THE Scottish landscape has been at the forefront of the news recently with several high-profile and controversial wind farm projects being thrown out and Judy Murray’s plans for a sports centre and high-end housing on greenbelt land rejected.
Discussions over how far to take re-wilding of the land have also sparked spirited debate; beavers and sea eagles have been reintroduced to a mixed reception and the case to bring back wolves remains polarised.
Always there is a fine line between environmentalism and commercialism. No one would argue that creating jobs in rural areas is vital, but at what cost?
If you compromise on the fundamentals that make our country so tempting for investment then you risk spoiling that which was desirable in the first place.
So the news that Ramblers Scotland have called for the setting up of Alpine-style mountain hut trails as part of their “Manifesto for a Walking Scotland” - to be published in the run-up to next year’s Holyrood elections - is bound to split opinion.
These high-level huts are used in countries all over the world, from the Alps to Scandinavia to New Zealand. They provide a comfortable overnight stay with warm beds, hot showers and meals and allow hikers to travel from hut to hut sometimes for weeks at a time.
But Scotland is different. Most mountains are accessible in a day trip, whereas in the Alps or Norway, it can take days just to walk in. And many think that is our unique selling point. Why do we always have to think that the grass the greener?
Here walkers rely on the more Spartan mountain bothies, old estate houses which provide basic shelter, no mod cons like heating or running water. Everything has to be carried in and carried out again. Self-reliance is the key.
It’s a system which is uniquely Scottish, and tales of bothy nights are often recounted with starry eyes and a warmth which makes up for the lack of heating during your stay, or a horror of the primitive conditions just endured.
Ramblers Scotland recognise there are a lot of people in this second camp and their proposal is for a pilot hut scheme to be considered.
But for most mountaineers, climbers and hill walkers, the prospect of further building on our hills is a somewhat troubling thought, and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland‘s statement summed this up.
It read: “The McofS has given a cautious welcome to the idea of creating a chain of huts which could be linked as a walking trail. However, the locations of the huts would be key to their acceptability.”
Some tour companies have no doubts about the benefits. Their argument is that it would be better to get more people into our wild places and they dismiss doubters as “elitists”.
So once again it comes down to money. The millionaires who summit Everest have shown the way - if you have the dough, you can go anywhere, do anything. Nothing is precious any more, nothing has to be worked for. Just turn up with the cheque book and you can be mollycoddled all the way to our highest peaks.
It’s a depressing scenario. It’s also dangerous. The Scottish mountains can be unforgiving at any time of year and if you start taking along hordes of people who otherwise couldn’t reach the summits under their own steam you are asking for trouble. It’s certainly not elitist to recognise this.
There is an excellent - and timely - article in the latest Scottish Mountaineer magazine by the MCofS safety advisor Heather Morning about the perils of walkers relying on remote mountain shelters for sanctuary.
The Cairngorms disaster of November 1971, when five children and one adult died, was the country’s worst-ever mountain loss of life. They were trying to reach a bothy when they were overtaken by appalling weather.
Soon after the fatal accident inquiry, a couple of high-level shelters were torn down. This was seen as the removal of temptation.
There are areas where extra accommodation could be welcome. The empty far north-west has a dearth of places to stay, especially during the winter months, but I suspect commercial eyes would be focussed more on the likes of the Cairngorms and the Nevis range, areas already well served for tourists.
There has to be a lot of hard thinking before we start throwing up mountain huts. We simply can’t afford to bow to financial gain.