The tip of the Cape Wrath peninsula is up for sale, and if the Ministry of Defence (MOD) ends up buying it then public access will be banned.
This wild area at the far north west tip of the Scottish mainland already plays host to a MOD bombing range, the only one in the UK where live rounds are fired. Hitherto - firing range permitting - it has been possible to reach the lighthouse at the cape and various wee hills, bothies, sea stacks and cliffs (including the highest sea cliffs on the British Mainland); but that may soon change, at least at the Cape itself.
The land currently owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board is now up for sale, and the MOD have declared an interest in buying the 58 acre property. They admit that it would mean closing Cape Wrath off to public access.
The local community, represented by the Durness Development Group, has already applied to buy the land under the Land Reform Scotland Act and is awaiting a decision by Scottish Government ministers. If that bid fails then the MOD say they will step in.
In a letter released this week, the Minsiter of State for Defence Personnel Mark Francois acknowledges that if the MOD obtain the last remaining part of the Cape then 'for reasons of Health and Safety, any access by the local community would be precluded.'
This would have far-reaching implications for Scotland's renowned access rights, suggests wild land campaign group the John Muir Trust (JMT).
'Cape Wrath, with its towering sea cliffs, abundance of seabirds, seals and other wildlife, historic lighthouse buildings, and iconic geographical location is a popular destination for travellers from across the world' they say.
It is also the final destination of the new Scottish National Trail, which stretches for 470 miles from Kirk Yetholm in the Borders (see UKH news here).
Some in the isolated community of Durness fear that closing Cape Wrath to the public would have grim consequences for local jobs and livelihoods.
'Continued public access to Cape Wrath is of significant importance to the local economy of this small remote community which is heavily dependent on tourism and hospitality' said a spokesperson for Durness Development Group.
'Cape Wrath draws people to Durness and to the whole of North West Sutherland and encourages many visitors to extend their stay in the area.'
John Hutchison, Chairman of the JMT said:
'It is unthinkable that Cape Wrath should be turned into a military exclusion zone, from which the people of Scotland and overseas visitors are locked out.'
'We welcome the initiative of the Durness Development Group, who are standing up not only for their own community but also in defence of Scotland's access rights, which are admired across the world.'
'We would urge the Scottish Government to make sure that the community buy-out is speedily agreed to keep Cape Wrath open.'
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