THREE weeks ago I was on top of Buachaille Etive Mor. Ten days later I was exploring the high parts of Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe.
The contrast could hardly be more dramatic, the windswept ridge at the gates of Glen Coe against the baking heat of Sicily but in my eyes there was only one winner.
It was the 25th time I had stood at the summit cairn of Stob Dearg, but I never tire of the approach walk, the climb or the views across the emptiness of Rannoch Moor and to some of the finest peaks in Scotland.
Etna was fascinating, a moonscape of volcanic rock and lava flows and a constant plume of steam - the ultimate safety valve - belching out. But the vastness of the middle slopes provided only a naked monotony and any chance of views were smothered under a thick blue haze.
There are towns and villages sprawling over every inch of the lower slopes despite the need to pay a calamity tax for living there. It’s not a mountain that would demand repeated visits - unlike the Buachaille.
I often think we undervalue what we have in this country. So many times I have visited foreign landmarks only to think that what we have here at home is far superior.
For such a small country we have a vast array of landscape; from the ancient giants of Torridon to the Arctic tundra of the Cairngorms, from the fearsome chaos of the Cuillin to the rolling roughness of the Borders. We are so lucky. We have it all - and we should fight to protect it tooth and nail.
An American friend coming off the Buachaille was astounded at the emptiness of the glens. He said that back home these would be prime real estate. I laughed then at the thought of an American billionaire owning a ranch in the Lairig Gartain, putting huge parcels of land off limits. Now I’m not so sure.
We may have our access rights but you just have to have to look at the way the authorities rolled over when Donald Trump came marching in with promises of tourist riches with his golf course at the Menie estate at Balmedie.
I’m not going to argue the pros and cons of the development, but there’s no doubt there was an indecent haste to steamroller his plans through despite environmental concerns. The normal checks and balances just seemed to be swept aside.
The local council’s objection was rapidly overturned and some of the local people who had the temerity to stand up for their rights were treated more like terrorists than citizens of this country by police and politicians. It was frightening to see how easily big bucks trampled over every other consideration.
So you can be sure that if some other Trumpelstiltskin arrived in Glen Coe spinning tales of gold in exchange for a chunk of land for development there would be those welcoming him with open arms and excuses at the ready, happy to bend the legislation in the misguided name of progress.
You need to look no further than the current chaos of our wind farm planning policies and the indecent rush to churn up every glen for hydro-electric projects.
Yes, we need alternative energy sources, but the current free-for-all seems to be more about meeting targets and rich landowners jumping on the subsidy bandwagon rather than any concerns about destroying our most valuable asset - our landscape. The platitudes and spin from companies desperate to cash in at any cost are a joke.
There has got to be a more measured approach, a bigger safety net. For instance, there should be more enforcement against firms who fail to clean up as promised. It seems that once the contract is signed all the obligations are quietly forgotten.
As Joni Mitchell said: You don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Let’s try to realise the value of what we have and make sure we aren’t looking back years from now mourning what we sacrificed for a few gold coins.