Page 19 of TAC57 outlined some specific locations where the new Land Reform (Scotland) Act - due to become law in the spring of 2004 - is likely to make a difference to on-the-ground access. Or, at least, where it ought to make a difference if those in power do their democratic duty. Readers were asked to submit thoughts and theories about the law change, with particular reference to the highlighting and sorting of specific problems. So here and overleaf are a few grassroot responses:
ON 6 July 1993 I had a very pleasant run up Cairnsmore of Carsphairn from Green Well of Scotland (Landranger 77/556944). My day was spoiled however when I arrived back at the road as a farmer was herding some bullocks off the tarmac and into the field I was exiting. I offered to help but was met with a torrent of abuse about carelessly leaving the gate untied. When I protested that I had climbed over the gate and left it secure I got a further tirade about risking damage to his precious gate - at least I think he called it "precious". There was obviously no pleasing him, and I found out later from a distant relative in the farming business that he was universally disliked for his cantankerous nature.
On 3 February 1994 I fancied a wee jaunt round Clach Leathad, Creise and Beinn Mhic Chasgaig from Glen Etive. It was to prove a problematic day. Firstly, I had to find a way past the walker-unfriendly gate on the bridge near Alltchaorunn (41/198513). This heavily padlocked monstrosity is about eight feet high, its frame reinforced by corrugated iron and the whole lot festooned with barbed wire. The river is deep, so I had to get mitted-up and lean back out from the parapet, straddle the wire and hope not to get snagged.
Things were more straightforward for a while until I got high up on the Clach Leathad west ridge. A normally simple steep slope of hard snow was complicated by persistent spindrift and higher up the conditions became nastier. Eventually not even the perverse pleasure of battling against the elements could disguise the unpleasantness of the worsening situation. As I struggled back down the ridge the expected improvement in conditions failed to materialise and it dawned on me that it was not simply bad conditions up high but that the overall weather situation had deteriorated. By the time I reached the horror bridge I was pretty tired but still had enough energy to reverse the morning's tricky manoeuvres. It struck me at the time that if I'd started earlier and got much higher before the weather changed, I could have been too knackered to escape from behind the gate. Many times since I've passed the gate and contemplated a night-time dismantling operation on the bridge to demonstrate to the Alltchaorunn occupants how it would feel to be trapped. Unfortunately I've never seen any sign of anyone in residence.
So what connects these unpleasant situations? Both are contrary to the spirit and the letter of the forthcoming Land Reform Act, but from post-foot and mouth disease experiences the councils will be slow to act. The responses of hillgoers to FMD and to the draft Land Reform Bill demonstrated that a good few of us are angry enough not to shrug off these abuses but to battle for our (new) rights. We each need to adopt a personal cause célèbre and fight it all the way to a satisfactory conclusion.
Now, where are my wire-cutters and big spanners...?
ACCESS in my local hills, the Campsie Fells, is in some ways a non-issue. With a sea of a million and more people lapping right up to the southern slopes, people are going to go there anyway, whatever restrictions apply nominally. In fact, for this reason I have an unusual-for-a-hillwalker sympathy with the owners and occupiers of the moor, farmland and woodland that comprises the Campsies, largely because of the damaged crops, distressed and injured livestock, litter, dumping and vandalism that they inevitably suffer owing to their position. Indeed, one of my local farmers told me that as a hillwalker I was quite welcome to walk anywhere on his land, from roadside to summits, as long as I didn't walk through the farmyard itself. Too much vandalism and general yobbery had been experienced there and it was now out of bounds.
I walk where I like in the Campsies and I have never really been inconvenienced. I did once stumble on a grouse-shooting party near the Earl's Seat. Amicably, we agreed upon an onward route that would allow them to blast away unfettered at the poor birds, while I could still get to where I wanted to go. Live and let live (except for the grouse, obviously).
