With foot and mouth cases becoming scarcer by the week, access to the mountains glens and rivers in Scotland is gradually being restored. This is likely to be a slow process except where there is a financial imperative in doing so. It could be months until the traditional Scottish 'freedom to roam' (with some notable restrictions) is restored everywhere. The 'walker unfriendly' class of landowner has already been seen to use F&M as an excuse to restrict access for longer than necessary. However I don't believe that is affecting the main caving areas.
The latest government advice is (I believe) that all restrictions can now be lifted in the Highlands except where a risk assessment has been made that says otherwise. I've trawled through a few websites and while there is some good information there, some is out of date. Talking to GSG members in the caving areas gives a better and less restrictive picture.
Access to the main Scottish caving areas is:-
Footpaths have reopened and the Cuillin are now accessible from all directions including Glen Brittle. The path round Loch Slapin past the Allt nan Leac valley is open so that group of caves is obviously accessible. For other caves further from the path Steve Birch thinks it would be diplomatic to check with the local crofters first. There are disinfectant baths at the start of paths and dogs are unwelcome.
Any access restrictions have been lifted in Glens Duror, Stockdale and Salachan. Places where warning notices had sprouted are now clear. Access is open from Glen Creran to Beinn Sgulaird to the east but I have not heard anything about access from there to the west where the caves lie. Our local informant, Flora McNeil, tells me that everybody there considers the danger is over and she would be surprised if there were still restrictions.
According to the Scottish Mountaineering Council website only the walkers' path to the summit is open. That would mean all caves are still off limits. (www.mountaineering-scotland.org.uk 17-May)
This is getting closer to the affected areas and access is still restrictive compared to the Highlands. It is becoming easier, but it isn't possible to make any sort of definite statement. Each site needs to be researched individually.
So caving can restart in the big three - Assynt, Appin and Skye - and the GSG hut in Assynt is ready to accept bookings from frustrated southern cavers. Just contact the hut warden and remember the Comeback Code:-
Peter Dowswell Tel home:- 01592 202627,
email:- peter @pjid.freeserve.co.uk
All the English cave meets in the GSG meets list published in Newsletter 108 should be considered cancelled. Fraser is working on a new list and as you might expect Scotland will feature more prominently. There is Kintyre meet scheduled for the 2/3 June and this is confirmed on.
There is a GSG trip to Assynt on the 25/27 May. Some members and friends will be there on the 9/10 June and others on the 23/24 June. There's also a SCRO practise rescue being planned with the Durness Coastguard for that last weekend.
Much of Scotland's countryside is free of foot and mouth disease and is open for outdoor pursuits and tourism. However, given the serious nature of the disease, care is still required. This Code outlines sensible precautions for those coming back to enjoy the countryside. While large areas of Scotland are accessible it is wise to check that your particular destination is open before you travel.
Please follow this advice to avoid endangering farm animals and people's livelihoods
The Code is based on expert advice from the State Veterinary Service and on guidance previously issued by the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department, which is responsible for action to contain and eradicate foot and mouth disease.
News on access in the rest of the UK can be found on the National Caving Association website:- www.nca.org.uk
Ivan Young - ivan @g-s-g.demon.co.uk Grampian Speleological Group
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