Have a look at this picture. That was part of the ‘haul’ of rubbish found at Corrour Bothy recently. Part – not all. Just part.
There isn’t usually this much rubbish, but this was exceptional in more ways than just the quantity, because just three weekends before this photo was taken there was a work party at Corrour and the bothy had been completely cleaned out. So this was all left in a very short period.
In fact, looking at the pile of rubbish, I strongly suspect that this was almost entirely down to one or maybe two groups of young people.
This photograph was taken after most, but not all of the rubbish had been piled in the middle of the floor, and not before I had started to burn some of it – and it doesn’t include two sleeping bags which I had already stuffed into my rucksack. (I knew they had been there for at least a week – and that means abandoned.)
So let’s count.
There were the two sleeping bags: both cheap, one a child’s
There were 11 pairs of socks – most hung up to dry but several lying sodden, still paired
There were four pairs of gloves, some too wet to burn
There was one damp full-face balaclava. Mouldy
There were two damp cotton hoodies
One long-sleeved tee-shirt
One bathroom towel.
That’s the clothes. There were also two half-used gas canisters, half a dozen clean mess tins, two mess tins with food burnt in, some cutlery, five water bottles and a large collapsible container, a paperback book, a 1:50,000 map. Oh, and a religious tract – in Dutch.
Food-wise, it was pasta heaven. I didn’t count, but there were at least a dozen pasta’n’sauce meals, a small packet of rice (unopened), three tins of mackerel, a tin of spaghetti hoops, dry spaghetti, a smoked sausage still in its packet, an unfeasibly large bag of unshelled peanuts, a large jar of peanut butter, a jar of pesto sauce, bags of oatmeal, bags of dried fruit, bags of trail mix, individual jars of jam, and many more unremembered odds and ends.
And of course there was the out and out rubbish. The wrappers, empty tins, empty jars, the half-eaten food, the unidentifiable stuff, a bundle of broken tentpole, straps, a stuff sack, one gaiter.
The items of clothing spoke of young people: they were non-specialist and downright unsuitable. There was also a lack of experience in allowing spare clothing (many of the socks) to become not just wet but sodden. It’s also more likely to be young people who aren’t having to buy their own clothes who leave so much stuff just because it’s wet (and heavy).
The food is a similar story. No experienced walker carried a whole jar of peanut butter, or a catering pack of unshelled peanuts. This shouted out inexperienced walkers carrying far too much food and taking a chance to offload it when they knew they had more than they would need.
I have in the past defended youth groups in the hills, but I am in no doubt at all that a large part of this shameful heap was left by youngsters supposed to be learning self-reliance, self respect and a sense of community and social responsibility.
Instead they have trailed their bad behaviour across a national park, displaying their ignorance of how to behave, their laziness and their disregard of other people.
As a result of these youngsters – okay, and certainly others as well – I had to spent over two hours burning what I could of their waste. I then continued on my planned walk over the top of MacDui to Coire Etchachan with a rucksack that was so bulked up with two abandoned sleeping bags that the fierce 60-70mph winds on top several times blew me to my knees with a genuine risk of injury – not to mention the effort of carrying the extra weight. The selfish disregard of these people also disgusted a group of French walkers, who offered some much appreciated help by carrying out a large and heavy bag of wet clothes, jars and tin cans which I was unable to get into my rucksack.
In the long term, every day rubbish sits in the bothy makes it easier for the next person to leave more rubbish. Every packet of pasta left on the shelf encourages the next over-supplied walker to kid himself on that his unwanted food will “be useful” to some mythical starving traveller, whereas what really happens is that it attracts more food and rodents. Left uncleared, a bothy gets dirtier and dirtier, to the point of becoming a health hazard – and the more rubbish there is the more likely it is to be uncleared. For some of the regular volunteers who look after Corrour are becoming demoralised and wonder why they bother.
So what’s the answer?
I love seeing kids in the hills. I came to these hills as a 10-year-old and quickly grew to love them, and it’s important to me that new generations of children are allowed to do the same.
But just as the hills can be devalued by waste and rubbish, so are bothies a very fragile resource. Uniquely maintained by walkers for walkers in remote locations that often make even routine maintenance a major undertaking, they exist on a knife-edge.
So my challenge to all these organisations which enable kids to go to the hills, is for them to teach some respect. Because whatever they’re teaching now plainly isn’t enough. They need to teach the children they direct to the hills about bothies. Maybe, as with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme expeditions, the kids are meant to be camping and not using bothies except in emergencies. But teach them that they exist; tell them why they exist, why they’re important, what their value is – and also how they exist, and how to behave in them.
If any organisation wants to take up this challenge and make education a part of their encouragement of children – perhaps to better educate some of their leaders and supervisors – I’m prepared to help in the preparation of materials or in giving advice. I’m sure, too, that the Mountain Bothy Association would be happy to help. Most kids do behave well in the hills, and most of those who don’t are being anti-social through ignorance rather than badness. So let’s do something about it. There are enough adults who leave their rubbish behind – don’t let us turn a blind eye as a new generation comes along and behaves with the same lack of consideration and ignorance.
I’ve already had informal discussions about this with one group very active in the hills and received a positive initial response. I’ll be following this up and hope that other youth organisations whose aims include preparing youngsters for adulthood and inculcating a sense of responsibility might also get in touch.
Let them live up to their aims and not short-change either the hill-going community or the children themselves.
(As far as adults are concerned, I know full well that they can be worse than anyone, but I have to praise the attitude of the three young Frenchmen who volunteered to take out some of the rubbish. I have also been contacted by Mountain Guide Tim Hall who has volunteered to drop in by Corrour any time he’s in the area and take out any rubbish he finds. It would be nice if more people would do the same. Everyone who uses bothies surely has a responsibility to do at least that.)