Symbolising greater concern is the massive wall and wire fence that runs across the southern slopes of Dumbreck. At no point is there actually a Keep Out sign, but gates are few and crossing the thing involves precarious gymnastics and the likelihood that your Ron Hills will catch on barbed wire. It's not, overtly, keeping walkers out - but we all know why it's there. There are other such mute barriers, and I'm sure most readers could name their local equivalent.
Furth of the Campsies, I was struck by the effrontery of the signs discouraging walkers near the summit of Tinto from attempting the Scaut Hill path to the east. I understand it's widely ignored, but perhaps some mass reclaiming might finally send the message that the signs need to come down.
No doubt Danger Adders and Beware of the Bull signs will become more plentiful as the unfriends of walkers try to delay the access legislation's journey from law to accepted part of our culture. But surely none will be as blatant as the farm near Carrbridge whose entrance track bears a mock roadsign, with a picture of a hillwalker with a red diagonal stripe through it, and the words No Walkers.
Happily, it seeks only to prevent access to some of the dullest moorlands in the Highlands - but if anyone fancies doing some reclaiming, I can name and shame it... (Go on then - Ed.)
ALONG with several other outdoor recreation bodies, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has been heavily involved in working to secure the best possible wording in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act. In some ways this has been the "academic/abstract" exercise referred to in TAC57, but it has been a vital exercise in that a word got wrong in 2002 could be the cue for an access blackspot in 2020. For that reason our access work over the past four years or so has been mainly proactive. With limited resources we have had to concentrate on achieving good legislation, at the expense of not being able to chase every access problem on the ground.
We were, however, aware how demoralising it was to investigate access problems under the existing law. Our access work was entirely reactive under the Westminster system, and reform of access legislation wasn't on the political agenda when I came into this work in 1995. All we could do in those days was to contact a landowner or manager and try to negotiate with them. Local authorities would provide us with basic information, but they rarely got involved if the problem wasn't on a right of way. This meant that as a non-statutory body we were pretty much on our own and in a fairly weak position. As much as we wanted to resolve access problems, we came to realise that negotiating them away, one by one, was never going to be effective. The alternative was to change the system.
The change of UK government in 1997, and the introduction of the Scottish parliament in 1999, turned our attention to a period of proactive work to change the law and, as it turns out, to agree a Scottish Outdoor Access Code. With the Act now set in stone, or at least awarded royal assent, the process for 2003 moves on to the Code. This should be the final piece of proactive academic work before the new system is in place and ready to be tried out beyond the corridors of power in the real world of hills, farms and rivers. Once the Act and Code are in place our priority will swing back to being reactive, but rather than just reverting full-circle to where we were, we will hopefully have made an upward spiral and should find ourselves in a stronger position than before. Local authorities and government agencies should get involved in all access disputes (not just rights of way) and the first big test will be in clearing up the really bad cases and not leaving the voluntary bodies like the MCofS, the Ramblers and the Scottish Canoe Association to go it alone.
Indeed, it will be important to have statutory bodies applying real pressure to resolve the worst blackspots, because other owners will be watching with great interest to see what happens in those cases, and to react accordingly. Hillgoers being vigilant and reporting incidents, local authorities having the political will to resolve disputes and representative bodies such as the MCofS asserting the public's statutory rights - this combination will, I hope, break the deadlock that has left access disputes to take care of themselves for too many years. The law is about to change and we must all help to bring pressure to bear on those locations that continue to give trouble after Easter 2004.
ONE of the best days I've had on the hills for a long time was preceded by an unpleasant experience trying to get up Glen Strathfarrar one sunny Monday morning (17 March 2003). Thinking that opening time for the gate (at Inchmore, 26/393405) was at 9am, I arrived about ten minutes early, having delayed so as not to disturb the friendly Highland lady who had greeted me the last time I went up there two or three years ago. The day was glorious - cloudless, early morning frost, snow above 2500 feet. After travelling more than 500 miles to get there, I had been dreaming of spending a day in the unseasonable summer warmth looking at wonderful views. In front of me were two full cars, being ushered through the gate by a young lady, different to the one I had seen previously. As she approached me I asked if I could go through too. She got slightly agitated and said the others had booked, and as I hadn't, I wasn't allowed through.
