Minutes of meeting of Caithness Local Access Forum
Held in Caithness Horizons, Old Town, Hall, Thurso
On Tuesday 18th August 2009





William Bruce (WB) (Chairperson) – Access Taker/User
David Hall (DH) – Access Taker/User
Mrs Cath. Whittles (CW) – Access Taker/User
George Walker (GW) – Land Owner/Manager
Mrs Elena Koponen-Baikie – Community Groups
Chris Hobson (CH) – Land Manager/Access User


In attendance


David Barclay (DB), Access Officer, Highland Council.
Geoff Robson (GR), Head of Environment and Development, Highland Council.
Mary Legg (ML), Countryside Ranger, Highland Council
Alex Macmanus (AM), Ward Managers Team, Highland Council (clerk)


Prior to the meeting members visited the initial section of Victoria Walk from the promenade to Lambeth Walk, beside the caravan park.  Issues surrounding the Walk are noted at item 5 (1.4) below

1. Apologies

William Beattie – Agency (Forestry Commission Scotland)
George Hamilton – Access Officer Manager, Highland Council
Stephen Fraser – Landowner access facilitator/developer, Forestry Commission
Fiona McInally – Outdoor Access Development Officer (North), Paths For All.
Councillor Graeme Smith, Wick Ward Member
Robert Coghill – Land Owner/Manager.

2. Minutes and Action points from 26th May 2009. Agreed by CH and WB

Issues arising


a. WB will try to visit Dirlot Gorge before next meeting. Had been unable to contact RSPB.


b. DB & WB attended presentation at John O’Groats by Grimleys on the Master plan for village. The local Community Council support this plan.


Highland Council have had early site of plan as they have a significant land holding in the area. DB to circulate any information arising from masterplan


c. Beware of bull sign at Braemore is still being displayed. Cattle noted as being worked in the area by DB at time of site visit.


d. DB attended a meeting of the Yarrows Heritage Trust a couple of months ago but has had no further contact since. WB felt that the site had a slightly disused look. Recommendations that a Management Plan is the way forward here.


Highland Council interest in the site is now minimal. ML feels this is a very important site for Caithness in respect of the archaeology and that the CLAF fully support this.


Cattle have replaced sheep on the croft and this land issue is Scotland wide. Land owner will be having a reduction in cattle numbers over the winter.


e. There has been a change in circumstances at Harden Farm. Comments made under Item 5 below.


f. Replacement footbridge at Thurso is due to be open soon. Bridge design is very modern in appearance. Path on east bank of river to be resurfaced with bitmac and handrail to be placed on piped culvert by boating pond. Snagging list to be completed.


A complaint had been received by a member of the public over a contractor’s demeanour; this has been dealt with through liaison with contractor via works supervisor (DB).


g. Pan Highland Access Forum – although several interesting subjects were discussed, attendance was poor.


h. Access Officer has had no feedback from Transport Scotland over the footpaths issue on the A99/A9 at Lybster. He would copy in Latheron, Lybster & Clyth Community Council into his correspondence.

3. Members business.

CW – British Horse Society are mapping out routes in the UK and this is causing some confusion in Scotland as regards rights of access.


GW – Wild swimmers can now access all inland waters in Scotland as long as they uphold the Outdoor Access Code. http://www.wildswimming.co.uk/accesslaw.html


ML – Organising winter cliff walks. Problem on east coast with over 56 fences to cross over.


DB – Highland Council can offer kissing gates but they need to be installed and maintained by land owners/recipients for the benefit of public access.


ML - Fences can get damaged by those wishing to take access where no gates or stiles are provided- e.g. along the cliff top. It may be applicable to undertake a press release advising of availability of kissing gates.


WB – Agrees with press release, content also to cover and raise profile of CLAF

GR – SNH are holding a joint forum in Eden Court on 28th October. 3 members from each local access forum are invited to attend. Caithness LAF to do presentation on access issues in the county. Any member wishing to attend please contact WB.


GR – Local Community Councils required to be consulted firstly if they wish to have bi-lingual signs for their core paths. DB would write to all Community Councils to enquire.


CH – RSPB Dunnett Head had issued maps of the area.


DB – circulated land ownership/management maps supplied by RSPB for consideration.


CH – Had problems with kissing gates in the past due to them not being installed properly.


CH –Problem at St John’s loch had been resolved locally.

4. CLAF Projects – short list

1. John O’Groats footpath to Duncansby Head to help encourage funding.


2. Wick airport road closed for many years. Aspirational route now around airport perimeter.


3. Reay circular route at Borlum Rock. Horses go on this route by arrangement. Locked gate on the Limekiln circuit. Land management issues on who owns what. Once Core Path plans get approved by Scottish Government problems should cease.

5. Access Officers Report

1. Path Works


1.1 Formal Adoption of Burnside Path, West Gills, Thurso


Advertised in press in July, noted as East Gills Path. This path is an arterial route and is recorded as a candidate core path no. 213.040.


In discussion with Council over lighting issues on this path in interests of public safety.


