A legal battle has erupted over attempts by a Highland landowner to bar hikers from using a path in a major test case regarding Scottish right to roam legislation.
The Highland Council and the Ramblers Association are challenging an attempt by Donald Houston, a businessman who owns much of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, to close an important and scenic access road .
He has gone to court to ask a sheriff to exempt part of the estate from Scotland’s vast countryside access legislation – a move, Ramblers Scotland says, could encourage other landowners to erode rights to roaming on other private domains.
Houston has been accused of using obstruction tactics to prevent locals from using the road – an allegation it denies – by padlocking gates, removing a stud and placing no-stop signs. entrance through a gate through a recently built lumberyard next to the path.
The dispute escalated after he allegedly clashed aggressively with David and Jenny Kime, avid hikers who live in retirement in the neighboring township of Glenborrodale, after scaling a locked gate blocking the path in November 2019.
David Kime said the couple had used the road conflict-free more than 100 times over the past 40 years, noting their walks in a newspaper, until their confrontation with Houston, when he threatened them with the police.
The couple were then questioned on bail for aggravated trespassing by Scottish police under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Almost 18 months later, the tax prosecutor said no action would be taken, although the charges would remain “on file”.
Brendan Paddy, the director of Ramblers Scotland, said that to the knowledge of the charity this was the first time that the 1994 legislation had been used against hikers all over the UK.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Paddy. “This [act] was invented to respond to a moral panic about outdoor raves and saber hunting, and government ministers promised us at the time, explicitly, that the legislation would never be used against walkers. We were really surprised when this was even suggested.
Kime, 80, said the interview with the police was painful. “We couldn’t understand what we were being accused of doing, other than going for a walk that we had taken a hundred times before, with no one else in sight. Jenny was very upset by the confrontation and she was in tears during the interview, ”he said.
The clash with Houston is the latest in a series of disputes with private landowners since the Land Reform (Scotland) Act came into force in 2003, granting the public extensive rights of access to the countryside and legally enforceable.
The law states that access can only be restricted or denied under specific circumstances, such as crop protection, privacy and security, or for limited periods during the hunting season on grouse moorland or l deer slaughter.
Houston argues that vehicle and machine operations in the lumber yard make public access too dangerous and that under health and safety legislation it must either prevent public access or shut down the lumberyard. ‘business.
Highland Council and the Ramblers oppose Houston’s lawsuit and, at the same time, council seek a separate legal ruling that the road is a right of way under the Land Reform Act (Scotland). It also plans to include it in its main train path strategy.
A Houston spokesperson said the Kimes were confusing a different right-of-way with the Houston Access Road, which was built for the lumberyard. It had been a barnyard for 30 years and there was always a gate for security reasons.
Houston was convinced he would win his case and suggested the Kimes wanted access to the new road because “it’s a much better trail than any of the others in the area,” its spokesperson said. “They would rather be able to walk in slippers and dancing shoes rather than wearing boots. They’re an elderly couple, so that’s partly understandable.
“If they had access [it] through the lumber shed area in previous years, that doesn’t mean there is an absolute right to do this and they would have had to climb walls, gates, or fences to do it multiple times.
Paddy said: “We are very concerned that a ruling in this case could significantly expand the areas excluded from access rights and that would have an extremely detrimental effect. Because even if the affected areas are small, they could block important access routes.