Minutes of Meeting of the Caithness Local Access Forum held in Mowat Room, Assembly Rooms, Wick on Monday 19th June, 2006 at 4.30pm.





Mr William Bruce (Vice Chairman in the Chair)

Mr William Beattie

Mrs Elena Koponen-Baikie

Councillor John Green

Councillor Graeme Smith

Mr David Shaw


In Attendance:


Mr Geoff Robson, Head of Environment, HC

Mr David Barclay, Access Officer, HC

Ms Cath Clark, Paths For All Partnership

Mrs Fiona Sinclair, Area Solicitor/Administrator, HC (Clerk)


Site Inspection


Prior to the meeting a site inspection to various paths in the Wick area took place, and was attended by the following Forum members - Councillor John Green, Councillor Graeme Smith, David Shaw of SNH,  and Elena Koponen-Baikie.  The following officials were in attendance - David Barclay, Access Officer; Cath Clark of Paths For All Partnership;  Mick Broad, Lower Pulteneytown Townscape Heritage Initiative Manager; and Ruth Sutherland Caithness Project Officer.  Raymond Smart of Highland Society for the Blind who had been invited by the Forum to attend to give the perspective of disabled access seekers was also in attendance. 


Mr Smart provided a practical introduction to various forms of visual impairment by using a variety of props.  Forum members were informed of the various types of visual impairment and provided with an insight into the practical difficulties visual impaired people have to overcome in taking access. Simulation goggles were used to illustrate various visual impairments including tunnel vision and cataracts. Members also had the opportunity to use a modern folding cane with roller ball tip to ‘feel’ various path surfaces and imagine taking access by utilising senses other than sight.  In particular touch via the cane and sound were found to be the two dominant senses in use.  The experience was found to be unsettling and in instances where hazards were perceived rather frightening!


In addition to Mr Smart’s input, routes at South Head Quarries and Wick Riverside were explored and discussed.  The issues discussed along the way included community involvement, planning and development issues in relation to the individual routes, health and safety, signage, all-ability path construction and ongoing management.  Please refer to attached notes as background to sites and locations of individual routes.




1. Apologies for Absence


Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Stephen Fraser, Chris Hobson, Robert Coghill, Peter Blackwood, David Hall and Ken Butler, Chairman.


2. Chairman’s Remarks


Mr Bruce welcomed the Forum members to the Meeting and extended a special welcome to Cath Clark of the Paths for All Partnership who is replacing Adam Streeter-Smith, Raymond Smart of The Highland Society for the Blind who had accompanied the Forum members on their walk in the afternoon and Willie Morrison a relief reporter with the John O’Groat Journal who was attending the meeting for the first time.


Mr Bruce said that since the last meeting he had taken access as part of a number of different groups and had always found land managers to be very helpful.  He mentioned that there had been a heavier than usual crop of ticks this year and suggested that this may have an impact on access.


3. Minutes Of Meeting Held on 20th March 2006


The Minutes of the Meeting held on 20th March, 2006, which had been circulated with the Agenda, were held as read and were approved, proposed by Councillor John Green and seconded by Councillor Graeme Smith.


Arising from the Minutes the following points were raised:-


a. A new Access User/Taker member for the Forum – Mr Robson reported
    that one applicant had been in touch following a recent advertisement and
    that the matter of the appointment now required to be approved by the
    Caithness Area Committee.


b. Access strategy consultation comments – these are to be noted.


c. List of Stakeholders – Mr Robson reported that he had not received any
    suggestions for this list but he would raise the issue again later in the


d. Template for new signage – Mr Barclay and Mr Shaw both brought signage
    templates with them to the meeting and these were passed around.  Mr
    Shaw said that these can be downloaded from the Internet and 
    laminated.  It was agreed that signage would be discussed again at the
    December meeting of the Forum when a document being drafted by the
    Paths for All Partnership which will consider the impact of the new
    legislation and signs will be ready.


Mr Smart commented on the signs and stated that the black to white contrast is very useful for people with visual impairment.  He said that the location of the signs is very important in order that they can easily be seen by visually impaired people and he suggested that the signs could be wider in size. 


4. Address by Mr Smart           


Mr Raymond Smart introduced himself as a Rehabilitation Officer for the blind.  He said that he is involved in training visually impaired people in life skills and that he carries out safety audits. 


He said that he had enjoyed today’s walks with the Forum members.  He expressed the importance of keeping surfaces regular and level and of keeping signs where they can be read by wheelchair users and visually impaired people.


He said that there were a number of mis-conceptions regarding blind people and referred the Forum to the RNIB web-site where they could view statistics.  He said that in Scotland there are less than two hundred-thousand registered blind people in a population of five million.  In the Highlands there are approximately eight hundred registered blind people.  The blind registration criteria is denoted by an individuals ability to work.  They are registered if their ability is so affected that they cannot carry out a job – if you can see for a distance of less than nine feet you are likely to be registered blind. 


He said that ninety per cent of blind people are over the age of sixty-five, often as a result of age related diabetes or other illnesses.  The majority of these people stay at home and therefore were unlikley to take access in the countryside.  There are a smaller number of blind people than wheelchair users but the number of blind people is increasing as the population is living longer so there are more degenerative eye conditions. He also said that there are more people with a visual impairment than registered blind and that the needs of those people with a visual impairment should also be considered. 


