Cesta- ask.

Quenya Elvish: Cesta- verb. ask

The question of land access differs in what country you happen to be in. Here in Scotland we are extremely lucky in that we have a statutory right to roam, a legal pass to wander, as long as you’re being responsible. I am a naturally curious person, which could just be nosiness, but if there is a bunch of trees I’ve never been in or a hill I’ve never been up, I want to go there and explore. I’ve written about this before, maybe most noticeably here https://lastwolf.co.uk/explore/ but in my wanderings, I have learned one massively important lesson in how to navigate around someone else’s land.

Say hello. Be polite. Ask. Even if faced with the grumpiest of curmudgeons, the inimical ‘get orf my laaand type’, (known as Fifers to a friend of mine), maintaining a level of politeness and interest in the area will aid you in any situation. Even if you leave them with their eyeballs still sweating, at least you’ve got the moral high ground, the law on your side and can skip you’re merry way to thy chosen destination.

However this kind of situation is unlikely. Most landowners, farmers, businesses, ghillies, whoever it is, in my experience will be happy to help you navigate your way so long as no damage is occurring and you are in no danger yourself*. They will answer your questions, possibly give advice on the best routes, what to avoid and what to look out for etc. People who own or work on land are generally interested in it, and therefore usually enjoy talking about it.

Two episodes spring immediately to mind regarding this. Both differ from each other, and actually stand opposed.

Once upon a time, when smart phones didn’t exist, I was on a solo walk around some Scottish hills I had never been to before. I approached a fishery looking for a route upwards, having no map and no local knowledge other than I could see where I wanted to go and a desire to get there. Large signs out the front of the fishery said no dogs but this was not at all helpful in giving any directional advice on hill access. I decided to put the dog on the lead, avoid the main road in, and thus the building as well and take the long route around while looking for a way up the hill.

Upon doing an almost full round of the fishing area without noticing any way upwards, a large and exuberant German shepherd leapt over to us, barking and nipping at the rear end of my dog. All the while two bigger ones behind a fence were making such a noise that all the fish swam off. Eventually a guy came out of the building to get the dog saying she was an excitable pup who didn’t like that my dog was on the lead. In the din of three large dogs barking their heads off, he proceeded to give me all the info I needed; the easiest route up, and the hardest. He told me of a waterfall on the harder route that most people missed. This guy loved the area and was only too happy to share it. His description was spot on and the dog still did the same thing to us on the way back.

There was another time though whilst out walking during deer stalking season in a very remote part of Scotland. I thought I might get a bit of props from the hunting guys as I happened to have two black labs with me. Both were on the lead as we went past the days shooting party. My friend and I were very early in setting off and we were into the mountains way before the guns. They overtook us in Land Rovers a mile or so in, and one of them stopped.

The driver and clearly the main guy, asked us where we were heading and gave us some helpful directions to the mountain and tips for the best views. It was a good ten mile walk in. It had a difficult Gaelic name I couldn’t remember, yet he pronounced it perfectly with an accent that only people who drive Land Rovers on open mountains have.

It was only much later, on our descent from the wrong mountain and long but admittedly beautiful walk out of a different glen that we realised why he was being so generous with his knowledge. He had deliberately kept us off the hill and out of the way of the shoot. Not that we would have been anywhere near it anyway but he clearly wanted to keep us as far away as possible with his route advice. I can’t complain about the day, it was good, but we ended up being two glens away from where we thought we were.

So yes, be polite and look for advice. But maybe sometimes take it with a pinch of salt. There might be an ulterior motive!

*Don’t use the Land Reform Act (2003) as an excuse to go wandering through a working quarry. Keep that for when they are closed due to snow.

Live deliberately


Currently listening to: The late contender for black metal album of 2021 from Funeral Mist.