The Angry Corrie 20: Oct-Dec 1994
Shoreline access for walkers
Actually, this is like some kind of flashback TAC: Gordon Smith, James O'Glum and now even
HAVING JUST spent a holiday in the sunny Costa Ardnamurchan, where one is more bothered by the midges, rain and sheep than by the lager louts, it was brought to my notice that restriction of access is not limited to our hills and glens.
TAC has highlighted quite a few cases of so-called sportsmen trying to restrict access while they use their high-velocity toys to blast a hole in some unsuspecting stag. These sportsmen try during their killing season (not culling season), with varying degrees of success, to keep the hillwalker and not the stag at bay. They place notices on most access routes to try to frighten off the more faint-hearted hillwalker, while talking of "the interests of safety" and of their contribution to the local economy when, if the truth be known, they want the hills for their own personal playground. I also suspect they are afraid of some walker catching them on camera up to their oxters in blood and guts during the gralloch. This could be used to the same effect as the Greenpeace films on whaling and seal culling. (Mind you, seals and whales don't eat trees - Ed.)
The lairds of the highland estates, be they of native landed families or the rich with a bank balance big enough to buy a highland playground, only look on the land they pertain to own as an investment. And if they grow bored with their investment, there are always those who will earn a fast buck by buying their piece of the highlands. Speculative investment is becoming ever more attractive, with our fine Tory government having decided to give full relief on taxes to the sporting estates.
All that is fair enough, I hear you say. Tell us something we don't already know. It's anathema to me how anyone can "own" our hills and glens. Even worse is that people are laying claim to our coastlines and shores.
In Ardnamurchan, several encroachments have taken place on the right of access to the shore. Not far from the lighthouse is a beach with not a few large caravans on site. This is fenced off and has signs telling visitors how unwelcome they are. While restrictions on access are perpetrated for self interest, the proliferation of the ubiquitous caravan goes unchecked throughout Ardnamurchan. They are everywhere, on any suitable piece of land. However, if you wish to walk the coastline unobstructed, think again! South of the lighthouse (so the local guidebook states), "...is private grazing and no longer accessible to walkers". This all sounds ludicrous to me: not only are selfish interests being used to keep Jo Public off the land, TAC favourite the sheep is being used as an excuse to exclude us from the area.
At Sanna, one of the most beautiful places on Ardnamurchan, access is allowed, but signs state that walkers should stick to existing paths to avoid erosion of the unique sand dunes. This seems a bit rich when the estate say in the same sign that this is grazing land. Thus it seems okay to go willy-nilly at Sanna, but only if you have cloven hooves and are liable to the proper subsidy. It's rather silly of the estate to blame only tourists for Sanna's conservation problems, since the place has been grazed since time immemorial and has suffered much damage from livestock as well as sightseers. Surely the best option for the Sanna dune area would be to fence it off as an SSSI, as this would protect it from both human and animal disturbance. The crofters could be compensated for loss of grazing, while the dunes could be left free from disturbance.
At Fascadale, Swordle and Ockle - on the north coast and serviced at public expense by decent roads - direct access to the bays and beaches is frowned upon. Only by taking devious routes can access be obtained to this rugged and beautiful coastline.
At Kilchoan, access from the pier round the shoreline to Mingarry Castle has been cut off, the new owner of Mingarry house having erected barbed wire fences down to the shore. Surely there must be a right-of-way from the shore - being one public place - to the castle, which is another? No matter what motives landowners have for restriction of access, the public should have the right to put them firmly in their place by going where they want, when they want, without interference or restriction. As long as landowners get away with such things, more restrictions will take place.
I was under the impression that anyone could walk our coasts and shorelines, especially between the high and low water marks. (Surely only the masons can do that? - Ed.) Now it seems if you have money and its associated power, you can do what you want and nobody will say boo to you. (Proves my point - Ed.) It seems sad that when someone finds something special, they want to label it as theirs, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Having been associated with TAC from its earliest days, I know that the readership will want to be able to sample the delights of the seashore, if only as a change from the mountains and glens. It would be interesting to hear from readers of any problems they have encountered with access to the shoreline, and also if anyone could relate what our rights are in relation to this kind of access.
Let's not wait till the barbed wire goes up on the Bad Step, or the Private Keep Out signs appear round Sandwood Bay. (Unlikely here, since the John Muir Trust now own it - Ed.) This issue concerns all of us. We have to fight for our rights to enjoy the seashore as much as for our hills and glens. If we let these encroachments pass unopposed, we only have ourselves to blame for any further restrictions which then take place.