Row over access to Gairloch lighthouse takes fresh twist
Get the Ross-shire Journal sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper
A BUSINESSWOMAN who claims she’s been targeted by a “hate campaign” has pulled the plug on sponsorship of a new lighthouse exhibition planned by a local museum and again hit out over a bitter road access row.
The latest twist in the wrangle comes amidst claims that visitors to the area around Rubha Reidh Lighthouse near Gairloch have been “confronted” by Tracy McLachlan, the operator of a B&B and self-catering business there.
She is in dispute with several parties over vehicular access on a road linking the village to the popular beauty spot.
Matters came to a head with the erection of a Private Road sign seeking to curb vehicular access along a route popular with locals and visitors alike.
However, Highland Council and the local estate have made clear that they don’t have an issue with appropriate vehicular access.
In a statement issued this week, Gairloch Community Council said: “Recently the owners of The Keepers Accommodation at Rubha Reidh Lighthouse announced that the road from Melvaig to the lighthouse would be closed to ‘unauthorised traffic’ from March 11.
“After an overwhelming response from the public via social media and an online petition with 2000 signatures, Highland Council has confirmed that the road is an unadopted road with public right of passage.
“This means that the public have every right to drive the road without harassment.
“Melvaig Common Graziers, Gairloch Community Council and Inverasdale Estate are working together to put up a series of welcoming signs to inform drivers of the speed, width and weight restrictions which go with such a narrow road.
“Signs and interpretive panels will be funded by donations given by the public after the campaign to keep the road open.
“Unfortunately, while the rest of the community welcomes these findings on the legal status of the road, the MacLachlans continue to confront visitors to the lighthouse.
“Three separate incidents have been reported to the police in the past four days. This abuse is not isolated to road users but walkers as well.”
Meanwhile, Tracy McLachlan has contacted Gairloch Heritage Museum, which is seeking to relocate from its existing premises in an ambitious redevelopment, to resign membership “with immediate effect”.
In a letter to chairman of the trustees, former local councillor Roy McIntyre, she refers to previous generous donations down the years and plans to sponsor a new exhibition about the lighthouse at the proposed new museum.
But she writes: “However, you will be aware of the local hate campaign against us verbally and on social media, with reference to the private road to the lighthouse.
“Some of the most vitriolic contributors to the campaign have been museum volunteers and consequently we no longer feel able to support the museum.”
She goes on to seek assurances that any exhibits at the museum will “make it absolutely clear that Rubha Reidh Lighthouse is not open to the public, there are no visitor facilities and that visitors must respect our privacy in accordance with the right to roam legislation by keeping well away from the lighthouse buildings.”
She told the Journal that while “there is a perception locally that the hate campaign will have had a bad effect on our business” the contrary is true with bookings for the season “well up on previous years”.
She has also written to the community council, police, Melvaig Common Grazings Committee and the Northern Lighthouse Board outlining her stance on vehicular access.
Mrs McLachlan claims the local estate, through factor Mark Williams, has stated it is “happy for the public to drive on the private road” which “effectively gives the public a right of passage (NOT a right of way) which has been confirmed by Highland Council”.
But she claims Mr Williams “is in clear breach of his agreement with us by allowing the public to drive on the road.
“However, this is a civil matter between Mr Williams and ourselves and we will follow that up with him separately”. She reiterates her original reason for asking for access on the road to be restricted were because of maintenance costs and privacy.
Contacted for comment on the sponsorship issue, Dr Karen Thompson, the curator of Gairloch Heritage Museum, said: “We regret that Tracy and Roger McLachlan have resigned the organisational membership of the museum they held on behalf of their business at Rua Reidh Lighthouse.
“The McLachlans have cited as their reason the ‘vitriolic contributions’ of museum volunteers to what they perceive to be a hate campaign against them. Gairloch Heritage Museum has no influence over its volunteers views and how they choose to share them.
“The museum has always had a strong connection with the lighthouse, as we hold many artefacts from there and because it is a landmark historic building for our area. We have appreciated the McLachlans’ past contributions to the museum, both financial and otherwise, as we appreciate the support of all our members.
“It is to be hoped that the issues surrounding the use of the lighthouse road can be resolved as soon as possible for the benefit of the community and its visitors.”
Mark Williams, the factor for GBB Estates which owns land across which the road passes, told the Journal: “GBB Estates Ltd has tried to find a workable solution to this problem which has been exasperated by Ms McLachlan’s belligerent attitude.
“We have restricted access to vehicles to 2 tons and a width of 2.1m (as the) road is narrower than a normal road and precipitous and steep in places. We have agreed a parking and turning area well short of the lighthouse so that folk do not have to drive down to the actual lighthouse but can still get a good view of the lighthouse and islands beyond. A sensible person would see this as a workable compromise.”
He said a letter over the issue this week from Ms McLachlan was “riddled with inaccuracies” and that The Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) are “happy to continue to maintain the road with its current traffic and see the lighthouse as a useful additional tourist attraction which helps support the economy of Scotland and this stance mirrors that of GBB Estates Ltd”.
Local Highland councillor Richard Greene said: “The Highland Council have, as empowered under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, examined the road and found that current traffic use is not over-stressing the structures
“This is believed to be a private road over which there is a public right of passage and as such the council has a duty to ensure it is safe for the public to use but no responsibility to maintain it.
From a Highland Council perspective there remains a question over the positioning of a sign at the Melvaig end of the B8021, and our officers are looking into this matter presently.”