I've been meaning to do this post for a few weeks, ever since some idiot thought it was a good idea to scatter carpet tacks around the halfway point of the Etape Caledonia cycle, somewhere near Kinloch Rannoch. A 62 year old man (solicitor, church elder and leader of the local community council, if you believe the local press) has been charged with a number of offences relating to that incident, so in the interests of justice it is probably best that I don't comment directly on him or on his alleged acts. It does however highlight a more general point that has been concerning me recently - why do people who live in the country have a problem sharing the countryside with others?
As well as the Etape incident, there were problems in last year's WHW race and in this year's Highland Fling. Both arose from the fact that a lot of people were wanting to support the runners but there were inadequate facilities for parking, particularly around Beinglas Farm and the Kingshouse Hotel. At Kingshouse someone contrived to park their camper van on the hotel's front lawn, which quite understandably did not go down well at all with the owner. However I have sensed a general antagonism from many land owners to runners which is not at all healthy, and seems to me to be based on a selfish desire to keep the countryside to themselves: "this is my countryside and I don't want you anywhere near it, you smelly runner". Surely the countryside is big enough for all of us to enjoy? And I am surprised that the owners of local businesses, such as Beinglas Farm campsite and Kingshouse Hotel, are not able to see the opportunities of attracting the running fratenity - if each support person bought something from the Kingshouse hotel, for example, their day's takings would probably be up by more than £1,000. For a small business that seems worthwhile.
I should say quickly that not all businesses on the WHW are the same. The Real Food Cafe and the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum are very welcoming, and have both been involved as sponsors of the WHW race, the Highland Fling or the Devil O. And guess what - these are places we (and many friends) make a point of visiting when we are on our way through Tyndrum. It is no surprise to me at all they are both successful, thriving businesses - they know the importance of looking after their customer base, and the need to make their customers feel welcome. Auchtertyre Farm is another good example of a business that puts its customers first, and Tony Waterhouse, the manager there and a past president of Central AC, has been a great help in allowing the Farm to be used as a WHW checkpoint.
However if we are going to be welcomed in the countryside, then we need to respect it. I have to say that I was really disappointed by the amount of rubbish that was left on the route during the Fling - things like gel packets, sports drink bottles and so on which had clearly been dropped by runners. That is just unacceptable. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code is a fantastic piece of legislation that gives us the right to run just about anywhere in Scotland, but with that comes responsibilities, one of which is 'care for your environment'. That includes taking your litter with you, so here is my plea to all runners and support taking part in the WHW race next week: DO NOT DROP RUBBISH ANYWHERE ON THE WHW ROUTE. Put it in your bag and take it to the next checkpoint. If everyone does that there will be far fewer problems, and we can all enjoy the countryside in our different ways.