Published 20th January 2019, 17:59

    SAD to see pictures of cars with their windows smashed in Glen Feshie but it's a reminder of how opportunistic thieves can strike anywhere.

    The car park near the end of the road at Achlean is used by walkers heading for the Munros of Sgor Gaoith and Mullach Clach a' Bhlair, and those around the Moine Mhor. It's also handy for those planning an overnight stay at the Ruigh Aiteachain bothy. 

    It's a relatively remote spot but no more so than many other popular hillwalkers' parking areas. Most of the year it's well used with cars coming and going at all times, but in the dark, winter months there's less traffic in the glen and less people around.

    I remember being warned about vehicle break-ins at the Linn of Dee car park many years ago, but it seemed to be a rare event rather than a crime wave, and I have been parking there for many years and never had, or heard of, any further problems. While the Feshie break-ins are disturbing, it doesn't necessarily follow this will become a regular occurrence. Let's hope it was one-off.

    More recently, a friend had his camper van window smashed while it sat just off the road in Glenshee while he was off for a walk up An Socach. That incident smacked of opportunism: a lone vehicle, a passing car, a quick smash n' grab then a fast getaway. It's quite common to see signs in laybys on the A9 and other busy roads warning of the possibility of thefts. Nowhere is immune.

    When I started walking, it was common practice to leave a note with your route directions and your expected time of return on display inside the windscreen, and like so many others I did this.

    Then I heard a horror story about a friend of a friend who had his car broken into while he was hillwalking in the Borders. His was the only vehicle in a remote spot and when he returned after six hours' on the hill – as helpfully spelled out in his safety notice – he noticed one of the side windows had been smashed.

    There hadn't been any valuables in the car, but his house keys had been taken. As he had no idea at what stage the incident had happened, he then spent the journey home fretting about the possibility of his house being targeted as well. Unlikely, but at times like these all sorts of thoughts go through the mind. 

    Add in the misery of driving for hours with a missing window – not to mention the likely cost and time of repair – and what should have a therapeutic day in the outdoors was now one filled with stress. I stopped leaving notes in the car after this. Instead, I made sure at least two people knew where I was going and when I was due off the hill.

    This later evolved when a group of us got together to devise the 'tick' system. This involved leaving your route but then firing out a quick text saying 'tick' when you reached your destination, then, if possible, from any mountain summit, and finally when you were back at the car. If you failed to check in, at least someone knew your last point of contact.

    I also leave a note at home with phonetic spellings. Bad enough that Mountain Rescue may have to come looking, worse still that they would have to endure listening to my wife strangling the life out of those beautiful Gaelic words.

    Mind you, one advantage I have is that my cars are usually a mess. There are dirty boots and socks lying around, old towels, empty bottles and rubbish on the floor. I tell myself it's deliberate, a form of defence, just like animals that use Batesian mimicry to fool predators. Anyone looking in the windows might assume it had already been ransacked. Anyone foolish enough to break in would probably want to get out fast and have a bath.

    Some people do still leave notes. I often have a look through the windows of cars parked beside mine out of curiosity, and it's surprising how often you will see either a detailed description in full view, sometimes even a guide book opened at the relevant pages. With the almost blanket use of mobile phones now, there is no need to leave information lying around that could make you a target.

    Nowhere is 100 per cent safe, but that doesn't mean you should let your concerns become overwhelming. Just like good practice in the mountains, take every sensible precaution and go and enjoy your walk.