Not the trenches - just a ramble through bonny Scotland

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The Independent Online
At a glance it may look like a war zone - with coils of "razor wire" looped along a rocky bluff. But the only battle being fought above the ancient harbour of Portencross, on tetween a landowner and the walkers he is determined to keep out.

In a protest visit yesterday, 20 ramblers came to inspect the wire surrounding Auchenames House, where Alex Duffus, a Glasgow businessman, has lived for the past 18 months. Local people also complain bitterly, saying that the entanglements destroy the peaceful atmosphere of their tiny village.

North Ayrshire Council has ordered the wire's removal, but Mr Duffus is making no concessions.

The Ramblers' Association (RA) yesterday cited the inability to get the wire removed as a dramatic example of why Scotland needed its own access legislation. Walkers in the lowlands do not enjoy an extensive rights-of-way network, as they do in England, and on the hills the tradition of open access has been eroded.

"Despite having some of the finest scenery and wildlife in Europe, Scots find themselves among the worst-treated of Europe's citizens in their right of access to land and their ability to protect their footpaths," John Holms, vice chairman of the Scottish RA, said.

Even with the rain whipping in off a foaming sea and the Isle of Arran just a darker shade of grey in the gloom, it is not hard to see what attracts visitors to Portencross. A 14th-century castle and half a dozen cottages cluster round a tiny harbour at the end of a no-through road. Its name - Port of the Cross - may have come from the missionaries of old or from the harbour's time as a landing when the bodies of ancient Kings were shipped to Iona for burial.

But there is nothing romantic about the mile of wire around the formerly derelict house, or the high camera at Mr Duffus's gate.

According to his public relations spokesman, Bill Nolan, Mr Duffus bought the overlooking bluff to protect his privacy; he is a specialist in keeping people out, dealing as he does in protective shuttering for shops.

The wire was laid out last spring along the crest of the ridge, completely blocking a track to an iron-age fort which offers a superb view over the coast. Youths used to throw empty bottles into the house grounds, said Mr Nolan, but even he agreed that the wire was "not aesthetically wonderful".

Mr Duffus said in a statement that the fence was well within his boundaries and did not obstruct any established right of way. The RA is not claiming the track is a legally verified right of way, but challenges to establish continuous use are expensive and time-consuming.

Gordon Proven, who lives by the castle, complained to the council of the danger to children. He himself had been cut by the razor-like barbs, he said, and the wire made locals feel "helpless" - as if they were "inmates" of the village.

Under the RA's proposals, the path could be designated a "heritage route" and so protected by law against blockages or damage to its character. More generally, the RA want a right to walk in the Scottish countryside - provided the walkers do no damage.

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