1.2 Geise Path Extension


Mrs Miller, from Geise Farm, Glengolly, Thurso would wish to notify the Access Forum that the path extension proposed at the time of the Forums’ site meeting is now complete.


WB – CLAF would wish to extend their congratulations to the Millers for all their hard work and the provision of such an excellent path resource.


1.3 Cemetery Footbridge, Thurso


Works should be nearing completion. Some concerns raised by the public over disruption to access alongside the river and reinstatement works. These issues have been relayed to the supervising engineer.


CLAF are very pleased that this bridge has been completed on this very important core path. It is a credit to the local councillors and council. Press release to be issued following official opening.


1.4 Victoria Walk, Thurso


The section of Victoria Walk from the top of the flight of steps by the end of the promenade to the end of the Lambeth Walk by the Western edge of Thurso Caravan Park is to undergo refurbishment.


Works to include drainage improvements, including the piping of the ditch by Lambeth Walk, path realignment and widening in certain sections, replacement barriers, resurfacing works and lighting are all scheduled. The works will be undertaken by the Highland Council with an estimated budget of £97,000.


Discussion - CLAF unsure about lighting Victoria Walk in relation to the extra expense, light pollution and attracting folk of dubious character. Widening would allow more ‘traffic’ but perhaps straightening walk would make it lose some of its character.


Any byelaws on usage would only be as good as the policing of same. A public consultation could be held on any proposed bye law remembering that ultimately it would be up to the Scottish Government to approve.


Letter to be sent to local councillors from CLAF with the groups thoughts and observations.


2. Rights of Way


2.1 Wick – Old Wick area

Five routes identified – the March track, Harden Farm to Carnaby Road (recent ROW investigation case as per site visit at previous CLAF meeting), Trinkie Link path, Longberry track and Seaview Track. These tracks/paths all follow the ‘grid iron’ pattern of tracks in the Old Wick area. Details have been passed to Scotways – The Scottish Rights of Way Society for consideration as claimed rights of way.


2.2 Rights of Way – General

Scotways are aware that ROW’s in Caithness are grossly under-recorded. The suggestion that additional records are presented to Scotways was well received from Scotways, who can be contacted directly via the National Secretary;


Judith Lewis
National Secretary
24 Annadale Street


Please Web home page;


3. Access Groups


3.1 Equestrian – Horse Dung


New ‘Dung Guidance’ leaflet produced by The British Horse Society Scotland. Please refer to leaflet. Generally not an issue in Caithness however in popular areas such as Dunnet and Reiss Beach this has been commented upon by the public. There are particular areas of concern such as in the area of the car park by Dunnet Pavilion and access path to Dunnet Forest from the caravan site together with the car park and access path onto Reiss Beach by Wick.


4. Issues with access interest


4.1 Purchase of Newtonhill Croft, Wick by Forestry Commission Scotland
Newtonhill Croft


Missives are due to be signed on the 21st of August. The purchaser is Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) with the rationale for the purchase based in the concept of establishing woodlands in and around towns – the WIAT scheme http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-5W2NFZ . FCS is likely to hold a meeting with interested local parties in early September.


CLAF will make comment on this once missives have been completed.


Suggestion that existing car park at top of Newton be used with raised corridor access to the new woodland site.


4.2 RSPB area of management Dunnet Head


The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Scotland have taken on a management agreement for an area of Dunnet Head in the vicinity of Dunnet Head lighthouse. This area includes two candidate core paths – 205.011 Dunnet Head and 205.022 Cliff viewpoint. A further management agreement was noted at Broubster Leans, however no candidate core paths are noted in that area.


4.3 John O’Groats Masterplan


The Access Officer was accompanied by the CLAF chairman to a presentation held by GVA Grimley in July regarding the master-planning exercise for John O’Groats. As discussed at previous CLAF meetings coastal access is considered a key element in any future development of the wider area around the ‘hub’ of John O’Groats.


A letter was sent on behalf of the CLAF identifying other sources of information together with additional background including the extract information from the formal draft Caithness Core Paths Plan relevant to the John O’Groats area and a historic draft plan for a waymarked route from John O’Groats to Duncansby Stacks.


4.4 Hitrans Active Travel Audit – Thurso


Cathy Kay of Halcrow visited the area in late July to collate local information regarding active travel (non-vehicular and/or public transport) for the Thurso area. Information was provided to Cathy and it is hoped that this will be fully considered in the resultant report for Thurso.


Core Paths Planning


The objections to the Caithness Core Paths Plan are being dealt with via written submission. The Scottish Government Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals have sent information regarding the written correspondence received from the objectors, dated 17th August.


Late information which was received by email on the 13th of August from a Mr David Glass is currently being considered in terms of historical context for ROW in the Altnabreac area – in the vicinity of the disputed level crossing.




7. Date of next meeting

Tuesday 27th October 2009 Assembly Rooms, Wick – 7.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.




CLAF – Caithness Local Access Forum
FCS – Forestry Commission Scotland
ROW – Rights of Way.