Time for a bit of preplanning, in more ways than one. The intention is for TAC58 to include some thoughts on how problems at access blackspots ought to be dealt with come the formal introduction of the new access legislation - the Land Reform (Scotland) Act - in March 2004. The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, forerunner of the actual Act, hopped over its final hurdle on 23/1/02, with various stupid-beyond-belief clauses (eg hill access at night being made illegal) having finally been seen off.
So it's been pretty much happiness all round in the recreational access community, with groups such as the Mountaineering Council for Scotland and the Ramblers' Association Scotland having put in much good work to steer the bill through its committee stages. The real work is only just beginning, however. Now that the academic/abstract side to the debate has been completed, what remains is the massive problem of how to actually enforce these legally enshrined access rights. Not easy: the real world has a habit of running rather less smoothly than the theoretical corridors-of-power version.
In many ways we're back to where we've always been, as the danger had been that the bill would have dragged Scotland into an Englandandwales access model rather than - as initially intended - towards something approaching the Norwegian situation. The difference come 2004, however - compared with 2000, say - is that walkers and climbers (and cyclists etc) will be able to tell get-off-my-landers that the legal situation has been clarified, that owning the land doesn't equate with owning the access.
That's roughly how it ought to work - and, in an ideal world, there ought soon to be no access blackspots at all. Trouble is, as was shown during foot and mouth, having a legal right of access isn't much good if landowners and smallholders still "discourage" people and if the councils and landowning charities conspire to keep things closed. FMD saw the Scottish Executive imploring the councils/charities to assist in reopening, but in many instances (eg Ben Lawers, Schiehallion) they just flicked two fingers at the law-makers and carried on cosying up to the Get Off brigade.
Were that to happen again, with the legislation in place, then a precedent would be set whereby the new law would be seen to have fewer teeth than Am Basteir. And if we as a hillgoing community allow that kind of complacency to set in, then we will have ourselves to blame when, in years to come, people are encountering gates and unfriendliness at the same locations as today.
So back to the need for planning. Readers are invited to submit comments for TAC58, but on the understanding that the comments must be specific. Specific about places - name names, give grid references - and specific about how the new legislation and its accompanying Access Code should be used to resolve the problems at these places. That way, come March 2004, a list of troublespots can be targeted straight away.
Regular readers will be aware of the worst locations, places where the "owners" have no inclination to act in accordance with the current access laws, never mind the forthcoming ones. It's worth recalling some of these, so here are Six Sites of Shame:
Newton describes this as "preposterous to say the least" and claims he has witnesses to prove he was "several miles away on the back of a horse" at the time in question. (This is ironic given that there have been prior allegations of Irvine having driven his own car at horseriders in the area.) The pleading diet was on 4/2/03, and the full hearing will follow - and will be reported here. Newton says that the officers who charged him described Irvine as "dangerous".
Clearly Irvine's behaviour (not just his assault conviction but encounters with at least two TAC readers) is such that the current legal situation (or the current mental health laws) ought to be capable of dealing with him; we shouldn't have to await the new access law. The revised law might help, though, not least because the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society appears to be looking the other way, even though the route in question is listed in Scottish Hill Tracks (route 31 in the 1999 edition). The SRoWaAS spokesman in TAC53 (p16) told of the society using its money "for positive work such as erecting signposts", so they could erect a new one at the start of the Deephope track, where the need is rather pressing. Chances are the local vigilante would emerge from his lair and clunk the society's fieldworkers over the head with the sign, but at least there would have been an effort to deal with a real problem in the real world.
As it is, Deephope remains the only place in Scotland where walkers, regardless of age or sex, put themselves in physical danger simply by going for a perfectly legal stroll. The reclaimers (see TAC51, pp14-16) are discussing tactics, and anyone's thoughts on this, or on any other troublespots, are very welcome. Anything from 100-500 words, and by mid-May please. Let's make sure that when the new legislation comes in we hit the ground running - or at least walking confidently, with a spring in the step.
TAC 57 Index