Enjoying Spaghetti in Aberdeen


It is possible that more people enjoy the thought of hill walking than actually participate, at least as frequently as they would want.  It is a modest drive from Aberdeen to any substantial hill, let alone to the mountains.  Braemar, for example, is 60 miles away.  If you live in Aberdeen, mountain paths do not start at the back door.  Besides this, some 40% of households in Aberdeen do not have the use of a private car which might enable them to reach the mountains.

The paths around Aberdeen may not match mountain paths for the grandeur of the environment and the views afforded nor for the challenge in walking them.  They are nevertheless important for providing opportunities for access to the countryside for exercise and recreation, and for many people these will be the only opportunities they readily have available.

Fragmented paths

A map of rights of way around Aberdeen shows a hopelessly fragmented network of paths.  Indeed, it is not really a network at all.  This is the chopped-up spaghetti that is available as of right to the residents of Aberdeen, and to visitors if they are able to find it.  There are, of course, other paths over which access is tolerated informally, but most are not signed. 

Access Forum and legislation

For these reasons, the City Council supports the principles that emerged from the Access Forum as the basis for proposed legislation on access in Scotland.  In particular, it supports the concept of a right of responsible access to all land and favours making it a duty on local authorities to define core path networks.  These would seem to be keystones of effective legislation.  They would enable local authorities and landowners to work together to identify coherent networks that would integrate with a working countryside.  The Council considers that the legislation, as drafted, has a number of shortcomings and responded in detail to the consultation by the Scottish Executive.

The Council and rights of way

In the meantime, the City Council has been taking seriously its duty under current legislation to assert rights of way.  Where there is adequate evidence of use over at least a 20 year period, it is prepared to seek to have rights of way vindicated through the courts.  This is regarded as a last resort.  When the Council's staff are responding to complaints from the public about obstructed paths claimed as rights of way, landowners frequently accept, usually with good grace, evidence of use presented to them.  It has become necessary to initiate legal proceedings only twice in recent years.  Even then landowners effectively conceded by offering agreements, attached to title, that the paths in question would be available for access by the public in perpetuity.  The process of gathering evidence, of preparing a case and, if necessary, briefing counsel is both time consuming and costly.  Some £40,000 has been expended to safeguard 3.5 km of path along the north bank of the River Dee.

The proposed legislation should remove the need to resort to court action in such cases, at least in the countryside.  In built-up areas the provisions of the current legislation may still be necessary.  Here it may be more difficult to identify paths important to local people for inclusion in the core path network, and some paths which have recently been asserted as rights of way pass through the curtilages of buildings.

New Paths

New paths are, from time to time, constructed.  During the summer of 2000 the Aberdeen section of the Formartine and Buchan Way was opened by Sarah Boyack.  This long-distance path, which runs northwards to Fraserburgh and Peterhead, now starts at Dyce railway station, giving easy public transport access from the centre of Aberdeen.  It also forms part of the Sustrans route to Moray and the Highlands.  The path serves not only as a long distance route, but also provides a well used local link between Dyce station and local businesses. 

Path Usage and Signage

The lack of signage on most paths discourages use by the public.  The City Council recently decided that as opportunities arise to sign paths, a consistent pattern of signage would be employed throughout the City.  In due course it is hoped that this pattern will be widely recognised, building confidence amongst potential users.  The Council's signage manual was prepared before the guidance published by the Paths for All Partnership, but accords well with that advice.

The City Council maintains several well used paths in the City, of which the principal ones are the path along the Deeside Line and the coastal path.  The Council's ranger service has a major role in this and in assisting members of the public using these paths and other public open spaces. 

Aberdeen Countryside Project

Much of the practical work in path construction and improvement is carried out in conjunction with other organisations.  Aberdeen Countryside Project has, as one of its objectives, the creation of opportunities for access to the countryside in and around Aberdeen.  It has been working with landowners to create or improve paths.  For example, it has recently completed the development and signage of a network of paths through the Scottish Agricultural College's Craibstone Estate.  Elsewhere it has provided signage, to the Council's pattern, at the request of landowners to help them manage access across their land.  The Countryside Project has assisted several community groups or teams of volunteers from the corporate sector to improve paths through the construction of boardwalks and small bridges.  The Countryside Project is keen to hear from individuals or local groups who might like to get involved in practical projects.

The improvement of path networks around Aberdeen involves partnership.  Aberdeen Countryside Project is funded substantially from Landfill Tax Credits made available by the City Council, by Shanks Waste Services and by SITA.  The Paths for All Partnership is currently working with the Countryside Project, through grant aid and technical advice, to help create and improve several discrete networks.  In the delivery of these and other individual projects additional funding is also being made available by Scottish Natural Heritage.  Sustrans and Scottish Enterprise Grampian were also amongst those who assisted with the construction of the Aberdeen section of the Formartine and Buchan Way.  Private sector sponsorship, especially in the provision of materials and access to equipment, is becoming increasingly significant as a contribution to path construction.

Access Officer

The City Council hopes soon to appoint a full-time Access Officer.  This will be a key post responsible for strategy preparation and ensuring effective links between strategy and implementation and between the Council and users and landowners.  The aim will be to create a sound basis for the development of effective, well managed path networks available for use by walkers, riders and cyclists.

Geoffrey Tudor, Aberdeen City Council

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