'We won't be bullied out of our home', say Altnabreac couple
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
The couple at the centre of a dispute which saw ScotRail temporarily close Altnabreac railway station say they feel "bullied and harassed" after "lies" were spread about them.
Ian Appleby and his wife Elizabeth have been accused by the previous owners of their home – Tammy and Darren Bruce – of ranting at Network Rail workers using biblical quotes and chaining themselves to a gate to deny them access.
The Applebys deny the allegations and say the dispute over access began before they bought the home.
Mr Appleby said: "We do not support the closure of Altnabreac Station. Scotrail never contacted us and had they done so we would have wholeheartedly objected to the closure.
"We are customers of ScotRail and Highland Railcard holders and want to use it."
The Applebys said the conflicts with the rail companies predated their arrival at Altnabreac and put the blame on the Bruces.
"When we first moved in we were made aware of a 'long and bitter land dispute' between [them] and ScotRail and Network Rail. This is well known locally," said Mr Appleby.
"We were made aware by ScotRail staff that access to the station had been denied for two years. ScotRail didn't close the station during that period."
Mr Appleby said he had spoken with ScotRail's station area manager who allegedly told him about "an exchange of legal correspondence" between the Bruces and ScotRail regarding an access agreement.
"We decided to continue the interruption of access to the station when Network Rail and ScotRail became contentious with us," stated Mr Appleby, who claims that workers had damaged his property and dug holes without permission.
"One of the holes was in our front garden and it was four feet deep – I had to fill it back in myself," he said.
With regard to the incident in March, when it was alleged that one of them had chained themselves to a gate at the railway crossing, they claim that this did not happen.
"We never chained ourselves to a gate. I did put a chain on the gate. I had travelled to Thurso on the train this day." He adds that rail officials present on the day can confirm this. "The image showing the vehicles parked at the gate is [from] a CCTV camera on the front gate into the estate that Bruce and the gamekeepers use."
The couple say that they don't shout at people using the station and have in fact "cooked dinners for people stranded in the snow". They pointed out a YouTube video on the channel 'Clive travel and trains' showing the vlogger alighting at the station and walking around the area. "We offered and gave him a cold drink," said Mr Appleby.
They also state that they have never hindered postal deliveries and even helped get a Royal Mail vehicle out of a ditch during a period of heavy snow last winter.
"This bullying campaign against us is just not right and the whole name calling 'nutty neighbours' is beyond belief. The lies being spread about us are harmful."
Mr Appleby said that "certain ScotRail train drivers" have now started honking horns very loudly late in the evening as they pass their house which is adjacent to the track. "We get woke up most nights now and believe this is malicious, it only has just started happening. The drivers have never beeped the horn at this time before."
The Applebys say they moved to the area for "peace and quiet" and though they enjoy their privacy state that they have "supported the local shops and community from day one".
They think the comments about them ranting biblical quotes have been taken out of context and that their Christian faith is important to them. They also claim that many people using the station have commented on how tidy and well kept it looks. "It was like a scrapyard when we moved in but that's an entirely different story."
Mr Appleby shared the number of a close neighbour who wished to remain anonymous but told us that the description of the couple from recent news articles is "nothing like" his knowledge of them.
The neighbour went on to say that he doesn't recognise them "as the sort of nutters" portrayed in the national media and that some of the issues could be related to the misinterpretation of title deeds and who owns which area of land around the cottage. "It is my opinion they've been unfairly treated."
The Applebys added that they are happy living at Altnabreac and that "God has blessed us with our home".
ScotRail was contacted but gave no further updates to its previous statement in which it said that from November 12 its trains would temporarily not call at Altnabreac "due to the inability to safely access the station".