MP Blackford urges Ardnamurchan landowner to ‘think again’ in public access row

Local walker Jenny Kime is confronted with one of the locked gates on Ardnamurchan Estate at the centre of a row over public access. NO F27 Ardnamurchan locked gate 01
Local walker Jenny Kime is confronted with one of the locked gates on Ardnamurchan Estate at the centre of a row over public access. NO F27 Ardnamurchan locked gate 01

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MP Ian Blackford has waded into the row between residents on Ardnamurchan and a local landowner who is alleged to have breached outdoor access legislation by erecting locked gates on popular long-established walking routes.

A report compiled by local residents – including former Highland Council leader and current Lochaber Access Forum member Michael Foxley – identified 17 locked gates on paths on Ardnamurchan Estate land as of January last year, which the group claims contravenes the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Dr Michael Foxley, pictured, is one of those behind the report. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-Dr-Michael-Foxley.jpg
Dr Michael Foxley, pictured, is one of those behind the report. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

Those behind the report argue that blocking access presents a ‘direct challenge to the democratic authority of the Scottish Parliament’, and risks making land reform laws ‘unenforceable’.

Coverage of the dispute has so far made the online investigative news site, The Ferret, as we as the The National newspaper, and recently the pages of The Times.

Ardnamurchan Estate, which is also the location of  the Adelphi Distillery Ltd-owned distillery, is owned by Donald Houston, who bought the 30,000 acre property in 1995/96.

Mr Blackford called on Mr Houston to rethink about the impact the estate’s actions were having on the local community and visitors to the area.

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Local MP Ian Blackford who has urged Ardnamurchan Estate owner Donald Houston to think again about public access.
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‘I was disappointed to learn this week of a dispute between Ardnamurchan residents and a local landowner who is alleged to have breached outdoor access legislation by locking numerous gates on walking routes which have been used for generations,’ Mr Blackford told the Lochaber Times.

‘Estate owner Donald Houston has been a beneficiary of a hefty Scottish Government grant to facilitate the building of his Adlephi Distillery. I would urge him to think again about this undemocratic breach of Scottish land rights.

‘The days of wealthy landowners behaving in this high-handed manner should be resigned to the past, where they belong.’

However, in 2019, West Ardnamurchan Community Council noted comments from Mr Houston, who explained that the estate restricted access to less than 10 acres of land out of 25,000 acres and that it was necessary to look at the balance of the benefit from the estate activities.

Mr Houston said a facility at Glenborrodale provided wood fuel that is used to heat the school and distillery and it would be an act of gross negligence to allow pedestrian access to an area with heavy machinery and forklift truck movements.

This area, he said, has been a working yard with a shed for more than 30 years. In the forestry areas, the estate had no choice but to lock gates closed because people had left gates propped open and, as a result, deer had eaten newly planted trees. Camera traps were installed to see who was doing this and these had been stolen.

There was also evidence, Mr Houston said, that pedestrian gates had been deliberately tied open.

While Ardnamurchan Estate supported and encouraged responsible access to the hills, Mr Houston said it also had a legal responsibility for the maintenance of infrastructure but claimed Highland Council would not accept the increase in liability that will come about as a result of a proposed core path skirting round the steading buildings.

The estate had proposed its own alternative route past the Glenborrodale farmyard which goes through the RSPB reserve.