Published 5th July 2020, 11:50

    FRIDAY, July 3. The day all mountain lovers have been craving during months of lockdown and travel restrictions, the return to some semblance of normality.

    And just to make us all feel that normal service really has resumed, here is the weather forecast for tomorrow and the weekend: incessant heavy rain, persistent low cloud, winds reaching 35-40mph, chances of cloud-free Munros – almost nil.

    Welcome back everyone to summer in Scotland. Three months on the sidelines – April was decent, May spectacular at times and June has had its moments. Whoever invented 2020 has got a lot to answer for.

    I'm sure some brave/masochistic souls will venture out. What's a little rain (more likely a lot) when you have been missing your mountain fix for months? For many, however, the grand re-opening will remain on hold for a few more days. The initial excitement and enthusiasm at the relaxation of the five-mile travel restriction has taken on the appeal of a soggy baguette.

    It may be a bit of a blessing. There were concerns that a fine weekend would have signalled something akin to a gold rush, many of our summits seeing the numbers that would rival Ben Nevis on a bank holiday. I had already decided that come what may, I wasn't taking off at the first opportunity. Never mind two metres; I prefer the nearest person to be more like 600m away, a tiny matchstick figure on a distant ridge.

    I tend to avoid weekends in the hills whenever possible anyway, preferring the quieter midweek days, solo travel and solo walking. There was also the thought of early morning or late evening ascents, a sunrise or sunset the bonus for opting for the less hectic time slots.

    But the while the weather may be back to normal, life is certainly not and the mountain experience is likely to feel quite different for a while to come. Never has there been a time when our right to roam has come with greater responsibility. There is understandably still a lot of fear, nervousness and even anger out there, and there has to be great consideration given to the feelings of those who live and work in rural areas.

    There's also the question of lack of facilities. Access to the islands is still heavily restricted by ferry capacity and timetable, camp sites remain shut, as do hotels, hostels and other accommodation. Some local access roads, car parks and toilets are still off limits.

    Although that can lead to frustration and fraying tempers, the level of littering in so many places has been totally unacceptable. Even worse are those who feel it's reasonable to leave their faeces and used toilet paper behind. Take your litter home and bury your waste in the correct manner.

    Despite bothies remaining closed during lockdown, there have been reported instances of vandalism and misuse and this has resulted in the Balmoral estate locking the Gelder Shiel and Allt Glas Shiel shelters. It could be argued that the absence of hillgoers over the past few months has exacerbated the problems, but there's still no realistic suggestion of a date when bothies will re-open.

    It would be a huge plus if all those getting back out on the hills could carry a spare plastic bag and pick up what they can. Within reason, of course. Every little helps, but personal safety must be paramount. And while the outdoors is probably one of the safest environments during the continuing virus threat, there are precautions you need to take.

    My first aid kit has been beefed up, a couple of face masks for emergencies and extra hand gel and antiseptic wipes. It's unlikely they will be needed during a walk, but there's always the chance you may come in close contact with someone if they need assistance.

    Covid-19 can survive on different surfaces for varying amounts of time, so you should avoid touching gates and stiles if possible or use hand gel immediately after being in contact. If you wear gloves, don't touch your face and make sure you wash them regularly after each outing.

    When walking, it's suggested you adhere to the two-metre distancing advice, and try to stay out of others' slipstream. That distance should increase to five metres behind quick walkers and ten behind runners.

    You should also be aware that mountain rescue cover could be limited, with fewer members available for call-out and their need to wear full protective equipment. The smart move is to keep trips as modest and risk-free as possible. 

    It's time for cool heads and sensible decision-making. Good luck, stay safe and enjoy the hills.