Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Dreaming Big: The Arran Coastal Way comes of age.

I awoke this morning to sad news of the death of Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face and a conservationist who committed much of his vast wealth to founding National Parks in Patagonia. I only recently became fully aware of Doug's work, when a friend pointed me at a beautiful film: 180° South. I've included the link to the Youtube version below- it's a fairly long film, but worth the effort, so after reading this blog maybe make yourself another cuppa and get some popcorn.... 

Anyway, only this morning I learned (via Twitter from Alan Halewood) that Doug was also instrumental in gaining a big donation from The North Face for restoring the Allt a'Mhuilinn path to Ben Nevis. A path that has profoundly improved my personal experience of the walk in to climb on the beloved Ben.  

It was with Doug's legacy in mind that I headed out of my house to attend the opening of a new monument to mark the start and finish of the Arran Coastal Way, a 65 mile circular route around the island. We'd hoped a few of hillwalking's great and good would be able to make it to the island, but with the ferries on Amber Alert today, it was just locals who attended- but what a crowd came out and braved the weather!  It was heartening to see so many familiar faces and good friends at the event. The monument itself is a beautiful, tactile sculpture made by a collaboration local artists (design and metal work by Simon Horne, woodwork and carving by Tom Buchan and Sam Easson, plus stonework by the Coastal Way Team).  I'm going to love showing it to clients and friends who visit our isle.

The new monument, designed by Simon Horne

After the ribbon was cut, we retired to the Douglas Hotel to hear about the latest developments in the Coastal Way project. My work takes me to all corners of the island and together with my clients I'm often to be found watching wildlife on parts of the Coastal Way. The superb footpath through the boulder field at An Scriodan has vastly improved the experience of walkers around the Cock of Arran.  A similarly ambitious path has recently been put in place across the rough scree under the fluted cliffs of Drumadoon Point. Project Officer Rachel Sedman and her team of dedicated pathworkers (Scott, Stu and David) have done an extraordinary job of uprgading and improving access in a number of tricky spots. We now hear that another big grant award will enable to project to continue for a year longer than originally planned- with more improvements to come.

A new path takes Coastal Way walkers under Drumadoon Cliffs

It's important to put these developments in to context.  The Arran Coastal Way was the dream and brainchild of two local men, Hugh McKerrell and Dick Sim. Sadly both men have now passed away, but I was lucky enough to know Dick for a few years.  A quiet man with an elvish air, he was passionate about access on Arran and although he had climbed and mountaineered all over Scotland, pioneering new routes as he went, he was sure that there was nowhere more special and attractive than his little island. In 2003 Cameron McNeish opened the new trail, although from the start it was always a work in progress.  It wasn't without controversy either: Dick's enthusiastic waymarking with yellow paint prompted a few heated discussions in the letters page of the Arran Banner! The yellow paint has all but completely faded, but Dick's legacy lives on.  Everyone would agree that together with Hugh McKerrell, it was his energy and enthusiasm that was the spark needed to create a world class long distance walk. The trail and its beautiful new monument are testament to the power of individuals who dream big.

Like Dick, Doug Tompkins didn't make everyone happy all of the time. His money enabled him to purchase millions of acres of wilderness plus adjacent land, via the Conservation Land Trust. This was often to the alarm of the Chilean and Argentinian governments, and against the wishes of local ranchers. His vision was vast, and its effects powerfully felt on all sides. The land he bought has been or is in the process of being gifted back to the Patagonian people in the form of National Parks such as the 800,000 acre Pumalin Park in Chile.

Dick did not have Doug's money, but he had his vision, and in his own way was able to bring lasting positive change to the landscape that he loved. The money brought by visiting walkers helps keep this little island economy afloat, and the new paths protect fragile shoreline habitats from erosion.  I know that thousands of people will enjoy the Arran Coastal Way in coming years.  I'm sure that they will fall in love with the wild and rugged coastline, with it's windswept beaches and friendly villages, and appreciate it just as we who live here do.

1 comment:

Ralf said...

I had the good fortune to walk three days on the ACP this summer. I had a wonderful time, not least because of the good condition of the trail and the excellent way-marking. Thanks to all the wonderful people making that possible!