I Know Where I’m Going – but does anyone else?


Cameron McNeish urges hillwalkers to let someone know where they’re going, but don’t leave route notes on your car windscreen.

RECENT reports of vehicle break-ins at Achlean in Glen Feshie has raised concern that leaving notification of where you are going to walk and how long you will be away from your car is an open invitation to thieves.

At least two cars had their side windows smashed in recent days, leading to comments on social media about the wisdom of leaving route notices on your windscreen.

Many hillwalkers leave their vehicles at the car park that lies just north of the old Foxhunter’s path that climbs to Carn Bar Mor while they tackle the Munros of the Moine Mhor or Sgor Gaoith. Others leave their vehicle overnight while they trek to the bothy at Ruigh Aiteachain.

There is some concern that vehicles left overnight at the relatively remote Achlean car park has become a target for car thieves.

The old farmhouse at Achlean, Glen Feshie

Some comments on social media suggest erecting CCTV cameras in such car parks but I would imagine that would be out of the question because of the location and the cost. And my goodness, what would that tell us about the state of our society today when we require ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ cameras in such comparatively remote locations?

I am saddened and very concerned that car thieves are obviously now operating in walkers’ car parks like the one at Achlean.

Living in a highland village I’m aware that every so often peripatetic gangs of thieves will target particular villages with break-ins and burglaries before moving on elsewhere and my hope is that the Achlean break-ins will be a one-off event. Indeed, I can’t recall any other break-ins like this since the car park was established several years ago, although car break-ins are increasingly being carried out in similar car parks throughout Scotland.

Leaving a route card in the windscreen is a procedure I’ve personally followed only rarely. I prefer to tell my wife where I intend walking and roughly what time she can expect me home. Having said that I’m as guilty as the next person for setting off for a particular destination and then changing my mind – and I don’t always phone home to notify my wife of my change of plan. I must make that a New Year resolution!

In terms of preventing thieves from breaking-in to your car it makes a lot of sense not to tempt thieves by leaving valuables on the back seat or leaving loose change in the dashboard area. At very least you might avoid a repair bill for a broken window. And if you have an estate-type car it’s a good idea to remove the boot cover or parcel shelf so potential thieves can clearly see there is nothing in the car to steal.

Adding a visual deterrent to your car is a good way to avoid car theft and often enough to make a thief look elsewhere in search of an easier option. Use a sturdy lock for the steering wheel, pedals or gears lever for instance, and have your car’s registration number etched onto the windows.

Most thieves are opportunistic, and they might pass on a car they perceive to be too much hassle.

And although this sounds obvious, never ever leave documents in your car. It would be bad enough having your car broken into but you don’t want the hassle of becoming a victim of identity fraud as well.

I would suggest it’s now pretty ‘old school’ thinking to leave a route card inside your car windscreen. In these digital days it’s a lot easier to carry a mobile phone as a safety tool and if you do run into trouble, or become delayed, you can always ring home.

I know that digital telephone signals are not always available on the hill so for that reason I reckon the best thing to do is simply tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to return home. That last point is crucial. You have to let folks know you have returned or else they may panic and call a rescue team out to look for you.

Ruigh Aiteachain bothy before its recent revamp

I remember a situation like this a number of years ago when I was editor of TGO Magazine. It was at the time of the annual TGO Challenge and Roger Smith, the event co-ordinator, rang me to let me know we had a problem. A very well known and much respected walker hadn’t called in for several days and Roger was concerned for his safety.

 We waited for another day and on a whim, Roger decided to phone the challenger’s home phone number. Almost immediately the phone was picked up and a voice said, ”Hello, Chris Brasher here…”

Apparently Chris had walked from Knoydart to Dalwhinnie but had become a bit fed-up with the poor weather and decided he couldn’t be bothered carrying on to Challenge finish at Montrose. Instead he jumped on a train and went home. Unfortunately he didn’t tell anyone of his decision. If it hadn’t been for Roger’s decision a rescue team could have spent fruitless hours searching for him.

Generally speaking I leave a note on our kitchen table when I go to the hills with whatever hill or hills I hope to climb and an ETA of my return home. If it looks like I’m going to be delayed, perhaps by bad weather, then I’ll ring my wife (if possible) and let her know.

If you don’t have a spouse or relative at home then leave a note with a neighbour or friend or even at a local police office, although I’m well aware there aren’t too many of those around any more.

It sometimes seems that the simplicity of going for a walk in the hills is being eroded by such things as exorbitant parking fees and roaming car thieves but by using common sense and a little care you can hugely reduce the odds of someone breaking into your vehicle. I wish the cost of parking charges was as easily solved.

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Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is each walker's responsibility to check it and navigate using a map and compass.