Minutes of meeting of Caithness Local Access Forum held in Assembly Rooms, Wick on Tuesday 27th October 2009



William Bruce (WB) (Chairperson) – Access Taker/User
Chris Hobson (CH) – Access Taker/User


In attendance


Geoff Robson (GR) – Head of Environment and Development, Highland Council
David Barclay (DB) – Access Officer, Highland Council
Dieter Tuerlinckx (DT) – Countryside Ranger, Highland Council
Alex Macmanus (AM) – Ward Managers Team, Highland Council (clerk)


1. Apologies


George Walker – Land Owner/Manager
Mrs Elena Koponen-Baikie – Community Groups
Stephen Fraser – Landowner access facilitator/developer, Forestry Commission
Robert Coghill – Land Owner/Manager


2. Notes and action points from 18th August 2009. Agreed by WB and CH


Issues arising

a. Press release to raise profile of CLAF was printed.
b. Letter sent to Members and Officials concerning CLAF thoughts on Victoria
c. Dirlot Gorge to be fenced off for regeneration. Joint venture between
    SNH/RSPB is presently on hold but will go ahead.
d. SNH member to replace David Shaw has still to be decided.


3. National Access Forum – proposed presentation


Chair presented 10 minute power point to group which he would be showing to the National Access Forum at Eden Court in Inverness the next day. Members felt that presentation was good and with a little tweaking was ready to go.


4. John O’Groats Masterplan


A lot in the plan and very visual. CLAF are pleased to see the high priority given to the walk east towards Duncansby Head and also the prospect of a westerly walk to the old mill.


A strategy is to be drawn up for these walkways and CH will be involved through his connection with the local Community Council. Reports that there are over 200,000 visitors to John O’Groats each year. CH, WB and DB would be pleased to attend any meetings called to discuss the walkways. (also see Access Officers report at 8 below)


5. Newton Hill Croft and Forestry Commission.


(WB expressed an interest as Secretary of Friends of Newtonhill)


A public meeting had been held two weeks ago with the Forestry Commission. After that meeting the Friends of Newtonhill held their AGM which was attended by representatives of both Wick and Tannach Community Councils.


A further meeting is due to be called for 5th November when written submissions will be agreed and forwarded to the Forestry Commission. Progress is now being made.


GR is still waiting to see latest report about Newtonhill from the Contaminated Land Unit. Council are favourable to making use of existing car park and perhaps putting in a raised walk way to the croft.


6. Members Business


DT – Path to Lybster Monument/Grave requires upkeep but no clarity on who actually owns it as it follows line of old railway track. Perhaps local Community Council could help.


CH – Started War work at Dunnett Head. Making use of core path of Dwarick Pier to beach. Local Community Council is involved. RSPB are looking to stay longer at Dunnett Head next year. GR confirms that the Council would be receptive to this.


GR – Membership of the Local Access Forums will remain with the status quo and will continue to be geographically based. Existing members will be asked if they wish to stay before positions are advertised. Nominations will go before Members at their Business meetings and then onto Glenurquhart Road. Dispensation will also be given to add an additional member who would represent the disabled.


GR – Core paths should be agreed by the Scottish Government by early next year.


7. Projects for CLAF to promote.


Little to no feedback received following press release. DB suggested that Yarrows be added to the list of projects as the local group are keen to progress. CLAF are encouraged by the enthusiasm show by the Yarrows Group.


8 Access Officers Report


1. Path Works


1.1 The (Mall) Cemetery Footbridge, Thurso


Extract article from Caithness.org front page, 6th October 2009.


Pupils from Miller Academy Primary School, Thurso, were centre stage last Friday at a ceremony to mark the opening of a new footbridge which forms an important pedestrian link over the River Thurso, below Thurso Cemetery. Primary 7 pupils have been featuring the local project in a technology project and were delighted to accept an invitation from The Highland Council to attend.


James Rollinson and Katie Moar helped Thurso Councillor John Rosie to cut the ribbon to formally open the new Mall Walk Bridge, which replaces the structure which was destroyed by river flood flow, in the storms of October 2006. The bridge re-establishes the river crossing which is part of a popular local walking route.


Councillor Rosie was instrumental in persuading the Council to replace the Mall Walk Bridge. He said: "I am delighted the children could join me in opening this important bridge, which re-establishes a much cherished walk for Thurso folk. It is a real bonus that the youngsters are looking at the bridge and its fascinating history in their school work."


Valued at £250,000, the bridge has a single span of more than 36 metres. Design of the new structure has been by consulting engineer Arch Henderson LLP and the contract for its construction has been completed by McGregor Construction (Highlands) Ltd. The steel superstructure of the new bridge was fabricated and galvanized off site, for erection on completion of abutment supports on either bank of the river. Consent for the work (which is in a Site of Special Scientific Interest) was given by Scottish Natural Heritage.


Source: http://caithness.org/ accessed 26/10/09


2. Rights of Way


2.1 Scotways Annual Report


It was noted that Victoria Walk was mentioned in the 2009 annual report by Scotways. This was a fleeting mention within the ‘Heritage Paths’ project.


