A public right of way has to go from one public place to another. Thus, they tend to go along the glen and not up the mountain, as mountain tops are not normally classed as public places. However, the 'walk in' is a key part of the hill walking experience in Scotland, so rights of way matter to those who love the hills and mountains. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 giving access to the hills is largely a matter of right but it was not always so (the 'right to roam' was an urban myth, or should that be rural a one?).
The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays) dates back to 1845, rapidly moving from its Edinburgh origins to become national in outlook as it took on access disputes in Glen Tilt and Jocks Road (Glen Callater/ Glen Doll). These disputes went to court and all the way to the House of Lords. The Society won but effectively bankrupted itself in the process. Nevertheless, rights of way were now a reality. Properly maintaining public rights of access was clearly beyond the means of the Society and it campaigned for local authorities to take on this responsibility. Success came with the Local Government Act in 1894. Unfortunately, lack of resources and not much inclination meant that local authorities rarely discharged their responsibilities over the decades thereafter in the face of inter-war afforestation, road building and hydro schemes. The need for local organisations to fight to retain access has remained with us.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 is a wonderfully progressive piece of legislation. However, most of the problems relating to access have remained (the current difficulties in Glen Lyon being a topical reminder) and, of course, these are often compounded by wind farm developments. From ScotWays point of view, the Act does not cover all rights of way as land exempted from the Act may still have a right of way across it. Thus, the need for vigilance and action continues, effectively unabated.
ScotWays is a national voluntary organisation with a membership of nearly 2000, made up of both individual and corporate members (which include access authorities, community councils, and clubs). Although our members tend to be walkers primarily, we cover the full range of recreation users. We have a small staff and volunteers are vital to our work. Volunteers are actively involved in management, helping in the office, and carrying out field work - including path monitoring, path surveys, and path maintenance often in cooperation with access authority staff.
ScotWays is best known by the public for our green and white signposts. These are on major routes throughout the country, normally indicators from public roads rather than in the wilds. We also contribute to the cost of repair of bridges where appropriate. ScotWays set up and maintains the National Catalogue of Rights of Way (in cooperation with SNH). Our most recent project has seen Heritage Paths develop, through research and promoting enjoyment of historic paths. ScotWays also encourage enjoyment of the outdoors through publication of leaflets and our guide book Scottish Hill Tracks.
ScotWays work originally concentrated on rights of way issues, but it has now extended to cover general access to the outdoors as many issues now impinge on the enjoyment of rights of way. We are unusual amongst organisations representing access users, in that we deal with issues about access in and around urban areas as well as countryside access.
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