Minutes of Meeting of the Caithness Local Access Forum held in the Ross Institute, Halkirk on Monday 13th August, 2007 at 7.00pm.





Mr Ken Butler (Chairman)

Mr William Bruce (Vice Chairman)

Mr Peter Blackwood

Mr Robert Coghill

Mr David Hall

Mr Chris Hobson

Councillor Graeme Smith

Mr George Walker

Mrs Cath Whittles


In Attendance:


Mr Geoff Robson, Head of Environment, HC

Mr David Barclay, Access Officer, HC

Mrs Fiona Sinclair, Area Solicitor, HC (Clerk)

Mrs Mary Legg, Caithness Ranger, HC





1.  Apologies for Absence


Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr Steven Fraser, Councillor David Bremner and Miss Kirsty Rosie, East Caithness Ranger.



2.  Minutes of Meeting Held on 18th June 2007


The Minutes of the meeting held on 18th June 2007 were held as read.  Councillor Smith pointed out that although his name appeared on the sederunt, he had not in fact been present at the meeting.  Subject to this amendment the Minute was approved.



3.  Matters Arising


Thurso River Footbridge – Mr Robson explained that the Council is still pursuing the repair of the bridge with the Scottish Executive.  



4.  Core Path Planning     


Copies of the draft Core Path Plan had been circulated to all members of the Forum by Mr Barclay prior to the meeting.  The Chairman invited members of the Forum to comment on the draft. 


By way of introduction Mr Barclay explained that comments on the draft Core Path Plan are welcome and that it is still possible at this stage to add paths to the Plan although to take paths out may leave a gap in the proposed network.  He explained that he will go through all the comments and responses received and that he hopes that the finalised draft will go before the Ward Business Meetings and the Council’s Planning, Environment and Development Committee before the end of the year.


Mr Barclay explained that ordnance survey maps are being used to map the paths and that unclassified roads also form part of the network.  In relation to the wider access network responses have been received suggesting paths which respondees would like to use rather than paths they actually use, for example a route from the old abandoned fishing stations of Achcastle and Occumster has been included although there are no good links between them.  Respondees had also mentioned the dismantled Wick to Lybster Railway line but some strips of the Railway have been removed, for example by Loch Hempriggs.    Mr Barclay said that most lochs in the area had been mentioned in responses received.  He said that approximately one-sixth of candidate core path routes appear to have some form of multi-user potential eg the forest paths used by walkers, horse riders and cyclists.  Areas which had invited a lot of comment included Dunnet Forest and Loch Calder.  There is a large number of routes in and around Dunbeath village while Watten village is served by very few paths.  Mr Barclay said that he had left it to the community of Watten to highlight aspirational paths to him.   Mr Barclay said that several aspirational paths were highlighted locally in and around Watten.


During discussion Forum members made a number of comments on the draft Core Path Plan including the following: 


   in relation to Map 12 a circular path at the Cairn of Get and a path around Loch Sarclett would be desirable;

   in relation to Map 11 the path from Strathburn to Scorrieclet would be desirable; and

   in relation to Map 10 although it may have been excluded on the grounds of safety a path between the North Head and Wick/Staxigoe on Map 10 is aspirational.


Mr Barclay agreed to consider these as part of the wider access network.  The following additional paths were suggested:


   a path around the bay at the Castle of Mey;

   a path around Loch Toftingall;

   a path from the railway crossing at Halkirk down to the River; and

   a path from the Bridge of Westerdale to Loch More being constructed by new tenants.


It was noted that in relation to the aspirational path at Sordale Hill there are a number of dry stone walls to cross and some bulls grazing in the field there.  Discussion followed as to whether some aspirational paths should be omitted on safety grounds from the Core Path Plan.


Mr Barclay explained that all Community Councils would be made aware of the consultative draft Core Path Plan and would be invited to comment.  He also reminded the Forum Members that they should let him know of any routes currently being used which are not mentioned in the Core Plan.  He stressed that currently maintenance issues are not of concern in relation to the preparation of the Core Path Plan.  Mr Robson pointed out that onequarter of the access network will be core paths and that the Forum should concentrate on the core paths at the moment. 


In relation to occupiers’ liability Mr Barclay recommended that Land Managers use the SNH publication on public liability and suggested that all landowners have public liability cover.


In conclusion the Forum noted that there will be a serious of meetings to disucss the Core Path Plan throughout Caithness and that Forum members would be very welcome to attend.  Forum members agreed to submit further comments on the draft Core Path Plan to Mr Barclay before the next meeting.


5.  Any Other Business


Harden Farm – Mr Barclay explained that the access difficulties here had been passed to Alex Sutherland the Council’s Rights of Way specialist for his consideration and that there had been no change on site since the last meeting.  Mr Barclay explained that three smaller access issues would be brought to the next meeting, one in John O’Groats, one in Thurso and a third in Thrumster.


6.  Future of the Forum


Mr Robson said that the Forum will require to review the Core Path Plans and give guidance to officials when requested on priorities.  Also, in the context of community planning in its widest sense the Forum could consider walking opportunities, cycling opportunities, safer routes to schools and a wide range of related issues.  Copies of newspaper articles on recent access issues were circulated as were copies of deer stalking signs from the Lochaber area.  The Forum were invited to submit comments to Mr Barclay on these documents.


Mr Robson highlighted the date of the National Access Forum Meeting being                  31 October 2007 and invited Forum members interested in attending to make contact with Laura Burns of his team.  There being no further business the Chairman closed the meeting.