Tuesday, 10 November 2015

TGO Challenge 2015, Part X: A Murdering Monoculture


The further you walk east on the TGO Challenge, the more you come face to face with murder, on an industrial scale. There's nothing new about shooting estates in Scotland; Game shoots have been an established part of Scottish life for over a hundred years. However, recently I've noticed a dramatic change. 

The hills in the east have been transformed from the rolling brown loveliness of the heather, to a dramatic chequerboard of muirburn. Game birds, usually grouse in this part of the world, feed on the young, more tender shoots of heather and so the estates regularly burn the heather in a patchwork to promote new growth.

The extent of muirburn is an indicator of how intensively the grouse moors are worked. The first picture, below, is how Glen Lee looked, in 2002. Mick Coady is cluttering up the foreground, descending from Muckle Cairn. You'll notice that there are one or two patches of muirburn.


The next picture was taken a year later. My son Oli is standing in a patch of young heather that was probably burned back a couple of years previously. You'll note that the muirburn is substantially the same; I can't see any new areas.


Fast forward ten years, to the picture below. That's some change, eh? All the hillsides are plastered with muirburn. 

So why am I bothered about this? Surely it means that the Estate is making best use of the land to maximise the economic benefit of landownership, and providing employment. Yes. It does mean that. 


Let me refer you back to the title of this piece: "A Murdering Monoculture." I'm not referring here to the chinless wankers who come up to the estates to murder birds for fun, as sickening and despicable as I find their behaviour. No. I'm talking about the Estates' murder, on an industrial scale, of the creatures who threaten the survival, in any way, of the grouse. Be they weasels, stoats, crows, or mountain hares (they can carry ticks which can reduce grouse populations), rest assured the Estates' employees are tasked to wipe them out.

This is carried out with a Holocaust-like fanaticism. They work only with the most cost effective ways of murdering the little creatures. For the birds, it's most often with Larsen traps. Once caught, the birds are beaten to death by the keeper - all quite legally. You can find out more about the many and various legal, and illegal, traps that are used regularly by shooting estates by clicking the link below:

However, you'll also note that many tagged raptors (eagles, buzzards, kites etc) seem to go "missing" around this part of Scotland, occasionally turning up dead somewhere miles away, dumped in a layby. You can read more about this by clicking the link below:

Golden eagle is dumped by lay-by and left to die lingering death

For an accurate take on Scottish shooting estates behaviour, I suggest you subscribe to the excellent site below:

All in all, it's a pretty sick industry, and one that, like Bear Baiting and sticking children up chimneys, should be abolished.

And now, for the last picture:


Please click on the picture to blow it up to a larger size. You'll note that climbing every hillside and along the top of every hill there are unsurfaced roads. The estates like to call them 'hill tracks'. But they are roads. You could quite easily drive your family car up these. They have all been built, or in some cases, rebuilt, in the last ten years or so. They stick out like sore thumbs. 

They are only there so people who want to go about murdering birds with shotguns for fun, can be driven up the hill in a rather nice Range Rover. These roads do not need any planning permission, as they are there for "agricultural purposes." 

Quite incredible.

When you are next approaching these areas this is what you will be faced with. The Killing Fields.


The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A walk in the woods

Well then. We're all in. A week or so ago the Fat Controller (well, actually, these days the role of the Challenge Coordinator is shared by two sylph-like waifs, but it suited the description of the last incumbent, so I'll stick with tradition) popped a note on the TGO Challenge Message Board letting us know that this year the entry numbers had been raised and everyone could now come to the party.

Straight after reading this shocking news I looked down at my burgeoning belly, escaping from beneath my t-shirt. It looked back up at me, reproachfully. Oh God. I'm going to have to go for a walk now, to sort the bastard out.

It hammered down with rain this morning, but by mid afternoon it had blown through. My razor sharp mind calculated that there was just time for a quick out and back to the pond in the woods. 


Five miles, no passes. It's a doddle, this walking lark...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

TGO Challenge 2015, Pt IX: Wonderful Challengers

I'm often asked why I choose to walk across Scotland every year on the TGO Challenge. I believe the following pictures answer that question admirably. 

It's the Challengers themselves that make this walk so incredibly fulfilling. You can walk across Scotland any time you fancy, and you will meet some lovely people. But it's in the middle weeks of May that you'll bump into the most amazing bunch.

You can click on the group pictures to make them much larger, but should you want the original full strength horror of an individual photo, just leave a comment I'll get them to you.

I've nicked a few of the pictures, towards the end of the bunch, from other folk, but you'll notice that they get a credit (well, sort of) beneath each picture.

The first four pictures are taken at Tarfside, an established watering hole for the Challenge. The local Masons open up their hall (right opposite the village sports field, where Challengers are allowed to camp for the night) and can rehydrate to their hearts' content at splendidly low prices.

The remaining five pictures are from the Thursday evening dinner at the Park Hotel in Montrose.

I only wish the night had gone on longer as I missed meeting so many Challengers. Well, there's always next year.

Some Challengers seem to have run around the back of the photo and appear a few times. There should be a cull I suppose, but I have already weeded out the truly dreadful pictures and the ones left are as good as they get. Honestly. You do look like that.

Some of the folk in these pictures won't be back, so if that's you, thank you. Thank you for making the event as wonderful as it can possibly be. And for those of you that are coming back for more? I'll see you next time, possibly on some midge infested bog in the pouring rain, with your socks lying in your tent, sullen lumps of cold sodden felt, infused with pounds of mud.

And below are two pictures that Ian Cotterill kindly provided - those having just completed their tenth and twentieth crossings. Thanks Ian.



So. There you go. Zillions of Wonderful Challengers!

An Autumn Weekend in Wharfedale (Wensleydale...)

With an invitation to a party, I put on my best party frock and zoomed up the M1 to about as far north as is decent for a Home Counties chap, to stay in a rather splendid hotel in Leyburn in the Yorkshire Dales. Martin Banfield was celebrating his completion of Another Pyrenean Adventure, his newly published book of his GR11 walk in the summer, with a dozen or so of his friends.

Leyburn is in Wharfedale, possibly the most beautiful of all the Yorkshire Dales. The following photos are from the walk on Saturday. Should you suddenly be seized by an urge to see a larger version of any of the pictures, you need only to click on them, and they will blow up to an exceedingly accommodating size.

The day started with a cloud inversion filling the dale, which was slowly burnt away to be replaced with gorgeous sunshine, followed by the mist returning late afternoon to add more interest to the photographs. 

You will note that there are only rear views of the various participants; their identities will remain a mystery, rather like those of the Bilderberg Group. I suppose if you hunt around the blogosphere it is possible to fathom a few from the list of attendees. One chap, however, does deserve a special mention. I have followed his exploits on his blog over many years, yet had never met the gentleman. However, on this rather grand occasion I had the pleasure of sharing a room with Conrad, who writes Conrad Walks . He is an absolute gentleman and tremendous fun to boot. I thoroughly recommend you pop over to his place and discover Conrad's world of adventure.   

On various other places in the dazzling world of social media that I'm sure you all frequent, I have captioned the crumbling edifice seen in the picture below variously as Bolton Abbey, Bolton Castle and Fylingdales. Apparently none is correct. Fortunately I wasn't map reading. The sheep don't care either way.

And now, rather like Nicholas Parsons, we approach the sunset hours; The landscape hues fade away, to be replaced by the blazing colours of the heavens.

A huge 'thank you' to Martin & Sue for the invitation and a sparkling round of applause to the party members who made the weekend so much fun.