John O'Groats Trail of destruction
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A popular Highland walking route that aims to promote tourism in the far north suffered a setback after a section in Caithness was seemingly chainsawed apart.
The John O’Groats Trail (JOGT), which launched in 2016, had suffered from a previous attack three years ago when two small wooden bridges were broken and burned near Whaligoe – the latest incident involves two stiles that are used along the route for walkers to cross fences without damaging them.
JOGT chairman, Jay Wilson, said: "The stiles that were destroyed were sited just south of Ellen’s Geo.
"The larger one was to help people get out to the lovely viewpoint that looks out to sea and also has a view of the cliffs inside Ellen’s Geo. The other was to get over a fence along the trail."
Mr Wilson said he first heard of the damage from posts on Facebook by walkers upset at what appeared to be a deliberate act of vandalism. The stiles were on land owned by the late George Campbell who was a "friend of the trail and anyone walking it", said Mr Wilson.
"It’s sad that this was done so soon after the passing of George. He lived for many, many years by Ellen’s Geo and those stiles were built on his land with his permission and enthusiastic support.
"He loved meeting walkers on the trail and always had a friendly welcome for them, whether they came from Caithness or from halfway around the world. I’m sure George’s family will be saddened by this turn of events as well. We’ve asked them for permission to replace the destroyed stiles but haven’t heard back from them yet."
The previous act of vandalism occurred at Whaligoe in 2018 – very close to the site of the latest incident – in which small wooden bridges crossing ditches were smashed and burned.
JOGT is a regional community-based charitable project whose goal is local economic development and the expansion of local recreational infrastructure. The trail gives access to the "great natural beauty and unique history of the coast".
"It’s the cooperation of generous, community-minded landowners like George Campbell that has made the trail possible," said Mr Wilson.
"The stiles were built in 2018 by volunteers under the direction of the countryside ranger. The salary of the ranger and the materials for the stiles came out of Highland Council LEADER funding, so these are essentially public works that were destroyed."
Other landowners between Inverness and John O'Groats have welcomed the walking route and been happy to accommodate its pathways, bridges and stiles on their land.
Catherine Macleod, who owns land the trail runs through, said: "At Thrumster Estate we have worked with the John O'Groats Trail to improve access which we see as an important community contribution to health and wellbeing as well as being an attraction for visitors to our area.
"We understand the right to roam can sometimes be tricky to manage, but essential infrastructure such as stiles, gates and bridges provide walkers with the confidence they are not intruding on other management requirements. It is very sad to see deliberate destruction of volunteer efforts to improve public access in our area."
Mr Wilson said that George Campbell, who passed away last month, was always a great friend of the trail and of all walkers. "He loved to meet them as they walked the coast. It’s such a shame that so soon after his death, someone has done this to the place he loved so much.”