My Scotland Home



Richard Paul -


I like Scotland because of the beauty, the space, the sense of freedom, the wildlife, the mountains and lochs and the varied geology. My drive to work is through 20 miles of outstandingly beautiful scenery past Schiehallion and along Loch Tummel. There are times when I am convinced that there is no more beatiful scenery on the planet. When every twig on every tree carries an inch of snow on a bright sunlit morning with the low sun glowing orange through the snowy branches and a million ice jewels twinkle in a caliedescope of colour; when the snow covered mountains blush pink in the dawn sun and white banner cloud flies on the summit of Schiehallion against the bluest sky; when skenes of geese are first heard and then seen as the emerge from autumn mist; when the woods are carpeted with seemingly endless bluebells and the spring birds return after a hard winter. April 30th often heralds the first cuckoo, always heard before seen. The lapwings, oyster catchers, and curlews return says winter is over. I don't want to live in a house where you can't hear the haunting call of the curlew when you wake up. I like the fact that I can see ospreys fishing and hen harriers hunting from the kitchen window.

It's not all good news, of course. A wet February day can be relatively dreary but it is possible to get the best and the worst weather all in one day. Too many pheasants are killed on the roads - it's cruel for pheasants and a danger to motorists. I'm less than happy with the A9 which kills too many people because it mixes dual carriageway with single carriageway. It will cost £500 million to upgrade. Some central belt towns are less than attractive. Very much on the upside - the best thing the devolved government has done is the 2003 Access to the countryside bill. In Scotland responsible people have the legal right of access to wild country by foot, bike, canoe or horse. Anyone who is not responsible loses their right of access. Well done Scotland! England needs to learn a lesson. On the other hand the disadvantaged of the poorer parts of Glasgow have a life expectancy which is unacceptably low. The deforestation of Scotland over the centuries was an ecological crime that had many causes. There are moves to reverse this but they are too few and far between. There are remnants that show what the Caledonian pine forest, which once covered much of the Highlands, looked like. The Black Wood of Rannoch, Rothiemurchus Forest and Abernethy Forest are examples and often islands in lochs such Loch Maree are covered in original forest because the sheep could not get there. The smell of pine in Rothiemurchus Forest after rain is something to experience before you die. If you are lucky you might see (or hear) a turkey-sized male capercaillie.

I first visited Scotland on a family holiday when I was about fifteen. I was with my parents, my sister and a Belgian girl whose family was and is still friends with our family. We drove in an old Hillman Husky to the Cairngorms. We visited Aviemore and then Loch Morlich and saw the reindeer herd. We climbed Cairngorm and Ben Macdui in the days before the sk- lift or funicular railway. Some might say before the Mountain was disfigured. Then we went to Inverness and on down the Loch Ness road to Fort William. On the way a rear leaf spring broke and this had to be repaired in Fort William.

Fort William lived up to its reputation and it rained and rained. After that it was to Glencoe and we climbed the Aonach Eagach.

I was impressed by Scotland and later did research into the behaviour of the Scottish Wood Ant (hairier than the English Wood Ant) at Glasgow University where I joined the mountaineering club and met my wife. After three years doing research at the Natural History Museum in London I yearned for the Scottish Mountains and took a job at Rannoch School where I taught biology, geology and computing for twenty five years. Rannoch was no ordinary school. It was based on the same Kurt Hahn philosophy that founded Gordonstoun and indeed it was three masters from Gordonstoun who founded Rannoch. Pupils and staff did many exciting and adventurous things that modern health and safety regulations would forbid. I helped with the Duke of Edinburgh Award and with organising long distance expedition. Pupils walked or ran 40 miles and on occasion even 60 miles. Pupils walked or ran from Rannoch Station across Rannoch Moor and then up Buachaille Etive Mhor in Glencoe before returning. This is a distance of 32 miles with a Munro thrown in - the sort of thing that the SAS do to train. Rannoch made good use of its environment for academic subjects such as biology, geology and geography.

There are many special areas of Scotland. Highland Perthshire is one and Skye is another. Skye has fantastic geology - the Black Cuillins are gabbro and the Red Cuillins are Granite. The Cuillin Ridge is the most dramatic ridge in the British Isles. Its glacial knife edge is geologically young and perhaps the most dramatic part is the Inaccessible Pinnacle which juts defiantly into the sky. One guide book has it that it has a bottomless drop on one side and a bigger one on the other side. It is a Munro and therefore represents a challenge to the Munroists. By the way, if you don't live in Scotland you might not know that a Munro is a mountain over three thousand feet in height. The Cuillin Ridge is one place I have seen a Brocken Spectre - that atmospheric effect that occurs when the sun casts your shadow on mist below you. Your shadow is ringed by a spectral halo which only you can see as it is in effect in a tunnel of mist. When you move so does it. Double rainbows are not uncommon with one arc inside the other and the colours reversed. This is an advantage of a wet climate.

Skye has cliffs, sea birds and fossils. It also has rain and is the misty isle. It is one of many amazing islands in Scottish waters. The seabird colonies are amongst the biggest in the world and gems amongst these are the islands of St Kilda which I have yet to visit.

I continue to live in Highland Perthshire near Schiehallion which I have climbed over eighty times and now teach at Pitlochry High School. I enjoy the mountains, the geology and the wildlife - particularly the bird life. I help the British Trust for Ornithology with surveys in Perthshire. Highland Perthshire is a great place Outdoor Learning - something that is a pillar of the new Curriculum for Excellence. In many ways the Scottish Executive is beginning to catch up with the educational philosophy established by Kurt Hahn fifty years.

Now, as a Trustee of the Highland Perthshire Community Land Trust, I have the opportunity to introduce pupils to Outdoor Learning in a local (community owned) mountainous area, called Dun Coillich, right next to Schiehallion. Pupils who are taking the John Muir Award have an excellent opportunity to experience conservation activities and the environment which is their heritage. The Trustees have been very helpful in providing facilities and instruction to pupils from Pitlochry High School. An aim of the Trust is to encourage the use of Dun Coillich as an educational resource.

Schiehallion from the Loch Rannoch Jetty

Schiehallion viewed from Loch Rannoch

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