Only three per cent of the blind population in the United Kingdom read brail so signage for brail readers would be inappropriate.  He suggested that the Forum may wish to consider recording commentaries on walks so that blind people can take the walk and listen to the commentary at the same time. 


He said that signage should be simple and clear.  Direction arrows should make clear which direction they are pointing in.


With regard to steps on path surfaces he suggested that these as far as possible should be kept to the standard of a seven inch rise with an eleven inch tread.  He said that blind people use every other sense more than sighted people to compensate for their lack of vision – they listen to the sound of their feet on dry ground etc.


In response to questions from Forum members Mr Smart suggested that landowners can take advice on access issues for the disabled from the Health and Safety Executive or the RNIB.  He suggested that simulation goggles are useful for sighted people so that they can experience the effects of losing their sight. 


In relation to the suitability for visually impaired people of paths crossing main roads Mr Smart said that very few blind people have no perception of light.  Most have either peripheral vision or central field (tunnel) vision.  He suggested that bubble paving sometimes used for road crossings in towns may be appropriate and said that other types of paving are detailed on the RNIB web-site.


In relation to walkers sharing paths with cyclists, Mr Smart suggested that for visually impaired people the cyclists must be kept to one side of the path and that there should be a distinctive white or yellow line marked on the path to distinguish the two sections.  He said that cyclists are difficult to hear.


In relation to the preferences between stiles or kissing gates, Mr Smart was emphatic that kissing gates are much better although he accepted that land owners preferred stiles.  He said that if stiles were also uniform seven inch by eleven inch then they would be acceptable but this is not the case.  The Forum noted that SEERAD do not discourage land owners from erecting stiles.


In relation to the use of Caithness flagstone for signage Mr Smart commented that when it is only fifty to sixty millimetres thick it cannot be spotted by visually impaired people and he suggested that there should be white paint down the side of the signs to make them more obvious.  Because of different conditions such as albinism it is more useful to use white paint.


Mr Smart also said that it is essential that the beginning and end of a walking route are clearly defined, perhaps by flourescent markings on fence posts.  He also said that galvanised hand rails are useful on areas where there are slopes or steps. 


Mr Bruce thanked Mr Smart for raising the Forum’s awareness of so many issues and undertook to put similar issues on the Agenda for future consideration by the Forum.


Mr Smart thanked the Forum for inviting him to attend and invited the Forum to consult him or the RNIB when planning major improvements or creating new paths.  Once again he commended the recorded walks to the Forum.


5.  Access Officer’s Report


Mr Barclay circulated a report, a copy of which is appended hereto.  In relation to action points from previous meetings, Mr Barclay reported on his attendance at a meeting of the Northern Deer Management Group.  His visit to the route of the old railway line leading from Weydale quarries to Thurso and the Wick North Head path closure.  He also made a number of general points, and in relation to the submission from the Land Management Contract Menu Scheme, Option 15 – Improving Access, the Forum agreed to invite a representative from SEERAD (Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department) to a future meeting.


In relation to the Flows National Nature Reserve designation by Scottish Natural Heritage of a section of peatlands around Forsinard and Dorrery, the Forum agreed that Mr Barclay get in touch with the National Nature Reserve requesting that the Forum be kept informed of progess in relation to the designation.  Mr Robson commented that this area is fundamental in terms of the Core Path Planning exercise and that access in this area should be anticipated. 


At this point William Beattie left the meeting.


Mr Barclay also circulated extracts from the John O’Groat Journal of 28th April and Caithness Courier from 14th June and reported that ScotRail has agreed to transport bicycles between Caithness and Inverness but only by using the road network.  Mr Bruce requested that a letter be sent to ScotRail requesting details of the steps they intend to take to ensure access for cyclists to stops in the interior of the County such as Altnabreac and Forsinard. 


In relation to the Dunnet link project to create a path between Dunnet Pavilion and Dunnet Forest, Mr Barclay reported that the mult-user track had now been completed and was well received. 


6. Report on the Pan-Highland Access Forum


Mr Robson reported that there had been positive feedback from the meeting of the Pan-Highland Access Forum held in April and that he hoped to provide all Forum members with transcripts of the meeting.  He invited the Forum members to submit items for the Agenda of future meetings for the Pan-Highland Forum, the next meeting to be held in February or March of 2007. 


7. Report on Core Paths Progress       


Mr Barclay circulated a note, a copy of which is appended hereto.  He submitted that not all meetings held in rural locations had been well attended.  Questionaires had been circulated in the local press and the returns received had been reasonable and considered, the suggested final date for submitting questionaires being 1st August, 2006. 


8. Progress with Tasks


i.  PR Strategy – Mr Robson circulated a draft PR Stategy and it was agreed
   that the matter would be considered at the next meeting of the Forum.


ii. Highland Council Access Strategy – Mr Robson reported that this had been
   considered by the Council’s Planning Development Europe and Tourism
   Committee on the 31st May and that more work is required as the
   document is regarded as being too aspirational and doesn’t flag up the
   working environment.  It was noted that only one Community Council in
   the Highland Council area had responded to the draft Strategy with only
   forty one responses in total having been received including Key


iii  Code of Conduct – It was noted that the Code of Conduct had been 
    adopted at the Pan-Highland Access Forum.


8. Any Other Business  


It was agreed that a representative from SEERAD be invited to attend the next meeting.  The meeting concluded at 6:45 p.m.