Public access to land has been a source of conflict in Scotland for a long time but matters have improved in recent years following the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which provides a right of responsible access to land. Every so often, however, stories appear that suggest there is still some way to go before Scotland can be anything like a normal country in which its citizens can enjoy the great outdoors in peace and quiet. Today, this account was sent to me by Dr Kenneth Brown from Glenmoriston. It details an encounter with the new owner of Ledgowan Estate in Wester Ross last weekend. The estate was bought in 2011 by a company called Rainheath Ltd. from Yorkshire. Members of the Simpson family are Directors of the company (though Richard Simpson who is named in the piece is not listed as a Director). Andrew Simpson owns 96.09% of the shares in Rainheath and he and Rainheath Ltd. also own the Rossie Ochil shooting estate in Perthshire.
Get off my land!
Dr Kenneth Brown
My wife and I were returning from walking on hills on the Ledgowan Estate to our car that was parked off the main Achnasheen-Lochcarron road (A890). When we arrived at our car, we were accosted by a young man who had parked his vehicle beside ours. We had previously noted the same vehicle parked beside the main road when we were higher up the mountainside and concluded that we were being watched.
He demanded, in an extraordinarily arrogant and ill-mannered way, to know what we were doing, “walking on his hill”. I informed him that we were simply exercising our statutory right of access to the countryside and that that was all he needed to know. However, he persisted in demanding an answer in a most offensive way but I refused to say more than to repeat that all he needed to know was that we were entirely within our legal rights to walk on that property.
He became so persistently offensive that I demanded to know his name and status and he described himself as Richard Simpson, the owner of the Ledgowan Estate. (An online Highland Council planning notice identifies the owner of this estate as Andrew Simpson, so I assume this person is his son or another relative).
He then began to argue that we had been disturbing sheep on the land. In fact, there had been no sheep to be seen anywhere in the landscape for the full duration of our visit. This, however, did not deter him and he claimed that our dog must have frightened them away. Not only was this untrue, but our dog is extremely obedient and is always completely under control. He is used to being out on the hill; during his 13 years he has accompanied me on many Munro climbs and is regularly walked on the hills around our home in Glenmoriston.
Simpson then informed us that deer stalking was in progress and that we could have been in danger from rifle fire. I replied that, in that case, he had a duty to inform members of the public of any potential danger to them and that, if there was any sound reason for restricting public access, notices should have been displayed and proper procedures followed for a temporary restriction of the general right of access to land. In fact there were no notices of any kind to be seen, apart from one that bore the words, ‘Ledgowan Estate, caring for the environment’.
Image © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
We decided that nothing was to be gained by arguing with him and began to unlock our car. Simpson then made the absurd accusation that we had been disturbing the environment by walking on it. (There was some irony in this because the estate owner has recently driven an enormously long and wide hill track across the mountainside, through peat, leaving boulders and other detritus strewn across it on both sides). He suggested to my wife, a retired head teacher who was telling him that he needed to learn better manners, that she needed a new pair of glasses then photographed her, photographed our car and stalked off to his own vehicle and we drove away.
Newly constructed hill track on Ledgowan Estate – photo taken from Achnasheen (click image for larger version)
We have since learned that the owners of this estate have previously behaved in an extremely intimidatory way with members of the public who have accessed their land. They obviously hold the legal rights of the public in contempt and are prepared to override them by employing disgraceful tactics of the kind described above and we believe that some action should be taken to deter them.
UPDATE 6 NOVEMBER 2013
In the comments to this blog, Gerry Loose suggested that a mass walk be undertaken on Ledgowan Estate on St Andrews Day. He has asked me to publish the following.
St Andrew’s Day Mass Walk – Ledgowan Estate
My intention for the St Andrew’s Day Mass Walk in and around the Ledgowan Estate would be twofold:
1: to register concerns about hostility to access
2: to inspect the Estate, with a view to determining how the title-holders to this Estate are managing that part of Scotland of which I regard them to be stewards in the name of the folk of Scotland (as indeed many landowners claim to be).
