Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Stuc a' Chroin and Ben Vorich

Friday, 15 January 2010

North of Loch Maree

North of Loch Maree lie the wild deer forests of Letterewe, Fisherfield and Strathnashellag. We first visited Letterewe in 1981, bound for A'Mhaighdean and Ruadh Stac Mor, accompanied by our young Border Collie, Morag. We had telephoned the keeper at Kernsary during the winter months to make sure that Morag would be welcome, and of course she was. This was Letterewe after all, owned by the Dutch billionnaire Paul van Vlissingen. Chairman of one of the largest privately owned companies in the world, comprising the likes of Calor Gas and Makro supermarkets, he always descibed himself as a 'guardian', dismissing the idea that anyone could 'own' such landscape.

 He had a significant influence on land reform in Scotland through the work he did with The Ramblers Association and others in the 1990s and The Letterewe Accord was the forerunner to the Scottish Parliament's own land reform legislation only introduced some 10 years later. He died in 2006 and the estate was inherited by his two daughters.

When we returned last June, this time heading for Beinn Lair and Beinn a'Chaisgein Mor, we wondered if much would have changed. We'd got so used to seeing places change in recent years, and rarely for the better, but needn't have worried. Sure there were other people around where none were encountered in 1981; the sandy shore of Fionn Loch had a few tents belonging to people canoeing on the loch, presumably having canoed up Fionn Loch  for no roads penetrate here; tents lay across the causeway and near the path that leads to high lochans on the route to Gleann na Muice Beag; and people were heading for a bivouac on A'Mhaighdean. But all was quiet, as it should be in such a place.

Inevitably, van Vlissingen had his critics but I believe that we owe much to Paul van Vlissingen (and to Colonel Whitbread before him, although he was less welcoming!) and just before his death he bought the 6874 acre Tournaig estate situated between Poolewe and Aultbea and adjoining Letterewe, thus affording protection to even more precious wild country.

..... it's very hard to leave.


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