THE owners of a lighthouse bed and breakfast business at the centre of a long-running access row, claim they have the law on their side.
Tracy McLachlan, who runs the B&B at Rua Reidh lighthouse near Gairloch with her husband Roger, has been involved in a bitter dispute with the community.
It involves access along a road to the building, which is set in the scenic Wester Ross location.
The wildlife is described on the couple’s website as “phenomenal, with whales, dolphins, basking sharks, otters, seals, sea eagles and thousands of seabirds all regularly seen”.
It adds: “There are blissful walking opportunities along spectacular cliffs and deserted beaches. There is also the opportunity to see the Northern Lights in our autumn, winter and spring dark skies.”
But while the couple are happy for their guests to enjoy the scenery, they argue that the road to the lighthouse is not a public right of way, and therefore out of bounds to anyone else.
Having taken advice from their solicitor, the McLachlans now contend that they are in the right to have erected gates along the road.
Mrs McLachlan said: “Our solicitor wrote to Highland Council, Inverasdale Estate and Gairloch Community Council a couple of weeks ago to advise that he has taken authoritative legal opinion.
“It confirms that the private road from Melvaig to Rua Reidh is not a public right of passage, that the estate does not have the right to allow the public to take vehicle access beyond Melvaig, and that we have every right to restrict access to our property.” Mrs McLachlan attended the latest meeting of Gairloch Community Council when the issue was debated.
She said: “The ongoing dispute is clearly not helping the local area and tourism.
“With that in mind, our solicitor has invited Highland Council and Inverasdale Estate to a meeting to discuss a possible compromise, such that the public could have some limited access while protecting our business and privacy.
“Highland Council has indicated that it would like to find a compromise. We have yet to hear from the estate.
“I urged the community council to encourage the estate and Highland Council to meet us before the visitor season starts in earnest, with a view to coming to an agreement on limited access.
“A number of people at the meeting agreed that it would be much more sensible for the interested parties to get round the table and talk, rather than take this through a lengthy, costly and acrimonious legal battle.
“Sadly the community council committee itself seems to be very much against the idea of a compromise.”
Community council secretary Fran Cree said a letter from the McLachlans’ solicitor had been read out at the meeting.
“It said his clients insisted that the landowner was obliged to restrict access along the road and not encourage public use,” she said.
“The community council was also warned that it should not encourage illegal activity or post defamatory and factually incorrect statements on social media.”
Ms Cree said an email had also been received from Tracy McLachlan, which was also read out, telling the community council that the campaign of stopping vehicles using the disputed road would continue.
It also stressed that walkers at the lighthouse who strayed off the core path would be challenged and the police would be called.
There was a claim that the McLachlans had come to an “arrangement” with local police, Ms Cree said.
She added that Highland Council access officer Phil Waite had emailed the community council saying access under the Land Reform Act was not limited to core paths.
“He stated that the McLachlans’ claim to privacy under the act was confined to land they owned and managed and could not be claimed for land they didn’t own or manage,” she said. “He also stated that it was still not an offence to be on excluded ground.”
PC Clarke of Gairloch police told the meeting that it was not illegal to challenge public vehicles driving the three mile road, or challenge walkers who strayed from the core path, as long as it was done politely.
He said the “arrangement” referred to was that the police would attend every time they were called out, as they would with any call from the public.
Community council chairman Kenny Thomson said: “We are not the aggressors or the villains here. We have been attempting for about two-and-a-half years to resolve this issue on the behalf of the local and wider community.
“We have been met with total intransigence and foul-mouthed aggression on countless occasions.”
He added that the solicitor’s letter was tantamount to a blatant attempt to gag the community council and “hence several thousand people who have quite reasonably sought to exercise their rights to access a well-loved Wester Ross beauty spot.
“We should continue to exercise our support for the rights of the entire community.”
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