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Minimum Impact Walking
Contents List | Introduction | About the West Highland Way | When to go | Itineraries and Direction | Minimum Impact Walking | Sample route guide: Rowardennan to Inversnaid | A new way to end the Way | Stage map and profile: Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
MINIMUM IMPACT WALKING
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet Thich Nhat Hanh
Scotland’s large and sparsely populated countryside is the closest you can get to true wilderness anywhere in Britain. Visitors have come in large numbers for over a century to sample the healing balm that comes from walking in these less touched places and as the world gets increasingly faster, more polluted and urbanised there is an even greater need for wild country where you can go for re-creation in the true sense of the word.
Inevitably this too brings its problems. As more and more people enjoy the freedom of the hills so the land comes under increasing pressure and the potential for conflict with other land-users is heightened. Everyone has a right to this natural heritage but with it comes a responsibility to care for it too.
By following some simple guidelines while walking the West Highland Way you can have a positive impact, not just on your own well-being but also on local communities and the environment, thereby becoming part of the solution.
Support local businesses
Rural businesses and communities in Britain have been hit hard in recent years by a seemingly endless series of crises. The countryside through which the West Highland Way passes is no exception and there is a lot that the walker can do to help. Playing your part today involves much more than simply closing the gate and not dropping litter; there is something else you can do – buy local – and with it comes huge social, environmental and psychological benefits.
Look and ask for local produce to buy and eat. Not only does this cut down on the amount of pollution and congestion that the transportation of food creates, so-called ‘food miles’, but also ensures you are supporting local farmers and producers. It’s a fact of life that money spent at local level – perhaps in a market, or at the greengrocer, or in an independent pub – has a far greater impact for good on that community than the equivalent spent in a branch of a national chain store or restaurant. If you can find local food which is also organic so much the better.
While no-one would advocate that walkers should boycott the larger supermarkets, which after all do provide local employment, it’s worth remembering that businesses in rural communities rely heavily on visitors for their very existence. If we want to keep these shops and post offices, we need to use them.
By choosing a walking holiday you have already made a positive step towards minimising your impact on the wider environment. By following these suggestions you can also tread lightly along the West Highland Way.
Use public transport whenever possible
Traffic congestion in the Highlands during peak holiday times is becoming more and more of a nightmare. Conversely public transport to and along the West Highland Way is excellent and the more people who use it the better the services will become. This not only benefits visitors but also local people and the environment.
Never leave litter
Leaving litter shows a total disrespect for the natural world and others coming after you. As well as being unsightly litter kills wildlife, pollutes the environment and can be dangerous to farm animals.
Please carry a degradable bag so you can dispose of your rubbish in a bin in the next village. It would be very helpful if you could pick up litter left by other people too.
- Is it OK if it’s biodegradable? Not really. Apple cores, banana skins, orange peel and the like are unsightly, encourage flies and wasps and ruin a picnic spot for others. Using the excuse that they are natural and biodegradable just doesn’t cut any ice. When was the last time you saw a banana tree in Scotland?
- The lasting impact of litter A piece of orange peel left on the ground takes six months to decompose; silver foil 18 months; a plastic bag 10 years; clothes 15 years; and an aluminium drinks can 85 years.
l Stay on the main trail The effect of your footsteps may seem minuscule but when they are multiplied by several thousand walkers each year they become rather more significant. Avoid taking shortcuts, widening the trail or creating more than one path; your boots will be followed by many others.
- Consider walking out of season Maximum disturbance by walkers coincides with the time of year when nature wants to do most of its growth and repair. In high-use areas, like that along much of the Way, the trail never recovers. Walking at less busy times eases this pressure while also generating year-round income for the local economy. Not only that, but it may make the walk a more relaxing experience for you as there are fewer people on the path and there’s less competition for accommodation.
Respect all wildlife
Care for all wildlife you come across on the Way; it has just as much of a right to be there as you. Tempting as it may be to pick wild flowers leave them so the next people who pass can enjoy them too. Don’t break branches off or damage trees in any way.
If you come across wildlife keep your distance and don’t watch for too long. Your presence can cause considerable stress particularly if the adults are with young or in winter when the weather is harsh and food scarce. Young animals are rarely abandoned. If you come across deer calves or young birds keep away so that their mother can return.
The code of the outdoor loo
‘Going’ in the outdoors is a lost art worth reclaiming, for your sake and everyone else’s. As more and more people discover the joys of the outdoors this is becoming an important issue. In some parts of the world where visitor pressure is higher than in Britain walkers and climbers are required to pack out their excrement. This could one day be necessary here. Human excrement is not only offensive to our senses but, more importantly, can infect water sources.
