The Battle for Rothiemurchus

on .

Walter’s report mentions the battle for Rothiemurchus and includes the wonderful statement “Great local irritation is felt at this iron-bound obstruction to an old-established road, and to regular visitors to Speyside it is a harsh and high-handed interference with their wonted quiet, and as they consider perfectly legal, enjoyment of the beauties of this lovely country. The Larig Ghru Pass is as old—one may almost say—as the Cairngorm Mountains themselves and yet, if locked gates are put on the roads leading to that pass, how is one to get up to it?

But what was the Battle for Rothiemurchus?  In his book Caleb’s List: Climbing the Scottish Mountains Visible from Arthur’s Seat, Kellan MacInnes includes a great summary which is paraphrased here:

1880-1925 encompassed what environmental historian Robert Lambert dubbed The Battle for Rothiemurchus. During this period the Rothiemurchus Estate was the focus of a campaign mounted by [ScotWays] and in response to requests for action from tourists, walkers and mountaineers who: 

… came to see Rothiemurchus estate as a recreational gem, and a fundamental link in the access route to the high tops of the Cairngorms. 

In the mid-1880s Loch an Eilein was the scene of a bitter access dispute between [ScotWays] and the Grant of Rothiemurchus family during which hillwalkers took direct action, forcing open locked gates and throwing them off their hinges.

In 1903-04 the dispute flared up again when the new Laird of Rothiemurchus attempted to obstruct the ‘driving road’ from the south end of Loch an Eilein. [ScotWays] was heavily dependent on activists on the ground who played a vital part in their access campaigns and it was by this route that Caleb [Caleb George Cash was a mountaineer, geographer, antiquarian and teacher how drew up a list of the 20 mountains visible from Arthur’s Seat.] who spent every Easter and summer in the area became covertly involved in the campaign.

On 18 August 1904 Caleb who was on holiday at Fearn Bank, Aviemore sent a letter to the Edinburgh home of CEW MacPherson of the Society which contained revealing information about the financial position of the Rothiemurchus Estate and the delicate relationship between the Laird and Donald Grant of the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Grantown-on-Spey branch. One favourite method used by the SROWS to pressurise landowners to allow access was to threaten them with legal action. The information contained in Caleb’s letter about the dire state of the Rothiemurchus Estate finances at that time would have been very useful to the Society. Knowing the Laird lacked the money to pay expensive lawyers’ bills if [ScotWays] chose to launch legal action gave [ScotWays] the upper hand in the Battle for Rothiemurchus: 

“I am writing this separately sending it to your home instead of to your office, because I don’t want it to go into any hands but your own… 

Popular rumour here with which as a veteran visitor I am now some little acquainted, makes out that Donald Grant [the bank manager] has JP Grant [the Laird] under his financial control, so that DG is de facto proprietor.  I heard the remark made once that DG could put JPG out at his will.  It may be well for you to know this, but obviously it would not do for me to tell you!  So burn this note.

Weather glorious for three days. No osprey yet.“