BY LISA FALCONER
The landlords of an estate in Wester Ross came under fire this week over their latest attempt to deny access to walkers.
Ledgowan Estate in Achnasheen has been at the centre of a long-running dispute over access.
After walking on hills on the estate on Saturday 5th October, Kenneth and Maureen Brown from Glenmoriston were returning to their car, parked off the main A890 Achnasheen to Lochcarron road, when they were accosted by a man demanding to know what they were doing walking on “his” hill.
The man had parked his vehicle beside Dr and Mrs Brown’s and immediately launched into an interrogation of their activities.
Dr Brown explained: “He demanded, in an extraordinarily arrogant and ill-mannered way, to know what we were doing ‘walking on his hill’. I informed him that we were simply exercising our statutory right of access to the countryside and that that was all he needed to know.
“However, he persisted in demanding an answer in a most offensive way but I refused to say more than to repeat that all he needed to know was that we were entirely within our legal rights to walk on that property.”
It was at this point that retired lecturer Dr Brown demanded that the man identify himself and was told he was speaking to Richard Simpson, “owner of the estate”. In fact, the estate is owned my Andrew Simpson and Richard is his son.
Mr Simpson then accused the couple of disturbing sheep on the land and, when Dr Brown said they had seen no sheep during their walk, he was told their dog must have scared them away. The couple were then told that deer stalking was in progress and that they could have been in danger from rifle fire. Dr Brown queried why no notices warning members of the public were on display or a temporary restriction of the general right of access to land was in place. No explanation was forthcoming, he said.
At this point the couple decided further discussion was pointless and made to leave, prompting Mr Simpson to accuse them of disturbing the environment before insulting Mrs Brown, taking a photograph of her and their vehicle and departing.
Dr Brown said: “While access was not blocked this was a pretty vicious response. We have a statutory right to be there and were treated in a brutal way. He was arrogant and offensive.”
Infuriated by the exchange, Dr Brown decided to share his experience on land reformer Andy Wightman’s blog, prompting further criticism of the estate.
Caithness, Sutherland and Ross SNP MSP Rob Gibson has now written to Highland Council regarding access at Ledgowan. He said: “Serious questions need to be asked of the estate. This is hardly the estate public relations that are fit for the 21st century. I hope that the access officer can look into the allegations.
“There are laws regarding the right to roam in Scotland and if they are being obstructed then good reasons are long overdue.”
As previously reported in the Free Press, the estate objected to council plans to create a permanent cycle track and footpath on the former A890 road, claiming it would be an “unnecessary intrusion”. In response to the council plans gates were padlocked and the right of way barricaded on the 11,100-acre estate, prompting complaints from local residents to Highland Council. A local resident also claimed to have been threatened while exercising the right of access.
While the objection was overruled by the council in March of this year, the estate still appears regularly on the agenda of the local access forum. In May, it was noted that gates remained padlocked and that two members of the public had reported they were refused access. No update was available from the council this week.
Following Dr Brown’s report on his experience at Ledgowan, further attention was brought to bear on the estate and dozens on people are now expected to attend a walk in the Achnasheen area on St Andrew’s Day (30th November), to exercise their right of access. In addition, the furore has led Mr Wightman to ask questions about an 18-kilometre-long hill track cut into estate land.
Attempts to speak to Andrew or Richard Simpson at Ledgowan were unsuccessful.