself with the thought that I was sharing my training ground with an GB team member and Olympic hopeful – go Frejya!

I called Bennachie our wee mountain. If you look up the definition of mountain you will see that dictionary.com talks about:

A natural elevation of the earth's surface rising more or less abruptly to a summit.

and Bennachie certainly does that. But the Oxford English Dictionary says that a mountain in the UK generally rises to greater than 2,000ft. I would argue that that’s merely stature and what Bennachie lacks in stature she (?) more than makes up for in character. Bennachie is a granite and heather icon that defines the heart of the north-east. She’s on every calendar, tourist brochure and postcard sent to far flung friends. She offers a little package of wildness on our doorstep, a place of relaxation, education or bite-sized adventure. She’s welcoming but not to be taken for granted, every year the Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team is called out to help someone who has made that mistake.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) was founded in 1970 to represent the interests of hillwalkers, climbers and ski tourers who enjoy the hills of Scotland. By the end of 2012 MCofS had 11,500 paid up members, either individuals (like me) or through one of the 135 associated clubs. They are the consultants to Sports Scotland on all matters to do with mountain safety, training and good practice and their opinion is highly respected by Parliament and planning departments on matters of conservation and access. In May the MCofS agreed to join the Save Bennachie Alliance. They are powerful allies. A small but dynamic Board with a dedicated (volunteer) Planning Director who since 2007 have returned over 400 responses to planning applications affecting Scotland’s wild places.

In their Vision for the Future Document ‘Respecting Scotland’s Mountains’ MCofS president Brian Linington said:

Scotland’s mountain landscapes and wild lands are amazing, unspoiled places that provide opportunities to enhance health, wellbeing and fitness – and can provide sustainable, high-quality employment. We recognise the benefits of attracting more people to these areas, whilst maintaining their attraction as wild places. Unfortunately, mountain landscapes and wild places are threatened as never before by ill-considered large-scale developments. We will fight to prevent this from happening.

Other MCofS (MCofS, Wind Farms and Changing Mountaineering Behaviour in Scotland, March 2014) research finds that:

Wild land and mountains are valued by most of Scotland’s residents (a Scottish Natural Heritage survey says 91%). A remarkable 55% of visitors (65% among first-timers) told a VisitScotland survey that they mainly come here for the scenery and landscape. Tourism is worth around £11bn a year. VisitScotland says it is “the engine room of the Scottish economy. Scotland’s population also faces major health challenges associated with lack of exercise and stress. People need to be encouraged to go out and experience the beauty, enjoy the exercise and benefit from the relaxation that our mountains can provide. This work should start at school and extend to all ages. To do this their wild quality must be maintained – if not, the evidence increasingly shows that visitors will go elsewhere.

MCofS have offered us their support and they bring significant weight and experience. I hope that together we are successful. When we are finished I also hope that you will support MCofS in their continuing campaigns to protect Scotland’s wild places to the benefit of us all.

You can find more information about MCofS at www.mcofs.org.uk/home.asp

Read more postings about Bennachie in the Save Bennachie Blog.

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