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Journalist Bill Patterson has been a Friend of the North Highland Way since it was launched. He has written many amusing and sometimes scathing articles…

with his permission, I am reproducing some of them here.. Thanks Bill!

Walk This Way

10/11/2014

A committee is a group of men (sic) who, individually, can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done — Fred Allan (humourist writer).

When Urrgh came forward with what he called a ‘circular carrier’ many eons ago, the tribal elders did really want to encourage him.
‘What does it do, Urrgh?’ They asked.
‘Well, I hope it will do a lot. Maybe help in moving things around.’
‘Why do we need that? Anyway, leave it with us. We’ll consider it at the next meeting in a few months’ time.’

A few months later they told him they had passed it on to the main committee which was due to meet early next year; then it was deferred. Then they asked for more information. Finally they told Urggh his application for assistance to develop his idea had been turned down.
‘We honestly don’t see much point in it, Urggh. Besides, it’s dangerous. One of the councillor’s kids was hurt when he fell over playing with it.’

It was in vain that Urggh protested it wasn’t a plaything. He was, however, encouraged to approach others with his idea and try again later with the council.

A few weeks ago I wrote of the efforts ‘Let’s Go North’ was making to pursue the development of a walking trail across the top of Scotland – the Great North Highland Walk, the Aurora Trail or the Wild North Highland Walk. The idea has been around for a while but appeared to have stalled in its inception which is a pity given that it could bring cash and jobs to the Far North. So I questioned the main driver behind the idea, Tina Irving, about what had happened and where it was going. Tina is a powerful force for change – although she realises herself that powerful forces have to be carefully controlled.

How did it all start?

Over to Tina:-

Let’s Go North started in 1998 with the sole purpose of promoting Caithness and Sutherland for tourism. Today there is about 50 individuals grouped under its banner, including businesses; and there has been support from all around the world. The concept of a walking trail was in existence even longer. The Caithness Waybaggers first suggested it in 1992 although the initial route was a little different to the one across the top of Scotland that is mooted today. At the time both the Scotsman and the Herald picked up on the idea of a trail across the top.

Is ‘Let’s Go North’ a profit making organisation?

Let’s Go North consists of the commercial company ‘Brough Bay Ltd.’ and Dunnet Head Projects Ltd which trade as ‘Dunnet Head Educational Trust’ which is a not for profits organisation limited by guarantee. So far they have been central to many projects including a walking festival, the information centre at Brough, promotions in Spain, exhibitions at the Wick and Inverness airports as well as at Scrabster Harbour. And we have inputted to a number of studies and consultancy documents concerning the area and tourism.

What has been the initial local response to the idea of a walking trail?

Excellent: it was welcomed by shop-keepers, hoteliers and guest-house owners and the public at large. Councillors Gillian Coghill and Hugh Morrison have both expressed an interest. Sadly no other councillor has.

What has been the response of Highland Council?

They were initially receptive but then dropped their support for no stated reason. I have a letter from Stuart Black dating back to 2010 declaring that if I formed a focus group, the Council would support it.

What of Highland and Island Enterprises?

They never wanted anything to do with the trail stating that it was outwith their remit. That raises the question as to how a project which is likely to bring business and economic growth to an area can be outwith their remit? They considered it an access project which it certainly is not.
In fairness, we have had good support from such as the Durness Community Council, the Caithness West Community Council, the North Highland Initiative, Scottish National Heritage, John Thurso MP and many others. I speak about the project at every possible opportunity and everyone considers it a good and workable project.

Where are we with regard to the project coming to fruition?

The base of the trail is already in place with our partners ‘Walking World’ (based in Cumbria). There are as yet gaps and places where it would be necessary to walk on the road which is not ideal. We can tackle those problems but it is all funding dependent. We cannot sustain the amount of voluntary work we are putting in. That’s why we hope the Highland Council will finally come on board as with Highland and Islands’ Enterprise.

What about the feasibility study that is being undertaken?

It’s due in April of next year. I am an ex-alumna of London South Bank University so they have always been supportive of my projects; that’s why they are helping Let’s Go North with the study. The most frequent question the University people ask of me is to why we are not getting any public money in support of the project! I tell them that the tourism product is so fragmented that the left hand doesn’t know what it is doing never mind knowing what the right hand is up to. For anyone wanting to invest in the North of Scotland it is a minefield and there is no tourism officer in Highland and Island Enterprise; a fact that I find incredible.

What do the local landowners think about the trail and how will the trail be run?

There has never been a problem with the landowners on whose land the trail might pass. The Trust is now running the project as ‘Friends of the North Highland Way.’ We are due to meet shortly to discuss the delineation of duties between the Trust and those of the commercial company. You can become a ‘friend’ for only £15-00.

How many will it employ and what pecuniary benefits will it produce?

The numbers to be employed will come out more exactly in the feasibility study but the economic influence could be massive in terms of the Far North – as you suggested in your recent article.

Is ‘Let’s Go North’ making profit out of it?

No. We have made a loss but we are determined to get the trail up and running. Much of our money goes on the dedicated web-site ‘www.northhighlandway.org.’ We are also working on the idea of a completion certificate for those who walk the full distance.

What can local people do to further the project?

Sign the petition; volunteer to help install posts and signs (outwith the Core Path Network). Input useful information to the Facebook page. Join the Friends.

You asked Highland Council why the West Highland Way was developed under the Countryside Act and yet, apparently, the same treatment could not be applied to the Great North Highland Way. What was their explanation?

I asked that two months ago and, as yet, have received no reply. In fact, most of my questions have not been substantively answered. The Highland Council avoid doing so. They state they cannot lead on the project. We are not asking them to do so, only commit to some funding.

Have you asked them for funding yet?

Not officially. It is highly unlikely we would be successful even were we to apply to the discretionary fund. We must gain support to do so. The majority of their tourism funding goes to the North Highland Initiative, I believe. And there are individuals who are highly placed who are hostile to the project. Even the Caithness Local Access Forum, which consists of Highland Council Officers as well as members of the public, is lukewarm on the idea but we have a good team in place and with the help of the people of Caithness and Sutherland, we will succeed.

Back to Urrgh: what of him? Life was short back then and Urrgh gave up the ghost before he could approach the council again — his passing precipitated, the doctor said, by a severe intake of arrows in the chest. Afterwards a nasty piece of goods came out of the council – a piece of goods called W. Heel and put his idea forward for a device that would help move things around. Naturally it was called after him and he cornered the market on it.

The North Highland Way was first mooted by the Caithness Waybaggers in 1992 and has been talked about in tourism circles for many years. In 2013 the North Highland Way was launched with eight local businessmen. The number quickly grew to over 40, including Easyways (link to Easyways), a Falkirk based walking company who sponsored the waymarkers. The North Highland Way talked about by the Caithness Waybaggers took a different route from Dunbeath to the north coast and then to John o Groats.

The dream is to create a way across the north of Scotland with the same facilities as the South West Path in the South West of England. It will not be a built path, but a way to go.