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Warning to walkers as people expected to flock to Highland mountains this weekend

By John Davidson

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Heather Morning says that walkers heading for the heights need to be aware that winter conditions still exist in the mountains.
Heather Morning says that walkers heading for the heights need to be aware that winter conditions still exist in the mountains.

Hill walkers are being advised to be aware of conditions on the hills as travel restrictions are eased today allowing people to travel across Scotland.

For many people in urban areas, it is the first time they will have been able to access the Munros and Corbetts in a number of months, and with a fine forecast for the weekend Mountaineering Scotland is urging people to think before they travel.

The membership organisation which represents hill walkers, mountaineers and ski tourers says that people should think carefully about the conditions they are likely to meet on the hill.

Snow still lies extensively on the higher hills, and fluctuating temperatures have meant much of it is likely to be very icy, and the consequences of a slip more likely to be serious. That caution is particularly relevant in the mornings on north or north-east-facing slopes.

Heather Morning, mountain safety advisor for Mountaineering Scotland, said: “An ice axe and crampons to cope with any icy stretches really are still essential items of kit at this time of year.

“People should also be conscious that, with limited opportunity to climb in the hills over the last few months, they may have lost some hill-fitness and may well prefer to take on easier walks to begin with so they can ease themselves back into the swing of things.”

It is also important to act in a responsible manner while enjoying access to the hills, especially with the extra pressures due to higher visitor numbers.

Mountaineering Scotland chief executive Stuart Younie said: “We are delighted with the unexpected news this week and particularly for those living in the cities and smaller local authority areas who have had limited access to the outdoors during this lockdown, as they can now get back to doing what they love.

"The last 12 months have demonstrated how important outdoor recreation is for our physical and mental wellbeing and as things start to ease it will play an important role in our economic recovery, particularly in rural areas.

“We’ve all been through a stressful few months, so we should be considerate of local residents and our fellow visitors, whether that’s by parking considerately, making sure we leave no litter or damage, or just in interacting with others.

“The forecast is good for the weekend and if we all take care and look out for each other we can make sure our long-awaited return to the hills is memorable for all the right reasons.”

The group warns that popular locations are likely to be very busy and suggests walkers and climbers travelling by car may have to set off early or consider going somewhere less busy.

Separately, people are being reminded that facilities for overnight stays and many other visitor services are not open until April 26.

Agencies across the Highlands are urging people to follow current government advice on movement and gatherings, and to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Convener of Highland Council, Bill Lobban, said: “We look forward to welcoming tourists and visitors back to the Highlands from April 26. However, before then, overnight stays away from home are not permitted and the usual tourist facilities are not open.

“We all have an important role to play in slowing the spread of coronavirus and as we begin to emerge from lockdown, we must not become complacent. We urge everyone to follow the current guidelines, respect the environment, and not put any additional pressure on the NHS or other emergency services at this time, especially given the heightened risk of wildfires at this time.”

A very high/extreme wildfire warning issued by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) remains in place through Saturday, covering north-east, east and central Scotland and extends to western Scotland over the next few days.

Many remote communities are hugely impacted by wildfires, which can cause significant damage and SFRS has urged people who live within or who may visit rural environments to exercise caution.

Area Commander Bruce Farquharson said: "Livestock, farmland, wildlife, protected woodland and sites of special scientific interest can all be devastated by these fires – as can the lives of people living and working in rural communities.

"Human behaviour can significantly lower the chance of a wildfire starting, so it is crucial that people act safely and responsibly in rural environments, and always follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code."

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