Published 15th May 2020, 15:31

    THERE'S a lot of mountain dreaming at the moment, time split trawling through photo memories and planning for when we can get back out there.

    That day will come but it's heartening to see the vast majority of walkers and climbers sticking by the current advice from Scottish Mountain Rescue and staying off the hills.

    The overwhelming evidence shows that being in the great outdoors contributes massively to the health of body and mind, and everyone involved is desperate for an easing of the restrictions as soon as is feasible. It will be a tough call. 

    The conflicting signals over access and travel in England have left some MR teams alarmed. We are fortunate in Scotland to have a clear message, and even those who may not agree with the sentiments would admit it is at least consistent.

    Coming out of this in a safe and sensible manner will be fraught with difficulty. Timing will be everything. The longer the restrictions apply, the more frustrations are likely to grow. But it will have to be a gradual, phased return rather than a free-for-all.

    There's the fear that opening up all areas at once would have a similar effect to shaking a bottle of champagne and then popping the cork. It's not hard to picture crowds flocking to the honey-pot Munros, car parks packed to the brim, MR teams needing all hands on deck.

    As much as I miss the mountains, I'm finding thoughts of a return any time soon somewhat troubling. It's hard to contemplate any personal feelgood factor while there's widespread tragedy and economic pain all around.

    I worry for friends in the outdoor business who are facing uncertain futures. VisitScotland's view that our summer season is likely to be a write-off came hard on the heels of the National Trust for Scotland's threat of sweeping job losses. The knock-on effect will be huge, but everything has to be calculated as calmly as possible.

    Meanwhile, the cancellation list grows ever longer. A week planned for Lochaber in May is on ice for a year. I should have been in Arran this weekend for the annual mountain festival but it too will skip a year.

    Our club weekend in Knoydart bit the dust and it's almost certain the scheduled July meet in Gairloch will go the same way. Even our annual pilgrimage up Buachaille Etive Mor, which has been taking place since 1998, looks highly unlikely, certainly as a group outing.

    And while there are still two planned September outings in the book, it's hard to see how they will go ahead as it would mean parties of four or more sharing rooms. That may be taken out of our hands anyway if hostels are forced to stay shut.

    The day meet programme has been postponed until September, but realistically, that moratorium will be extended until next year. Travelling together on a coach is not likely to be on anyone's to-do list for a long while.

    Any easing of travel restrictions will be welcome, particularly as it would indicate a much improved situation generally, but there will still be huge considerations, especially for anyone thinking of going long distance. 

    Few places will be open for business; accommodation will be sparse with hotels, B&Bs, hostels, campsites unable or unwilling to open; pubs and restaurants still mothballed; car parks and toilet facilities closed. Ferry travel to the islands is currently restricted to local traffic and vital services and could stay that way for a while yet, and bus and rail links are patchy. Even the bothies remain locked.

    There's also the sensitivity of travelling to communities where the welcome mat may not be laid out at the moment. Our right to do something should not simply mean that we can trample over the rights of others.

    Everyone will have their own ideas about how to handle the return within whatever limits are suggested or imposed. I have resigned myself to writing off the summer, and if there is a chance to get back out in the autumn, or even winter, I shall be going solo. 

    No groups, no friends, just me. Zero contact all round, the continuance of social isolation, avoiding hotspot areas or routes that start or finish near any habitation. I will travel alone, and if necessary sleep in my vehicle or bivvy in the mountains.

    It's ironic that after recently stating my night walking exploits were coming to an end, sunsets and sunrises may be back on the mountain menu.

    There's still a long road to travel, and with the strong possibility of more bumps along the way, we should proceed with extreme caution.