The Cairngorms do pretty well as a tourist destination – even in a normal Covid-free year it is often hard to book accommodation in the spring, summer and autumn months and in the winter skiers and snowboarders love the place, when it snows.
In recent years there has been much written about and argued over when it comes to the funicular railway and associated “ski resort”. The details are long and complex but it is enough to say millions have been spent and at different times it has gone bust or broken down.
Now the government has announced £16m will go into repairing the railway as part of a £20.51m package which Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said will “unlock the full potential of Cairn Gorm to make it a destination people can enjoy all year-round.”
There are a number of things which raised my eyebrows at this. Not least the staggering amount of money being spent in one area when other ski resorts were getting nothing and, as covered in my last blog, that there was no money to save Scotland’s outdoor education centres – shut because of Covid and then not invested in by the same Scottish Government.
Further, Cairn Gorm is already a year round destination – the main thing that has hindered it is that some years it doesn’t snow very much and when it snows a lot, the roads are closed.
You could also invest in keeping the roads open – imagine if the routes to ski resorts in the Alps or Pyrenees closed as often as ours do? But that’s not very cool, a funicular railway, however, is big and shiny – it looks great on photos, better than a snowplough anyway.
And it is big and shiny things that Scottish Government appear to be in thrall to – think about the way our two National Parks were launched, with press releases about a Loch Lomond visitor centre containing a Jenner’s outlet and the focus in the Cairngorms was the funicular railway.
Peatland restoration, conservation of habitats for upland birds or reforestation with native trees could have been the main focus – but a peat bog doesn’t look great in a photo op.
Think also why there is no money for outdoor education centres, infrastructure such as toilets on the extremely popular North Coast 500 or for car parks on over-crowded Skye – none of those things are big and shiny.
A Scottish Government press release about this investment had the title “Strengthening Cairn Gorm’s future” which led the cynic in me to think Cairn Gorm did pretty well for millions of years without human intervention and if there was really a concern for it as a habitat, and geologically, you would minimise any intrusion on the landscape rather than build something big and shiny like a funicular railway.
Yes, there need to be built infrastructure to help the skiers, our landscapes are there to be enjoyed and some disturbance is inevitable but please, let’s stop thinking big and shiny is best.