One of the treats I enjoy as a Ramblers’ trustee is the opportunity to visit our Scottish and Welsh Councils, usually in March each year.
This year Scottish Council was once again held in Dunblane, north of Stirling, where it was two years ago. We stayed at the imposing Dunblane Hydro which first opened in 1878 as a Victorian health spa.
I arrived on Friday evening and, before the meeting kicked off at Saturday lunchtime, I took a short walk with the chair of Ramblers Cymru, Chris Hodgson. I wanted to see if there were still grey wagtails on the River Allan. Last time we saw them on the Sunday morning; this time there was one perched on the top of the railway bridge across the river.
As we walked back towards the town I saw goldcrests in the trees alongside the river. The town itself is attractive with plaques telling colourful stories, such as this one.
We also had time for a quick visit to the thirteenth-century cathedral with its fine stained-glass windows.
Then it was back to the hotel for the meeting.
Highlights were the welcome from Ramblers Scotland’s president Ben Dolphin, journalist, blogger and countryside ranger, who had in his first year in the role walked with more than half the Ramblers’ groups in Scotland and is a great enthusiast of the outdoors. The annual Dick Balharry lecture was delivered by photographer Peter Cairns who spoke provocatively about wilderness and showed some amazing photographs and videos.
We were visited by five members of the student Nizhny Novgorod Mountain Club in Russia. They gave us a talk on Sunday morning about their amazing expeditions, and then entertained us with some of their campfire songs, including A red, red rose by Robbie Burns (who is popular in Russia).
From the hotel there was a fine view of the hills to the north, covered in snow.
It was a bit of a disappointment on the short pre-breakfast walk, led by Ray Finlay on Sunday morning up the hill behind the hotel, that the mist was down so we saw little, but it was still an enjoyable outing.
In fact, as we returned it began to snow.
I was disappointed to find that a misleading notice, which I spotted on the walk two years ago, was still in place. Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and its access code, the estate owners cannot require people to keep to the footpath, nor can they ban horses and ponies.
However, the problem is that the access authorities, in this case Stirling, do not have the resources to follow up such cases. Helen Todd, Ramblers Scotland’s excellent campaigns and policy manager, tells me that Stirling’s access officer was made redundant about two years ago and not replaced, and that the team of three which existed a decade ago have all gone.
Nevertheless, I am confident that Ramblers Scotland will do what it can to ensure that our access rights are upheld.
On my journey home I was able to tick off another bird for 2019. I had a 30-minute break in Newcastle upon Tyne so hurried down to Tyne Bridge to see the kittiwakes there.