Simon Blackett, former factor of Invercauld Estate

I think I joined NEMT in the mid-1990s as I had recently started work at Invercauld Estate as the Factor/Estate Manager. I was aware that NEMT were very active and keen to comment on our ongoing land management. I also met Jennifer who used to live in Clunie Cottage, the Invercauld Factor's house, as a child when her father was Factor. So, I thought I should know what you were saying about us (even if I might not agree!). As a result, I have been a loyal reader (and occasional contributor) of Mountain Views for over 20 years. Adam Watson was somebody I got to know quite well and he became a very useful sounding board. He did however frequently say that a man with a shovel was far better for hill road work than a modern digger. But this was sadly beyond anyone`s budget or skill set. The other person I met was Dave Hewitt (he is very tall like me!) and I became a very avid reader of The Angry Corrie and hopefully some readers will remember that great advocate of responsible public access. We even decorated the walls of the Keiloch car park with front covers.

NEMT, through their loyal band of local activists, took a keen interest in some of the hill roads we were building and repairing. I have just enjoyed rereading your 2006 edition of Mountain Views on the website. One particular track was half way up the Slugain Glen to the west of Invercauld. The shooting tenant was keen to improve what was a hill path into a vehicle track. The planners (encouraged by NEMT) were not impressed and, although the track was built, it was never a success and now I think nature has reclaimed it. On this one, you were right, and we were wrong!

Balmore-Auchtavan track development,
now looking much improved….

The other track was the very rough vehicle track up to Auchtavan. Again, the shooting tenant was keen to restore it, which we duly did. Initially it did look very stark and bare, but the improved track was excellent and has stood the test of time. There was a lot of fuss and the Cairngorms National Park and the Scottish Government Reporter got involved. Ambitious detailed specifications to "restore the damage" were drawn up at potential huge cost in labour and diesel. The tenant farmer, whose land the track passed through, and our conservation advisor were adamant that we should let nature take over and all would soon look great. I remember lots of comments in Mountain Views and photos, which I am afraid I ignored. A couple of years later the track looked as if it has always been there and today is still a model of a sensible functioning hill track. The lesson is that nature is a great healer, given time. I remember meeting Kenny of the Two Kennys at Belladrum Tartan Hearts Music Festival and encouraging him to take a look at what he had condemned as a disaster. If anyone is in the area, it is still today a great short walk with probably the best views of Lochnagar anywhere.

I have enjoyed reading your comments on the Hill Track debate and hopefully progress has been made. There are now many more checks and balances relating to hill track maintenance and construction, particularly in the National Park. A lot no doubt due to NEMT lobbying! The challenge for the manager of the land is that there is a very delicate balance to be struck with very limited financial resources. But I totally agree we should be aiming for high standards of hill road planning, construction and maintenance. It is very important that tracks sit within the landscape, not on the landscape.

I have not had the opportunity to attend many NEMT talks, but those I have attended have been most interesting and relevant. Mountain Views has remained a good quality read and you have wisely resisted the temptation to go on line only. I congratulate you all on 40 years and wish you well looking forward. In semi-retirement, I am fortunate to still live in Braemar and have in theory more time to roam the hills. I look forward to reading Mountain Views for many years to come.

Invercauld estate © Trevor Littlewood (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

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