It is believed that there may be other paths presented to Scotways for consideration as ‘Heritage Paths’ from Caithness including the long distance path in the hinterland of Caithness known as the Ca na Catanach (the Sutherland Men’s Path)


An excellent report is being prepared by Mr David Glass featuring the history of this currently obscure historical path. Mr Glass aims to produce this article for the benefit of the Caithness Field club in the near future.


Members are encouraged to continue sending relevant information on either Rights Of Way and/or Heritage Paths to Scotways.


Please see web home page; http://www.scotways.com/


3. Access Groups


 3.1 Equestrian


The British Horse Society is holding their Scottish Access Conference on Saturday 14th November. Details have been circulated by email.


4. Issues with access interest


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


Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) has successfully purchased Newtonhill Croft. An initial meeting has been undertaken to view the area and begin dialogue with local interest groups. FCS staff members attended the Friends of Newtonhill Group AGM in early October. It is hoped that wider dialogue is pursued in the coming months.


4.2 John O’Groats Masterplan


As noted in the access officers (AO) report for 18th Aug., the AO and CLAF Chair attended the public presentation of draft concepts for the John O’Groats Masterplan in July. The Masterplan is now complete and has highlighted the value and opportunity for increased access – principally along the coast.


The Highlands and Islands Enterprise, John O’Groats masterplan, undertaken by GVA Grimley is available on line.


The plan has identified various themes related to public access, most notably within the key masterplan themes with mention of ‘restoration’ of a coastal path from John O’Groats East towards Duncansby Head and the creation of a new path to the West towards John O’Groats Mill.


The suggested phased level of this public access component is within Phase 1 with a given timescale of 2009-2011. Initial contact has been made with Highlands and Islands and it is expected that a meeting will be arranged shortly to consider opportunities for exploring access opportunities in accordance with the principles of the plan.


4.3 Bridgend House Health Care Centre, Sir Georges Street, Thurso


A complaint has been received regarding nuisance and anti social access to the rear of Bridgend House Health Care Centre, Sir Georges Street, Thurso. This is a large town house situated on the banks of the Thurso river between Thurso Bridge and the parking area on Riverside Road by the Thurso TIC.


The issues are predominantly reported as alcohol fuelled and are particularly prevalent at the weekend – the assumption being that revellers from the nightclub are using the secluded area afforded by the access to the rear of the property to relieve themselves – and leaving ‘anti social mess’.


The use of the building as a Health Care Centre has contributed to the use of the rear access to the property as a short cut between Sir George’s St. and Riverside Road. The access is very secluded from either street. From Sir Georges Street you pass down several steps from street level through an archway – completely hidden from view of the street. There is no gate – although there is provision for a gate in the railings, suggesting a gate was existent in the past.


There is no door or gate in the archway either. There is an enclosed courtyard area thereafter. The access from the parking area on Riverside Road is also via an arched opening between buildings, again not gated, into the courtyard area. In addition there is unsecured access to the garden area between the rear of the building and the Thurso River which links with the access (courtyard) to the rear of the building. Please refer to attached photographs and map.


Initial reaction to the issue is that advice should be provided suggesting the installation of gates and PIR security lighting. The garden area could be completely secured outside of business hours as this area is not integral to access. Several factors require consideration;


  • The access is obviously within the curtilage of the building – owing both to proximity and by the nature of the access passing through archways into and through a courtyard area.
  • TECS have confirmed that the access is not adopted.
  • There exists an adopted footway around the front of the building – so the use of the access to the rear of the building is not an essential component of access in the area.


This said the use of the rear access may have been habitual for a number of years and there may be a claim that public use of this access is of a longstanding nature.


Returning to the suggested course of action, pending the building owner pursuing advice from crime prevention officer and consideration of health and safety issues from the perspective of operating a business from the premises, it is advocated that the use of unsecured gates combined with PIR lights is suggested in the first instance. Securing these gates outside of business needs/opening hours would be the course of action thereafter.


Core Paths Planning


A response from the Reporters Unit regarding the Highland Core Paths Plan is expected in November.

DB has been seconded to Planning until end of this financial year but would continue to support the CLAF and be available for next meeting in December.


Dounreay fore shore constitutes potential risk for public access. Understood that limited numbers of people ever use this route. Signage advising of all the inherent dangers would provide more information of the perceived risks.


9. Dates and venues for meetings in 2010


  • 16th March – Mowat Room, Assembly Rooms, Wick – 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm
  • 25 May – Thurso (venue to be decided as Caithness Horizons not available) – 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm
  • 17 August – Mowat Room, Assembly Rooms, Wick – 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm
  • 26 October – Thurso (venue to be decided as Caithness Horizons not available) – 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm
  • 14 December – Mowat Room, Assembly Rooms, Wick – 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm

10. AOB


Mary Legg, Countryside Ranger, had now retired and the CLAF would like to publicly acknowledge and thank her for all the work she has done over many years and wish her a very long and happy retirement.


Scotways and Paths for All are holding an event in Stirling on 7th December 2009. Chair cannot attend. Any interested parties who wish to attend please contact WB.


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