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Coul Links landowner promises 'crossing' over Loch Fleet if golf course gets go-ahead

By Caroline McMorran

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The landowner behind the Coul Links championship golf course proposal has pledged to initiate another infrastructure project should the controversial development get the go-ahead.

Edward Abel Smith, who owns Coul Links and is poised to build a £20 million eco-hotel there to service golfers, has now said he will build a new cycle and walking path with a “crossing” from Coul Links to Littleferry.

Coul Links owner Edward Abel Smith.
Coul Links owner Edward Abel Smith.

This would enable cyclists and walkers to avoid the dangerous stretch of the A9, which includes the notorious Cambusavie bends, between Dornoch and Golspie.

Mr Smith said: “Although plans are in their early stages, several firms have been consulted and over the coming months, one will be selected to undertake a feasibility study for the project.”

But he warned that both the eco-hotel, planning consent for the first stage of which has been granted, and the path and crossing scheme were dependent on the green light being given to the Coul Links course.

“Given the complexity of the project and the investment required to make it a reality, this scheme would only be undertaken if there is a permission for a golf course at Coul Links, which is expected to create additional demand,” he said.

Community group Communities for Coul (C4C) is driving forward the Coul Links plan, with a planning application lodged in February. The group says a golf course would revitalise the East Sutherland area economically, creating employment.

However the development is facing considerable and influential opposition from environmental groups and individuals unhappy that part of the course will be on Loch Fleet SSSI.

The plan was dealt a significant blow last week when NatureScot said it could not support it because it would "result in significant adverse effects on Loch Fleet Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a sand dune habitat of national importance".

A previous application foundered on environmental grounds following a public inquiry.

Littleferry was a crossing place on the Fleet for travellers in earlier times. The narrow channel at the neck of Loch Fleet can be 5.5 metres deep at ebb tide and has a dangerous current.

Littleferry from Coul Links.
Littleferry from Coul Links.

The building of the road across the Mound in 1816 reduced the use of the ferry.

Golspie Community Council discussed the prospect of a crossing across the narrows at Loch Fleet some two years ago following the revival of the Coul Links plan.

East Sutherland and Edderton councillor Richard Gale then said that it was a “fantastic idea” and community councillor Ian Miller said there were hardstandings on either side that could be used for a new crossing.

Following that meeting Dornoch cyclist Rob Zywietz emailed both Golspie and Dornoch community councils saying he often wished there was a way to cross Loch Fleet at Littleferry.

He suggested that instead of a footbridge a small cable ferry able to accommodate two bikes should be considered. He said such a facility would be “interactive, idiosyncratic and eye-catching.”

Mr Abel Smith said he had been prompted to consider a crossing because the planning process for the golf course had raised issues of access through the links, and also because of the danger level for cyclists and pedestrians on the A9.

He said: “Although the Coul Links golf course plans will improve the condition of the current core path along the old railway line, my plan to add an additional path a little higher up, in what is now farmland, will complement the existing route, while making the area more convenient for a wider demographic of people."

He added that “with current thinking a crossing at Littleferry could take the guise of anything from a bridge to a chain ferry".

A spokesperson for C4C said: “We welcome this innovative idea from the landowner, which will create valuable access for walkers and cyclists from Golspie via Littleferry and Coul Links to Dornoch.”

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