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Access & Rights of Way in Scotland.

LOCAL PATHS – A BRIEF HISTORY


The history of access in Perthshire and elsewhere in Scotland is an interesting one.


Scotland now has world-class access rights that allow you to go just about anywhere in Scotland provided you exercise these rights responsibly. In practice, though, many of us like to walk or cycle along paths through the countryside. So how do we know where we can walk and how did all these paths originate?


Ancient routes


Our ancestors often used “more or less defined” routes to get around the country and avoid areas that were difficult to get through. Some of these, like the old north-south route through Highland Perthshire can still be traced (at least partly!) on the map and on the ground. A key route was the one from Dunkeld northwards, which went through places like Tulliemet, Edradour, Moulin, Loinmarstaig and Lycondlich.


Looking towards Lycondlich from Reinakylich



Rights of way


Scotland has always been a bit different to England in that there has generally been an acceptance that people can walk over open land and between towns and villages to go to church, visit neighbours, drive cattle, go to market etc. Over time, some of these routes became used on a regular basis. During the early decades of the 19th Century, some landowners started to prevent people from walking in the countryside.


The track through Glen Tilt, the subject of a famous court case



In response to this, the “Association for the Protection of Public Rights of Roadway in and around Edinburgh” was formed in 1845 and, within two years, it was involved in one of the most celebrated cases in the history of access in Scotland. John Balfour, a professor of botany at Edinburgh University led a group from Braemar down Glen Tilt where he met the Duke of Atholl and his ghillies barring the way. An acrimonious encounter ended only when Balfour and his students climbed over a dyke and ran off down the glen. The lengthy lawsuit which followed vindicated the right of way through Glen Tilt and established the Association as a prime defender of such cases.


Forty years later the Association, by then renamed the Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society, became involved in another famous legal battle which went all the way to the House of Lords. The ruling confirmed the status of Jock's Road as a right of way.


The Society still exists today and is now called ScotWays. You can find out more about its work here: https://www.scotways.com/.


The old right of way between Pitlochry and Strathtay



Some of these rights of way are very old and the routes have been used for many centuries. ScotWays has created a website for many of these historic routes (see

https://www.heritagepaths.co.uk/).


In practice, there have never been as many recorded rights of way in Scotland as there have been in England, partly because the requirement on local authorities to record them was never the same and partly because access to open land was never contested by landowners to the same extent as south of the border. However, Perth & Kinross still has one of the largest networks of recorded rights of ways in Scotland and around Pitlochry many of the routes we use on a daily basis are designated as such.


Photo 4 – A right of way sign for the route (a heritage path) between Strath Tummel and Old Struan and Blair Atholl


Local path networks


Back in the late 1980s, the local council were aware that many people came to the area to go walking and thought it would be a great idea to promote and signpost a network of paths on which people could walk and feel confident that they would be welcome and not get lost.


The Council set about developing a path network around Dunkeld & Birnam by liaising with the local landowners to gain their permission to develop and signpost routes. In July 1994 this was one of the first promoted path networks in Scotland.


Path sign for Craigower, part of the Pitlochry path network



It soon became the first of several networks and was closely followed by Pitlochry and then the newly formed Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust developed the network at Crieff. All this was before the new Land Reform Act of 2003 and involved lots of negotiation and discussion with local landowners and communities. If you have one, have a close look at the Dunkeld and Birnam path leaflet - it was produced before the days of digital mapping and printing and all the tree symbols are individually hand drawn!


The Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust website has lots of information about the local path networks and other projects. You can download various leaflets from their website at: https://www.pkct.org/download-leaflets.

Core paths


In 2003, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was passed and at that point the right of responsible access to most land was enshrined in law. Furthermore, local authorities were required to produce core paths plans to give the public reasonable access throughout their area. Perth and Kinross Council managed to produce one of the most extensive plans in Scotland through lots of consultation with local communities. It’s available on the Perth & Kinross Council website at: https://www.pkc.gov.uk/article/15439/Core-Paths-Plan-interactive-map.


There are over 2,000km of core paths in Perth and Kinross and you can find out more about them here. This time although landowners were consulted and were able to object to routes the final decision was made by the Scottish Government and the core paths plan for Perth and Kinross was approved on 1 December 2011. This now forms the basis for many of the new path network leaflets that have been developed since then.


A screenshot of the core path plan for the Pitlochry area



Hopefully, this short, condensed history of the development of path networks in Highland Perthshire encourages you to get out and explore them! Use the links to find out more or just come out on a guided walk with Perthshire Treks and we can tell you all about it!


Find out more about our walking adventures on our website at:

https://www.perthshiretreks.scot/ or follow/like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/perthshiretreks) or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/perthshiretreks/?hl=en).



Richard Davison & Brenda Clough

Perthshire Treks

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