Published 11th September 2023, 15:08

    THE view was as captivating and dramatic as always, the castellated skyline of An Teallach sparkling as the merest wisps of mist drifted playfully around the plunging faces.

    Taken from the summit of Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill, the highest point on this huge and complex mountain, it's the image that endures, the one that remains in the memory for ever.

    Yet maybe we should be looking at this from a different perspective. Maybe we should be thinking of the mountain as a whole rather than simply that postcard moment, a landscape that desperately needs our help.

    The delight in reaching any summit has the tendency to instantly wash away all that has gone before. You forget the struggle along heavily eroded paths, the dodging off line to avoid the quagmire, the worsening scars created by the passage of so many boots.

    The increasing popularity of hillwalking combined with more extreme weather conditions is exacting a terrible toll on our mountain paths, and the more popular the hill, the more severe the damage. 

    Path repair work is expensive – it costs around £90 per metre – but it needs to be tackled before the damage becomes more extensive and therefore even more expensive. 

    European funding provided significant support for path and habitat restoration projects in the past, but since Brexit that avenue has been closed off and there has been no government cash to replace it. So it's up to us, to every mountaineer, hillwalker, business or organisation that cares about the hills, to play our part.

    A campaign by Mountaineering Scotland and the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland – It's Up To Us – aims to raise an initial £300,000 for restoration work, with the focus on An Teallach as an example of a popular mountain path on privately owned land with no official funding currently available.

    It's hoped this will be start of a longer-running project to help fund upland improvements that will eventually draw support and investment from government and landowners.

    The need for a long-term approach is suitably highlighted by work currently being undertaken at Ben Vrackie, the popular Corbett which rises above Pitlochry. Repairs were carried out some 25 years ago to the path across the moor and to the steep upper section above the loch which was badly eroded, an ugly scar which could be seen for miles around. 

    The result was an environmental success story, the marshy habitat below the loch recovering with sundews, butterworts and bog myrtle growing and meadow pipits nesting there. 

    Now the mountain is need of more TLC. Rainstorm damage in 2021 led to the creation of an additional volunteer group, Friends of Ben Vrackie, to help with repairs and the clearing of ditches. Meanwhile, stretches of the section of path from the top of the forest have collapsed into trenches at either side of the boulder cover with the path width varying from 1.5 metres to nearly four in places.

    Perth and Kinross Council have an agreement with the landowner to maintain the path, and they asked Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust to take on the repair project including surveying the path and fundraising. The Trust's Bid Strachan is also working in partnership with the Outdoor Access Trust for Scotland to draw up the design and manage the project, and she has had great success already in raising more than £150,000 of a target £210,000. 

    A contractor has been appointed and stone from scree on the mountain's south face is being gathered and bagged for helicopter lift to the required sites. The work involves stabilising the path, creating a more robust surface, adding drainage and reducing the path width. There will be also be work to repair damage to the surrounding habitat.

    Donations are welcomed from hillwalkers as well as from the local community. If every pair of boots that tramped our hills were to chip in, it could make a massive difference.

    You don't have to look far to see what the difference could be. For instance, the unsightly scar that ran up the front of Carn Liath, one of the three Munros on Beinn a' Ghlo, is no longer visible from the A9 after splendid remedial work. The John Muir Trust-owned Schiehallion has also benefitted greatly from a reworked path that takes a gentler, more leisurely line that avoids the fragile peaty area higher up the slope.

    And much as I used to love running the scree in Coire na Tulaich on Buachaille Etive Mor, there's no doubt the new path through the boulder field near the head of the corrie is far more sympathetic to the mountain and its environs – not to mention much easier on the Achilles.

    * Donations for An Teallach https://www.mountaineering.scot/its-up-to-us-path-campaign

    * Donations for Ben Vrackie https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/benvrackie