A Brief History of ScotWays

The story of ScotWays starts in 1845. At that time landowners in Scotland were becoming increasingly jealous of their property and ordinary folk were being prevented from walking in the countryside. Angry at these restrictions, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh Adam Black, convened a public meeting to form an organisation to protect the public’s right of access to land.

That organisation was the Association for the Protection of Public Rights of Roadway in and around Edinburgh and, within two years, it was involved in one of the most celebrated cases in the history of access in Scotland – the battle for Glen Tilt. The lengthy lawsuit which followed vindicated the right of way through Glen Tilt, and also established the Association’s role as defender of the public’s interests in such cases.

Forty years later the Association, renamed the Scottish Rights of Way and Recreation Society, installed the first rights of way signs in Scotland and became involved in another famous legal battle – Jock’s Road. The lawsuit was only finally settled in the House of Lords and whilst it confirmed the status of Jock’s Road as a right of way, it left both the Society virtually bankrupt.

The Jock’s Road case prompted the Society to advocate for a duty on local authorities to protect rights of way and such a duty was included in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1894.

One of the directors at that time was MP James Bryce who, with the support of the ScotWays, sponsored three Access to the Mountains (Scotland) Bills to create a right to walk the mountains of Scotland, but without success. Bryce had a breadth of vision which enabled him to recognise the importance of rights of way while at the same time campaigning vigorously for freedom of access to the mountains. His vision was finally realised in 2003 with the passing of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

During the 1930s one of ScotWays’ leading activists was its chairman, the Rev A.E.Robertson. After his completion of the Munros, he devoted much of his energy to walking the long-distance paths and tracks of the North-West Highlands. His pamphlet on this subject, published in 1941, was an invaluable record of these routes before the hydro-electric engineers flooded many of the glens in the 1950s.

The Second World War had ScotWays removing signs to make it harder for any German invaders. Many, but not all, were replaced after the war ended.

Since 1945, there has been a continuous gradual erosion of rights of way with many lost under densely planted forests and the rising waters of hydroelectric reservoirs, changing agricultural practices, building developments and the influx into Scotland of landowners who have no knowledge of or respect for our traditions of access. There can be no doubt that but for the work of ScotWays, the loss of rights would have been greater than has been the case.

The compilation of the Catalogue of Rights of Way, the first national record of known rights of way, with the help of Scottish Natural Heritage, and the revival of our signposting work during the 1990s has helped protect the vast network of paths that are part of our heritage.

The access legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in February 2003 has altered the scope of the Society’s remit and activities. The change of name to The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays for short) makes clear our intention to be involved in access matters in general and not just rights of way as in the past.

Today, ScotWays continues to co-operate with local authorities, NatureScot, the Paths For All Partnership, Ramblers Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland and others for the benefit of all people who want to enjoy the beauty of Scotland’s countryside.