I was dumbstruck at the thought of my day being turned to dust. This was an unparalleled opportunity, a day in a decade, unthinkable that it could be missed. As I tried to take in this setback, she said that she was sorry, very sorry, but the glen wasn't open for another fortnight, that she had already let several other cars up that hadn't booked, and she was in a rush to get to work. Repeating that she was very sorry, asking if I had come a long way, saying again she was sorry, she closed the gate. Fair enough, she was just doing her job and I hadn't booked as I hadn't bothered to find out that you needed to book at that time of year. But baffled why she had a personal quota of unbooked cars, annoyed at not having arrived earlier, and wondering at the logic of wasting more time telling me that I couldn't go through than it would have taken to wave me on after the others, I turned round.
Plan B was that intended for the following day: Strathconon. An hour later I was leaving the road by Telford's Kirk, climbing the slopes of Meallan nan Uan. Having a full day to spend there instead of the partial day I would otherwise have had on the Tuesday, and revelling in the total absence of other human beings, I had an unforgettable time wandering over all the various tops. Looking down into Strath Bran and Achnasheen was particularly satisfying, having on numerous occasions looked the other way to admire the shapely peaks. Reflecting that there must have been a least a dozen people tramping around the Munros in my forbidden glen, I was grateful instead for the peace and serenity of where I was. So thank you lady gatekeeper, you gave me a truly memorable day and aroused many strong emotions.
Ed. - The Strathfarrar gate is unlikely to be affected by the law change, as pedestrian access up the glen is unhindered. But it's an odd situation, the kind of thing that walkers have tended to accept for generations without really knowing the reason why. Is there some special by-law here? Is the road beyond the gate every bit as private for cars as any other estate road but is opened sporadically due to kindly landowners? Or is the current situation a weak-willed roads-department fudge and ought the road be fully open? A lot of public money has been spent on the waterworks further up, and a comparison with the hydro/estate road connecting Glen Lochay with Loch Lyon might be of interest. It would be good to carry some thoughts and background on the Strathfarrar gate in some future issue of TAC. (The current stated access situation is given on page 201 of the 1999 SMC Munros guidebook.)
TAC57 raises quite a number of issues. One remembers the excellent work done by the editor of TAC and friends in reclaiming the hills after the foot and mouth closures in 2001 (see TAC51, pp14-16). Possibly such action is required again. Negotiation throughout history has been less effective than "direct action" - remember the mass trespasses of the 1930s. Without direct action, quite a number of countries would be still under the yoke of colonialism.
Of the six sites of shame listed in TAC57 I am familiar with most of them. The gate at Alltchaorunn in Glen Etive, for example, has angered me for many years. Some 30 years ago, after a traverse of the Blackmount Munros from Bridge of Orchy, I was only able to get on to the road in Glen Etive by wading the river. Perhaps we should have regular work parties to remove the padlock and the barbed wire?
Ann and I have on several occasions been refused access in Scotland during the lambing season. This is quite unnecessary. In the Lake District the walker is merely asked to have dogs under control, preferably on a lead.
The Norwegian situation mentioned is really the Scandinavian Allemansrätt (Everyman's right), whereby one may walk anywhere except within 50 metres of houses and camp anywhere for 24 hours. We are not quite there yet in Scotland.
Some other places where we have had "confrontations"...
Cnap Chaochan Aitinn (36/146099). In May 1994 we were told by the factor here that permission would never be given to climb this hill. Luckily we were on the way down.
Cnoc an Liath-bhaid Mhoir (16/759291). Here we were told that we could only go where we had been given permission. We were again on the way down.
Cnoc Thulagain (35/743219). The only access seemed to be a rough track near a house. On the way down we were confronted by the owner who said we should have asked permission to through his "garden". When I told him this was likely to become a popular hill he said no one would ever be allowed to use this route.
