Scotland enjoys some of the best access laws in the world, rightly based on a right to roam idea tied to responsibilities that respect land management and the environment. In my view it is among the best laws passed since the inception of the Scottish Parliament. Along with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, it outlines how access takers are expected to behave as well as ways land owners can work to integrate access and land management activities.
I’m regularly out and about across Scotland – particularly in the Highlands – and relationships between land owners and access takers are generally very good. Personally, in the last decade I’ve only been challenged once for asserting my right to access, and I quickly reported the incident to the local access authority.
But when I heard about Ken Brown’s experience at Achnasheen on the Ledgowan Estate, I was shocked and appalled. This is the same estate that has ploughed great tracks up the hills on their land, which – as I discovered today – go only to a lochan used for fishing, hardly the sort of place you need to take heavy vehicles. I wonder what these tracks could really be for…?
That’s the background to why I decided to join others today – St Andrew’s Day – to assert my right of responsible access on Ledgowan Estate, and to see if those in charge of this land in our beautiful country were taking their share of responsibility. We decided on a route up a nice little Graham called Beinn na Feusaige.
This picture is from the start of our walk, where a sign stated: “Working with the environment, please do not disturb it.” We met others walking here and chatted as we climbed the ugly track that ascends the hillside…
If that’s not disturbing the environment, I’m not sure what is.
This is our nice day out in the countryside…
…Not much to see beyond the track that dissects the peat bog up here.
We also noticed a number of gates that were locked with no styles or pedestrian gates to allow access for non-motorised access (as required by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code). The tracks and paths beyond them were accessible by climbing over ’slatted’ fences alongside. The only sign regarding estate management was this rather vague sign that pointed out that stalking takes place during the stalking season (rather than the on-the-day information which is required by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – ie where shooting is taking place on that day and alternative routes available to walkers).
Once we’d got off the track and onto the hill proper, we enjoyed a fabulous walk, climbing through the mist to the summit of Beinn na Feusaige then descending to the glen west-south-west and down the track into Glen Carron (over a couple more locked gates of course).
Here we are on the summit:
All that was left was to see the estate staff driving up and down the glen to see what cars were parked there… I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to achieve by this. But I came away from Ledgowan with the feeling that the estate still has a lot to learn about the Land Reform Act 2003 and how to welcome access takers on its land, as well as how to manage its land without major disruption to the environment. I hope they can work with Highland Council to improve the situation here before more of this country is damaged or destroyed. Surely that’s in all our interests.