Countryside Access for Hikers

Countryside Access

Countryside Access

Ireland has many fantastic hiking trails but we have quite a long way to go, in general, in terms of good access to the countryside for hikers. Fortunately there are notable exceptions and we are ever-grateful to these hospitable people, such as John, through whose farm a wonderful trail passes and where I took some of the above photos. We had a very enjoyable chat – super person!

Lots of flimsy nonsense reasons exist around cases where access is not permitted, I’ve heard them all, but it mostly revolves around vested interests within the establishment and political structures in Ireland. It’s one of the things, unfortunately, we have a special knack for! Bodies that represent the interests of walkers and hikers are largely ineffective as regards tackling the issue of access. However, there are some positive signs of enlightenment and change, and the sooner the better. A significant factor is the openness that the Internet brings to communications and debates on matters relating to the common good, as well as getting large numbers involved in particular issues.

I’m a big fan of what the British Mountaineering Council is doing across the water, highlighting the progress being made in Wales and England. See their article, ‘Scottish’ style open access charter for Wales.

Interesting that in Scotland the law guarantees “a statutory right of responsible access to land and inland waters for recreation”; in simple terms, you can go where you want provided you behave, and it’s your own problem if you come unstuck by being stupid or careless. I believe this right also applies in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania amongst others. Wales and England have quite open access – I have hiked a lot in those countries and legislators there are now looking to move further towards the full access Scottish model. Clearly Ireland lags badly. It’s a shame because Ireland has some of the most beautiful areas in the world for potential walking trails and Heaven knows, our economy desperately needs the boost that could bring!

However, one of the perennial issues that has to be addressed by walkers is responsible dog ownership – and having lived in a number of other countries, sadly it does seem to be a particularly annoying blind spot in the Irish psyche – and all the guff that goes with it! Dogs not being kept on a lead are a major cause of harassment and injury or death to animals, not to mention the nuisance factor to dogs whose owners have acted responsibly and kept them on a lead, as well as the public in general. It’s the owners who are the liability here rather than the loose dogs and these people really need to cop on or be dealt with. Littering and illegal dumping are other issues that people enjoying the outdoors (not necessarily hikers and walkers) have to stand up to the plate on! I think the first thing that needs to be done on that front is banning disposable barbecues!

So, let’s go hiking and enjoy what we have now, but keep trying to move the access thing forward – we have the numbers, we can do it if we have the bottle!

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