Let us go out and climb all our hills (with due consideration and responsibility). We have really had a moral right to do this since time immemorial.
THE last great no-go area? Peacefully poking out of the Atlantic, the stacks of St Kilda remain pinnacles inaccessible since the time of the bird-slaying natives. Why not leave them to the birds? Every other corner of our not-quite-as-fair-as-it-was land is infested by modern-day humankind. Why not leave a last sanctuary, like the holy summits in the Himalayas? There are those who want to climb the stacks, but why should their wish be indulged? In a small way, let St Kilda's tops be some of the few things our species wants but cannot have. (See also the two ABs, pp10-11 - Ed.)
ON Good Friday, my wife and I went to climb the Loch Lochy Munros and drove to the road-end at Kilfinnan where there is a parking bay. As we were getting boots on, the farmer arrived and asked, "You will be off to the hills then?" "Yes," we replied. "You are getting a lovely day for it. That will be 1 pound for the parking." Having volunteered that the car would be unattended for some hours, we paid (as did the occupants of eight other cars that day).
Never having been charged here on previous visits and suspecting that my council tax had probably paid for the parking bay anyway, I later took up the issue with Highland Council. Eventually I got through to the appropriate department and it was confirmed that the public road goes as far as the bridge over the Kilfinnan Burn (34/276957). The road, its immediate verges and the parking bay are all publicly owned even though the farmer may own the land under them. As public places, one may park without charge, provided one is not causing an obstruction. The advice is to explain this, politely, and refuse to pay.
I hope your readers will find this helpful for any future visit they may make to Kilfinnan.
SINCE when has building a car park (as suggested in TAC57), even on compulsorily purchased land, been "radical"? As a solution to the Lawers village access problem, what about a park-and-ride bus service from Killin? Improved public transport is the one area where Scottish national parks could make a difference.
Use of public transport by walkers is commonplace in the Swiss and Austrian Alps, with fleets of buses setting off up the valleys in the morning and returning in the evening, specifically for walkers. This used to happen in Blunkett's Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire, with lines of double-deckers heading out to Fox House on the edge of the Peak District on a Sunday morning. Maybe it still does happen, though I suspect the maximum fare is now more than 12 pence.
Buses dropping people off at different points giving access through in-by land would distribute the pressure and dilute problems of erosion and litter which honeypot car parks can create. Let's take the chance to broaden the debate: questions about access don't just start at the barbed wire fence.
Ed. - One access blackspot has been wiped from the map since TAC57, as Iain aka James aka John Irvine, aka the "Beast of Deephope", died suddenly on Easter Sunday. It would have been better had he moved to a deserted island somewhere (no one deserved to have him as a neighbour), but die he did, and there were corners of the Ettrick valley in which his death was not mourned. It proved particularly timely for Kevin Newton at the Angecroft campsite, as he had stood as prosecution witness last year when Irvine was convicted for assault of a family of walkers. Speaking out against this had been a brave, take-a-deep-breath move which predictably led to a vendetta by Irvine and the eventual concoction of dangerous driving charges against Newton - charges which were soon to be heard. Hence the mixture of relief and astonishment when the case fell through due to the sudden lack of its prime mover.
More detail on all this next time - some of the stories about Irvine's encounters with tourists and with his fellow Ettrickonians are astonishing, and Irvine's own driving habits often feature (eg people on horseback, especially women, seemed to be at particular risk). For now, though, it seems safe to say that an ascent of Law Kneis can be made by way of the forest-track network behind Deephope without danger of either verbal or physical assault.
Oh, and while on the subject of serious malice with intent to harm, does anyone have any knowledge of / information about (a) head-high wires stretched across forest tracks in the Hill of Fare area of Aberdeenshire, or (b) footbridge planks sabotaged then replaced - such that unsuspecting walkers might fall through - on public footpaths in the Ennerdale area?
TAC 58 Index