- Where to go Wherever possible use a toilet. Public toilets are marked on the trail maps in this guide and you will also find facilities in pubs, cafés and campsites. The West Highland Way is not a wilderness area and the thousands of walkers using it each year mean you need to be as sensitive as possible.
If you do have to go outdoors choose a site at least 30 metres away from running water and 200 metres away from high-use areas such as huts and bothies. Carry a small trowel and dig a hole about 15cm (6”) deep to bury your excrement in. It decomposes quicker when in contact with the top layer of soil or leaf mould. Use a stick to stir loose soil into your deposit as well as this speeds up decomposition even more. Do not squash it under rocks as this slows down the composting process. If you have to use rocks to hide it make sure they are not in contact with your faeces.
Make sure you do not dig any holes on ground that is, or could be, of historic or archaeological interest.
- Toilet paper and tampons Toilet paper takes a long time to decompose whether buried or not. It is easily dug up by animals and can then blow into water sources or onto the trail. The best method for dealing with it is to pack it out. Put the used paper inside a paper bag which you place inside a (degradable) plastic bag (or two). Then simply empty the contents of the paper bag at the next toilet you come across and throw the bag away. You should also pack out tampons and sanitary towels in a similar way; they take years to decompose and may be dug up and scattered about by animals.
Along the West Highland Way there are a number of informal sites where you are allowed to camp wild. There is deep, lasting pleasure to be gained from living outdoors close to nature but all too often people ruin that enjoyment for those who come after them. Camping without any facilities provides a valuable lesson in simple, sustainable living where the results of all your actions, from going to the loo to washing your plates in a stream, can be seen. Follow these suggestions for minimising your impact and encourage others to do likewise.
- Be discreet Camp alone or in small groups, spend only one night in each place and pitch your tent late and move off early.
- Never light a fire The deep burn caused by camp fires, no matter how small, seriously damages the turf and can take years to recover. Cook on a camp stove instead. Be aware that accidental fire is a great fear for farmers and foresters; take matches and cigarette butts out with you to dispose of safely.
- Don’t use soap or detergent There is no need to use soap; even biodegradable soaps and detergents pollute streams and lochs. You won’t be away from a shower for more than a couple of days. Wash up without detergent; use a plastic or metal scourer, or failing that, a handful of fine pebbles from the stream or some bracken or grass.
- Leave no trace Enjoy the skill of moving on without leaving any sign of having been there: no moved boulders, ripped up vegetation or dug drainage ditches. Make a final check of your campsite before heading off; pick up any litter that you or anyone else has left, so leaving it in at least as good a state as you found it, if not better.
The West Highland Way, as a designated ‘Long Distance Footpath’, is a right of way with open access to the public. Access laws in Scotland were for many years very different from those in England and Wales largely due to an uneasy tradition of ‘freedom to roam’ going back many centuries. This freedom to roam was, until recently, little more than a moral right rather than a legal one. This changed with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 that established statutory rights of access to land and inland water for outdoor recreation which came into effect in February 2005. The law now states that there is a right of access to land that is considered, among other designations, moorland and mountain.
Walkers need to be aware of the wider access situation, especially if planning to leave the Way to explore some of the remoter country around it. In the past there has been some conflict between the interests of large sporting estates and walkers. The new access legislation relies on an attitude of co-operation between landowners and those wishing to use the land for peaceful recreation. Hillwalkers therefore have a responsibility to be considerate to those using the land for other purposes such as farming, forestry and field sports. This means following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see box p54) and respecting the lambing and deer-stalking seasons (see p55).
For more information see Scottish Rights of Way Society (: www.scot ways.com), a charity that works to develop and protect public rights of way.
Other points to consider on the West Highland Way
- All along the Way there are stiles and kissing gates through boundaries. If you have to climb over a gate which you can’t open, always do so at the hinged end.
- Walkers should take special care on country roads. Cars travel dangerously fast on narrow winding lanes. To be safe, walk facing the oncoming traffic and carry a torch or wear highly visible clothing when it’s getting dark. Conversely, if you are driving go carefully on country roads and park your car with consideration for others’ needs; never block a gateway.
- Contents List
- About the West Highland Way
- When to go
- Itineraries and Direction
- Minimum Impact Walking
- Sample route guide: Rowardennan to Inversnaid
- A new way to end the Way
- Stage map and profile: Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
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