Jess Dolan, Director of Ramblers Scotland, marks the anniversary of Scotland's landmark access laws by speaking to ten outdoor people whose lives have been enriched by the right to roam.
The 23rd January 2018 will mark the 15th anniversary of a momentous day in the history of Scottish walking: the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The hard-won law secured the traditional rights and freedoms of all of us in Scotland to access land, coast and inland water, provided we do so responsibly.
The legislation placed Scotland at the very top of the international access charts.
Thanks to the Act, walkers and other 'non-motorised users' – such as cyclists, canoeists and horse-riders – have the right to enjoy the vast majority of Scotland. The boost for walking is obvious, opening up an almost limitless supply of potential walking routes. But as we all know, there's much more to enjoy on a walk than simply putting one foot in front of the other.
To mark 15 years of the Act, we've spoken with ten very different outdoor enthusiasts about how our world-class access rights open up a huge array of fun opportunities – and make days out in Scotland even more wonderful.
Mike Pescod, mountain guide
Fort William climber Mike Pescod says access rights are important to his work as a mountain guide.
"Being able to engage with the wonderful wild landscape on our doorsteps is such a precious gift that we should celebrate it and utilise it much more than we do" says Mike.
"It is amazing that we can immerse ourselves in nature almost anywhere we want to in Scotland, as long as we do so responsibly. Being responsible for our impact on the land and its owners is just one side of our access rights though. The other is that we are responsible for ourselves, which places on us the requirement to be self-reliant. This is what I spend my life doing and what I help others do through mountaineering, climbing and guiding, and I am so grateful for the access rights we have in Scotland that enable me to do this."
Peter Cairns, photographer
Award-winning photographer Peter Cairns, from the Cairngorms, uses his access rights to find the perfect angle.
"At a personal level, being able to access Scotland's wild places is a privilege and fundamental to my job as a nature photographer" says Peter.
"At a societal level, the principle of access with responsibility is one that not only contributes enormously to Scotland's tourism economy, but to a growing need to re-connect people – young and old – with the natural world."
James Reynolds, RSPB Scotland
James Reynolds, of RSPB Scotland, says our access rights have helped more people experience the sight and sound of birds – which provide a stunning backdrop to many Scottish walks.
"Scotland is a wonderful place to watch birds, and some of the UK's most iconic species are restricted to, or have the majority of their populations, north of the border" James explains.
"Some of these rarer species often choose the more isolated and inaccessible habitats of Scotland to live and make their home. Thankfully, our more relaxed rights of responsible access mean these fantastic wildlife watching experiences aren't constrained, and anyone with a bit of determination, patience, respect and commitment can see these species in their native habitat. It has made Scotland one of the key wildlife tourism destinations in Europe."
Antonia Kearton, tree climber
Our freedom to roam off paths is a big hit with Antonia Kearton, from Grantown-on-Spey – and her adventurous young sons.
"Our boys all love climbing trees!" says Antonia. "We've taught them to look out for stronger branches and avoid dead ones. They love the challenge and the views, and it all helps make getting them out for walks more interesting. They started off on climbing frames, but nothing beats the challenge of getting out there, exploring, and finding your own favourite trees!"
Suzanne Burgess, Buglife
Access rights help the charity Buglife celebrate and study Scotland's fascinating insects. Their Scotland manager Suzanne Burgess says:
"Scotland's access rights have provided our staff and volunteers with a number of opportunities to run bug walks at new and exciting places. This has led to the exploration of new sites by people of all ages and new bug discoveries, as well as allowing Buglife to raise awareness of the importance of invertebrates and how they can be studied."
Neil Armstrong, snowsports enthusiast
While it's not a statutory right, the Scottish Outdoor Access Code urges golf managers to accept informal snow sports on their courses, provided people do so responsibly – just as Perthshire man Neil Armstrong did during the snowy winter of 2010:
"It's brilliant that people can sled, ski and snowboard on Scottish golf courses in winter – provided there's plenty of snow and you stay away from tees, greens and bunkers. In 2010, we'd a great day snowboarding at the golf course at Hillend near Edinburgh on a particularly snowy day, when golf would definitely not have been possible!"
Davie Black, conservation manager at Plantlife Scotland
Davie is passionate about the plants that add so much colour and life to walking here.
"Botanists have generally roamed freely throughout Scotland, seeking out the rare, the beautiful and the curious" he says.
"The flowers, mosses, liverworts, lichens and fungi that clothe the countryside are there for all to enjoy. The Land Reform Act ensures that we wild plant enthusiasts have continued access to these special areas, from mountain tops to coastal edges, to enjoy the very best that nature offers. Sharing our discoveries and delights with landowners can help ensure their survival for future generations."
Neil Mathewson, wild food forager
Edinburgh walker Neil Mathewson uses his access rights to forage for wild, natural food.
"I feel incredibly privileged to enjoy access to the Scottish countryside, and the bounty of fantastic free food and medicine it has to offer" he says.
"Foraging lets you source local, free range, seasonal and organic food – while saving money and transforming time spent outdoors into a fun, purposeful adventure. Learning to identify natural resources has made me even more determined to protect the integrity of our environment, and also turned otherwise threatening plants and fungi into old friends that I look forward to meeting again - and eating!"
Mike Elm, wild swimmer
Access rights extend to most rivers and lochs in Scotland. Wild swimming enthusiast Mike Elm thinks more people should try braving the cold, and take a quick outdoor dip.
"There's nothing quite like the exhilaration of the wonderful, bracing Scottish waters to soothe weary bones on a day out! Nothing compares to it for making you feel part of the landscape."
Angus Miller, Scottish Geodiversity Forum
Angus loves how our rights help people discover Scotland's fascinating geology.
"Just as with access rights, Scotland is at the top of the league for geology" he says, "and it is fantastic that visitors and local people can explore all of our geology, enabling everyone to appreciate the wonder of a huge range of rocks of different ages, and the way these contribute to Scotland's landscape and culture. Perhaps one unexpected benefit of the Act has been promotion of responsibilities along with rights of access. In my opinion, this means that geologists are now being more sensible about sample-collecting, and more aware of other land users."
About Ramblers Scotland
At Ramblers Scotland, we want to encourage more people to appreciate and enjoy Scotland's world-class access rights - which make the memorable experiences above possible.
That's why we've launched our new Out There campaign, to break down barriers to the outdoors, including by get more paths on the ground and on Scottish maps.
In January 2018, we're excited to be showcasing Out There at the Scottish Parliament, at an event to celebrate 15 years of Scottish access rights. We'll also be running a series of fun competitions, celebrations and events throughout the coming few years to encourage even more people to get out there in Scotland. We'd love you to get involved!