That there is an absolute right of access enshrined in Scots Law is unarguable. That the Estate Managers and Title Holders have the best interests of the people of Scotland at heart, and that the Managers and Title Holders respect their duties to conform to the Planning Regulations of their local authority may be determined by this Mass Walk.
Unfortunately, time and work commitments and personal constraints mean that I can no longer take part in this Mass Walk.
I urge you all, however to be present on the day, in informal groups, as and when you can arrive, spending as much or as little time as you have and inspect the condition of Ledgowan Estate, touching on the two points above; and then make your findings public.
I’ll be there in spirit and will eagerly await all reports.
I also expect this St Andrew’s Day Inspection of (other) Lands & Estates to become an annual event.
I will be working towards this.
Good luck and happy walking
At the weekend we got back to the hills after a period of enforced confinement due to work and school exams. We decided to camp high on the Lochngar plateau and stravage around the hills on Sunday before returning home. Heading off early on Saturday morning, we were delayed for over an hour in Perth due to being first on the scene at a car accident, assisting the casualties and providing witness statements to the police. As a result, by the time we got to Braemar it was time for lunch. The sun was shining and we decided to have a picnic on the banks of the River Dee.
Despite being one of Scotland’s most scenic and famous rivers there are very few places where tourists can pull off the road and wander down to the river (there’s a long history to this situation). But I know most of them and so we headed down a small track to a fishing hut and parked the car. There was no-one fishing and I parked the car in a way that did not block anybody’s access.
As we sat by the river, our dog Coire, who loves water, decided to go in for a swim. I was tempted myself. So there we were, enjoying our picnic and looking forward to getting on the hill. Suddenly, the peace was interrupted by a loud shout.
“Get your dog out of the river!”
We turned round. A man was standing some 20 metres away pointing at the river. He looked agitated. We were, for the moment, speechless. Who was he? What gave him the right to shout at us?
“Get your dog out of the river. This is a fishing river, People pay to fish here.”
“What’s the problem“, I asked as I walked towards him to find out what all the fuss was about. He was dressed in fishing gear but was not, I suspected a fisherman – more likely a ghillie I thought.
“You’re trespassing“, he shouted.
He then pointed to our car.
“Move your car. This is not a public highway. You’re blocking access.”
Of course, on this point he was right. I am well aware of the fact that pulling off any main road in Scotland generally places you on private land upon which you have no legal right to be. But I was not blocking access. There was no-one fishing at the time. Perhaps there was someone about to arrive in which case I would have been happy to co-operate.
At this point I wondered whether it would be possible to have a civilised conversation with this man who, by this time, had still not introduced himself or explained why he assumed the right to shout at us in such an aggressive manner.
As I pondered what to do he shouted,
“If you don’t get out of here I’m going to call the police.”
At which point I concluded that there was little point in engaging him in conversation.
“Go ahead – be my guest“, I replied and turned back to finish our picnic. Coire was still happily playing in the river but we were stressed and anxious about the encounter.
He stormed off.
We finished our picnic and left to head to Glen Muick, where more surprises awaited but that’s a blog for another day.
I have spent a good deal of my adult life in the hills around Deeside. I know many of the landowners and the people who work there. I also know that the estates still have a hegemonic role in the area. We were on Invercauld Estate and I presume that the ghillie is employed by the estate. The man in the photograph on the estate’s home page indeed looks very like the gentleman involved.
In conclusion, this is not simply a matter of public access. It is a manifestation of how those in authority continue to project landed hegemony.
I now plan to find out who he is, who employs him and to ask for an apology from them both.
UPDATE 18 JUNE 2013
Invercauld Estate has confirmed that the person involved is an employee of theirs. The factor, Simon Blackett, has apologised for the incident – see comment below together with my reply.
An interesting study was conducted in 2003 examining the perceived conflicts amongst user groups on the River Dee. Part of this relates to the use of language. One critic on twitter (an Aberdeenshire landowner) suggested that it was “irresponsible and selfish to let my dog splash in a fishing pool” Pools of water in the River Dee have different meanings to different people – to me and my dog this was a swimming pool not a fishing pool – actually the stretch of water concerned is NOT a fishing pool.
An enjoyable night on the Lochnagar plateau gave ample time to digest the events of Saturday.