Continuing unrest over access to a Dunrossness beauty spot has prompted two octogenarians who have lived in the area all their lives to speak out over the controversy.
World War II veterans Alex Henderson, 88, and Jimmy Work, 85, who both served in the Royal Naval Patrol Service, say the owners of the land around the Peerie Voe at Spiggie are ill-advised to erect signs warning visitors about their behaviour.
The situation was highlighted recently when Lerwick man Allan Bruce, who has camped in various parts of Shetland for over 40 years, first with his parents and latterly with his own family, was told to move his caravan away from the parking space above the beach.
Mr Bruce took umbrage and wrote to The Shetland Times, claiming that the landowners, Dave and Jan Winter of Spiggie House, were in contravention of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code because of the intimidating nature of their “No Camping” sign.
The Winters replied that the land in question was for “agricultural” purposes and not an appropriate place for caravans, motor homes or long-term camping, saying that “facilities” for those activities were available at the nearby Scousburgh Sands.
They said they did not have a problem with responsible “wild campers”, i.e. lightweight camping in small numbers for no more than two or three nights, as long as they left the place as they found it. However, it was the “irresponsible minority” who caused problems for both themselves and other land managers throughout Shetland and “with regret” the signs would have to remain in place.
The two signs in question are reasonably small in size. One is fixed to the gate leading down to the beach and states: “Ewes and Lambs. Dogs must be kept on a lead. Please shut the gate and secure chain. No Camping, Caravans or Motorhomes. Thank you.”
The other sign, which is more contentious to Mr Henderson and Mr Work, is fastened to the door of the former fishing böd adjacent to the small parking area. Part of it reads: “The beach, farm meadow building and lane are private.”
Mr Work said the beach was not, and never had been private. There was no such thing. He had old photographs which revealed the scale of activity which used to go on there, dating back to the beginning of the 20th century when many Ness fishing yoals were stationed at the Peerie Voe.
Before the First World War the north boats used to come into Spiggie, Mr Henderson added. Flit boats used to go out and then land at a concrete pad which was now washed away. He joked that apparently the first rat ever seen in the Ness came out of a packing case off the steamer.
A photograph taken on the last day of July 1905 shows the former building known as the “red böd”, which was used for storing steamers’ cargo. The stone böd, which still remains, was used for boats’ gear and fish. Fish livers were rendered down in the oil kettle at the gable. A heap of shingle, which possibly came from the island of Colsay, was used in the construction of the Spiggie bridge.
“There was no problem in the old days,” Mr Henderson said. “The beach used to be a hive of activity. There were boats everwhere. Every noost was full.”
The men feel that if the Winters have any jurisdiction at all over the beach it certainly does not extend to the northernmost and southermost parts, where the surrounding land is owned by separate crofters.
Mr Work said he did not have a problem with the new landowners as long as they did not try to hinder anybody of their rights. But calling the whole beach private was simply wrong and they were not within their rights to do that.
“They have not stopped anybody taking shingle or anything like that,” he said. “If they did I would come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
Mr Work said it was the case that anything connected with the fishing normally took precedence over crofting.
“I used to have a boat there but I don’t any more. [But] the fun would be if I had a boat now and I hauled her out on the grass and turned her over. I would tell the man that I was going to paint her and he would have to keep the sheep away from her.
“It was always the case that boats, and the fishing, came first. Anything connected with the fishing came first. They would have to keep the sheep away.”
According to a Lerwick solicitor, however, a beach may be privately owned, but there should be public rights of access.
Mr Work said if somebody was to come down to Spiggie with a caravan, they would normally go and ask to park it. It was the case that every crofter had the right to have three caravans on their ground. The late Sinclair Moncrieff, who used to own Spiggie House and the land in question, used to have wire stretching up from the beach so the caravans could only park in the correct place.
He said: “There was never any bother with this before now. Tourists, caravans and campers have all co-existed with landowners. There was no trouble at all. As long as the folk is doing no damage, closing gates etc, there’s no problem.
“The only time I ever had to do anything was one time when a couple of boys were spanging in a boat. I went to a man in a car and asked him if they were his boys. He said yes and they soon stopped what they were doing.”
Contacted on Wednesday, Mrs Winter said the matter was being “blown out of all proportion”, especially as the local access officer had seen the signs and had deemed them to be perfectly okay.
“I can’t understand what the problem is,” she said. “We don’t want to keep people off the beach. There’s no problem at all with people using it. We want people to enjoy it. All we have tried to do is be very polite.”
But she said there were times when dogs had chased their sheep, and people had also left litter and broken glass. “Our deeds say we own the beach,” she added.
Mr Winter said: “We have had occasions where caravans and motor homes parked across the access to the gate and access to the building. We do need access to go in and feed our animals and look after their general health.”
A spokesman for Lerwick solicitors Tait & Peterson confirmed that the Winters did own part of the foreshore, although there would be public rights of access.
However, Mr Henderson and Mr Work still believe that signs are unnecessary.
Mr Henderson said: “Tourists came along us all my life. They had the right to roam and I never heard of a tourist doing any harm yet. I know locals that did more damage than any tourist ever did.
“[They should] leave it free, the same as it used to be. We never interfered with anybody and we met an awful lot of interesting people.”
“They are strangers and they don’t understand the ways of it,” Mr Work added.