The Right to Roam: Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code also know as the “Right to Roam” is all about harmony. It is often an elusive ideal but it is essentially why we all want to explore the outdoors and the wild places. It’s about being an unobtrusive presence in grand and unspoilt landscapes, enjoying the silence and leaving it as we found it for those who’ll come after. The code is there to help us on the road to that ideal.
As Outdoor Adventure Tours operators, Intrepidus Outdoors and My Adventure (Edinburgh) spends every day exploring the Scottish Outdoors. All of our adventures keep within in the rules of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to ensure we cause no damage and to allow everyone to have the same opportunity to adventure in Scotland.
What is the Scottish Outdoor Access Code?
The Code is an attempt to reconcile all those people who seek exercise, adventure and uplifting experiences in the outdoors with the needs of those who work, own and manage the land. It runs to quite a few pages but here are the essentials.
Why does the Code exist?
The Code came into being in 2005 to replace a mishmash of laws and traditions that asserted a de facto right-to-roam. Walkers, in particular, felt they had a moral right to climb Murnos and explore the wild corners of the country but unfortunately it was a privilege that was often arbitrarily obstructed, by unsympathetic landowners. Even Sir Hugh Munro, of Munro’s Tables fame, had to approach some mountains during the night to avoid irking certain landowners.
For more information about bagging Munro’s, check out our blog here
Who does the Code effect?
The code was created through negotiation between all interested parties to try to balance the sometimes competing needs of the canoeist wanting to shoot the rapids and the salmon fisherman or the Munro bagger and the gamekeeper. It imposes responsibilities on landowners to facilitate access and make reasonable allowances in their day to day management and on walkers, canoeists, cyclists and horse riders to avoid disrupting people’s lives and livelihoods.
For instance, there should be no intimidating or misleading signage erected and hill walkers should be ready to modify their plans to avoid disrupting deer stalking or lambing. The code if it works well should remove most of these clashes but some arise from time to time and it is the job of the local outdoor access committee to reconcile them. There is a basic assumption that the harmony with the landscape we all seek can only truly be enjoyed by non-motorised modes of transport.
The Scottish Outdoor Access code also allows for commercial companies to run adventurous activities in rural areas- providing they follow the code by taking measures to prevent damage to the land, and it is the companies responsibility to ensure their clients do so to.
More information on how you can follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code whilst participating in different activities here.
Where does the Code apply?
The code applies more or less everywhere so it would be easier to mention where it doesn’t apply. If you think in terms of harmony its quite obvious really. No one should really be wandering into a private garden or walking across onto a green on a golf course (although you can walk by the fringes of fairways) or putting themselves at risk by venturing into a quarry or onto a railway line. Neither would you want to destroy crops or get in the way of the armed services on manoeuvres.
Avoid these situations and you should be good to go. Although the code doesn’t seek to restrict people to paths it does recognise that this is how most people want to explore the outdoors so the code encourages local authorities to create a database of core paths for people to enjoy.
What does the Code allow?
Some people refer to it as a right-to-roam and it is the envy of outdoor enthusiasts in other parts of the UK. However, in truth it stops just short of complete freedom.
It allows for non-motorised movement across public and private land and comes close to removing the notion of trespass. If you see a “No Trespassing” sign then it is almost certainly bogus.
So, walkers can, as along as the code is respected, climb every Munro, Corbett and hillock. Canoeists can launch their boats and shoot the rapids. Cyclists can explore the single and double tracks but must give way to walkers and horse riders. Horse riders can do the same and can expect land managers to leave gates unlocked.
It also recognises that wild camping is an intrinsic part of exploration of the remotest areas. It wasn’t really envisaged that folk would turn up in a car and camp by the roadside. Wild camping is allowed, again, as long as it is done responsibly – that is avoiding crops and livestock, only staying a couple of nights and leaving no trace whatever. After all who wants to be known as a dirty camper.
- Stick to paths where possible
- Walk around fields
- Do not approach livestock
- Close gates behind you
- leave no trace
When does the code apply?
The code is in effect all year round. A land manager can however apply for a temporary suspension of access rights and the Forestry and Land Scotland is perhaps the most likely to apply for such a suspension but diversions should be in place.
Other than that the outdoor enthusiast should be aware of the seasonal needs of land managers. In the spring care should be taken during the lambing season especially when walking with a dog and in the autumn the shooting of game birds and stags can necessitate a change of plans. The hind shooting season throughout the winter is unlikely to be much of a problem. If in doubt just ask. There’s usually someone to phone. Look out for polite warning signs and assume in the first instance that they are reasonable.
Paul Lamarra is one of Intrepidus’ experienced guides. A qualified mountain leader he has climbed, cycled and explored extensively in Scotland. He is also an award-winning writer and author of several books on Scotland. His work has also appeared in many publications throughout the world.
Intrepidus Outdoors is an adventure tours and outdoor experience providers, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, that specialises in private and open canyoning, coasteering, mountain biking and hill walking tours.
My Adventure Edinburgh (Part of the Intrepidus Group) is an outdoor tours provider that specialises in canyoning, coasteering, canoeing and hillwalking tours. As well as delivering these adventurous experiences across Scotland, My Adventure is also a provider of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Expeditions where we run bronze, silver and gold level awards for young people.
- Open Coasteering guide here
- Adventures in Edinburgh here
- A guide to Wild Swimming in Scotland here
- Eight Scottish Wonders- by Paul Lamarra here
- High and Mighty- Bouldering in Scotland here
- Top tips for backpacking Scotland here
- 6 steps to being happy like a Scot here
- You’ll never get bored in Edinburgh here
- Best Budget Hotels and Hostels Edinburgh here
- Hen Party Adventures Edinburgh: here
- Stag Party Outdoor Adventures Edinburgh Essentials: here