Last year my Lairig Ghru walk project resulted in quite a few thousand-mile weekends when I drove up and down to the Cairngorms over three days - this year there haven’t been so many.
On the first weekend in June I had the need and excuse to run up and down the country, and I only very fleetingly contemplated doing so by public transport - see last month.
The excuse was getting to the John Muir Trust Annual Gathering and AGM in Inverness.
I’ve been a member of the trust for a few years, and supported some of their excellent work in rewilding and habitat restoration in Scotland. It was really good to get the chance to talk with staff, trustees and other members of the Trust. I'm really excited that, in addition to the developing Scottish projects, we might finally see some substantial Trust activity south of the border too, in the not too distant future.
Around the Gathering there was the chance to visit places around Inverness - I opted for a guided tour of the RSPB reserve at Culbin Sands - a fascinating place to visit (make sure you take both wellies and a tide table!).
The Trust had also managed to sign up Pete Cairns to give the after-dinner talk. Pete is a fantastic photographer and organiser of other photographers - his latest big project is Scotland: The Big Picture - it’s definitely worth finding out more about. One of his big thought provoking questions is “What should Scotland look like?”.
My take on that is that simple ‘conservation’ (preserving what we have now) just isn’t going to cut it any more (if it ever did), and that we’re at the stage where we need to be investing in ‘restoration’. We need to be finding ways to repair ecosystems before we can step back and allow the natural processes to kick back in.
Pete made his points with some fantastic imagery capturing the essence of Scotland as it is now, and also his latest pictures of some of the charismatic Scottish animals - pine marten, osprey, golden eagle, wildcat and beaver.
On the way north I timed my travel so that I had a few hours to wander in Rothiemurchus Forest - doing a little bit of the walk I did so many times last year. I’ve missed doing the regular walk!
On the way south, I stopped off at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie. This is part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland - and one the few places where you can see the animals that could (and perhaps one day will) be wild in this part of Scotland. I’m not contemplating releasing polar bears, amur tigers or snow leopards into the Cairngorms, but it would be good to think that one day there might be habitats suitable for wolves and lynx somewhere in Scotland, alongside a restored (and reinvigorated) population of wildcats.
On this visit both the wolves and lynx enclosures were closed off to allow youngsters to arrive without disturbance, but there was a delightful two week old wildcat around. I could probably have spent all day watching the wild-kitten just being a wild-kitten, but unfortunately the A9 was calling me south.