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I'm going out Ruth, I may be some time....

The weather has been fun the past three weeks. Fun? Well I've been at home, and I kind of enjoy snow, as long as one does not have to drive to and fro work on busy, snowy icy roads.

A long time ago, I was dead keen on snow and ice, snow for skiing, and ice for climbing (I finally threw out old old skis a couple of years ago, but still have a harness, crampons and an original MacInnes all metal ice axe.)

Strangely enough my memories of those days were rekindled by an article in the Scottish Review - the on-line Scottish Current affairs Magazine - which had an article about Nancy's hut on the Black Isle, and Jeans Hut in the Cairngorms. The Author Sheila Hetherington is of course the mother of Lindy Cameron, of Cromarty's Move on up TV Production company, and an old friend.

At the end of the article Kenneth Roy asks did anyone know what had happened to Jeans Hut. Well I did, and sent a fulsome reply, which he kindly published in their first January edition.

Here it is:-

"In our Christmas edition, we republished an article by Alastair Hetherington (which first appeared in 1951) about the opening of Jean's hut in the Cairngorms and asked if anyone knew
what had happened to it.

I knew Jean's hut pretty well back in the 70s when I was a teenager, and a keen mountaineer. Along with a group of friends from Inverness Royal Academy, I regularly used Jean's hut as a base for snow and ice climbing expeditions in the northern Cairngorms.


First the history. Jean's hut was installed in Coire Cas, where the ski centre is now, in 1951, as related by Alastair Hetherington. Named after Jean, who was killed skiing in Core Cas (she tried to traverse a frozen ski slope, but her primitive post-war skis had no metal edges and she slipped to her death), it was moved to Coire nan Lochan (two corries west of Coire Cas) when the chairlift was built in the early 60s. I seem to remember reading that a helicopter was used for the lift, a first for the Highlands.


Jean's hut remained in Coire nan Lochan until about 1984/85, when it was demolished by the ranger service, following a fatal accident when three university students lost their lives trying to find the hut in a blizzard. All that can be seen now are a few metal rings, used to tie the hut down.

The hut itself was primitive and dirty, and living in it for a week in February was I suspect a cross between an early expedition to the Antarctic and a WWII POW camp in a Polish winter. Rough wooden bunks, a table and benches, a store cupboard full of food that climbers could not be bothered carrying back down the hill. One long weekend we supplemented our own food with hard army biscuits, box loads of the things. Teenage appetites and strenuous exercise mean that you will eat anything. Oh, and the smell: damp wool, unwashed bodies, cold air and paraffin fumes from our Primus stoves.


It's interesting to reflect that Jean's hut was simply one of a series of high altitude huts or shelters in the Cairngorms, all built after the war, and all removed (in the interests of 'safety') in the 80s. The St Valery and El Alamain Shelter on the Cairngorm plateau (names redolent of 1940s Highland history) were the first to go, implicated in the tragic loss of five Edinburgh pupils and a teacher in November 1971. Another three or four were removed, with Jean's hut being the last. All that is left is the Victorian stone bothies at Corrour in the Lairg Gru, and at Ryvoan in Glenmore.


I suspect that the building of these shelters, and their subsequent removal, reflect subtle but important changes in 'civic' Scotland's attitudes to mountains, wild places and people's feelings of ownership of the outdoors. Officialdom in modern Scotland would find the building of rough structures in wild places repugnant, but to the post-war generation, just out of a war won to a large part through the building of enormous structures (ports, harbours, airfields, roads, fortifications) in the most remote places (Orkney or the Philippines come to mind), things were quite different.


Enjoyment of Scotland's hills meant shelter, and shelter in remote areas meant building new or adapting what was there, with little thought for aesthetic values. Hence the network of high-level bothies throughout the Cairngorms, built by climbers, for the use of climbers. It's also worth remembering that many of these folk were engineers, fresh from the hydro schemes that were transforming the Highlands, or not long out of the services, where there was no problem that could not be solved by engineering a new solution, or using what materials were there to 'bodge' up a 'fix'. Compare that with modern Scotland, and control over 'wild places'.
I'd agree that in safety terms, there is no need or desire for shelters at high altitudes, and with current transport and good roads almost any parts of the Highlands can be reached for a good mountaineering day out without the need for squalid, damp and decrepit shelters in high locations. If not modern tents and equipment mean that wild camping is more than possible at pretty much any time of the year.

But!

There is almost always a but.


Other parts of Europe have not removed their high altitude shelters; indeed they have been expanded and invested in, as a resource for climbers and walkers. In Scotland, however, I'd argue that there has been a subliminal shift in attitude towards remote and wild places, from places that are there for people, for their health, education and enjoyment, to places that are to be protected from people, to turn them into some 21st-century vision of a 'wilderness' that has never existed in Scotland.


We have an 'Arcadian' vision of Scotland's mountains and moorlands as a pristine wild place remote from human interference, which now seems the unconscious basis for policy, bizarrely ignoring the fact that there is nowhere under 3,000 feet in Scotland that has not been affected one way of the other by man's hands over the past 8,000 years. Modern planning and building control systems mean that we now have much more sympathetic new buildings, of a much higher design, far better placed in the countryside than we had 40 or even 20 years ago.

However, as a nation, we are faced with some critical choices in how we use our remote and wild places, for a variety of uses, over the next few years.

These are big decisions, of a scale that make the sighting of a wooden hut in a mountain corrie almost insignificant.

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