Thursday, October 04, 2007

Scottish Access problem, is Holy Island closed?


Following my post of yesterday about our pleasant visit to Holy Island Chris has replied as follows with details of a very different experience:

Hi Douglas,

interesting, as always, to read of your adventures-especially Holy Island as Barbara and I had a very disappointing experience there a few weeks ago while padding with two friends.

We had opted to camp (very, very discretely) at the north tip of the island - arriving quite late. Being aware of the island and it's community, we were continually careful to do nothing to offend anyone. One of our party even collected four bags of rubbish from our vicinity to take away and dispose of.

We were aware that several young people - probably attending one of the commercial courses held at the monastry - had seen us and so were not surprised to be visited by one of the monks who spoke to one of our group. Unfortunately, I was busy with our meal and so didn't hear the exchange until the monk had left.

Assuming this had been of the nature of asking where we had come from, where we were going, had we had a good day etc I was dismayed to discover that my friend was quite upset at the aggressive and unpleasant manner in which he had been informed that we were unwelcome and, had it still been light, we would have been ordered off the island then and there.

Initially saddened at this contradiction to my assumed understanding of the monk's Buddhist philosophy; my thoughts turned to our rights to actually be there and to wild camp and whether we had inadvertently failed to honour the responsibilities that go with that right.

I could find no reason to support this.

We had kept well clear to avoid intrusion into the community there; had tried to leave the place better than we had found it; had refrained from building a fire and had behaved with respect for the island, it's community and it's wildlife.

Upon arriving home, I immediately emailed the monastry via their commercial email address and put our case explaining our disappointment and wondering whether, had we been prepared to pay the B&B fee to stay, we would have been treated in a similar way.

I also questioned the legality of their stand outlawing our right to camp and especially their signs banning access to the area below the high water mark.

I have had no reply to my email - again disappointing as I would dearly have liked to try and explain our philosophy of peaceful co-existance to them.

Long response - I apologise, but thought I'd share this experience on Holy Island as a thankfully rare example and so different to many other, welcoming people we've met on our sea-kayaking adventures.

Be warned if you choose to camp on Holy Island - we were also "threatened" with the possibility of wild ponies attacking us!

Thanks for an interesting and informative Blog.

Kind regards


My reply to Chris is as follows:

Chris thanks very much for this reply.

When Tony and I visited and saw the NO LANDING sign our first comment was "this lot haven't heard of the Land Reform Act." We landed just about 100m along the coast from the sign and as we saw no monks and enjoyed unrestricted access to the hill, we relaxed.

However, your experience has rekindled our worst fears.

I assume that you were not camping in the immediate area of the buildings or on enclosed cultivated land and so under the land reform act you have a legal right to wild camp providing you do so in small numbers and do not stay for more than three nights.

The religious beliefs of the landowners have nothing to do with this right under Scottish law.

I would strongly suggest that you report the aggressive and illegal behaviour of this so called monk to both the local authority:

"Local authority powers: Local authorities have been given new powers within the Act to assert access rights."

and to Scottish Natural Heritage

and to your MSP

and to the Scottish Canoe Association

I have a good mind to head for Holy Island on our next camping trip.

I also believe that landowners now have a responsibility about allowing threatening and dangerous animals to roam free. What I can say is that Tony and I wandered through a very laid back and peaceful herd of Eriskay ponies who had clearly reached a higher state of Buddhist consciousness than this particular monk!

Chris go for your rights! I will help in any way I can.


The current owners of Holy Island are the Ropka Trust



  1. I've posted the relevant authorities contact details in the post below (local authority & SCA)


  2. Shocking level of hypocrisy on behalf of the landowners. Kind of reaffirms my deep distrust of all organised religion- they seems to be a magnet for the misfits of society.

    If a complaint is being made it may also be worth sticking a letter in the local paper- the Arran Banner (should be able to get it via Google)- they are always interested in local issues. Tony

  3. Cailean, thanks for researching this information, much appreciated.

    Tony I know what you mean. My heart sank when I saw the no landing sign. However, it may be that this monk was not acting in full accord with the others. On the other hand, the lack of response to Chris's email dopes note bode well for an enlightened attitude.

  4. I looked up from cooking tea when saw Monk in Robes comming my way, for a friendly greet I assumed.
    "I am the Land Manager of this Island" he announced, I was not aware Monks would be so keen on Titles, Labels, Power !
    There were 4 of us 3 tents two backed onto fence and one closer to shore all well out of site and sound of the settlement.
    I explained that we did not wish to impose on the settlement given the nature of the Island ( that's why not making contact first) and we were camping 1 night and would be away early morning leaving no trace of us being there.
    "There is no camping allowed" I suggested it would not be safe for us to leave as it was getting dark) and were it not due to getting dark we could not stay. I thanked him for giving us permission to stay to which he replied " I am not giving you permission to stay" and pass on to your club friends that there is "No camping allowed" Decided not to get into access rights at this time ( surley if he was the land manager would know we were well within our rights)
    I was informed of Island rules no smoking, drinking , sex, drugs etc,
    Later in evening at 10pm there was some Rock & Roll as the live band in Lamlash opposite on Arran played to 1 am with every song crystal clear.
    I was also asked to inform the others of the dangerous wild ponies on the Island and we were not safe! Now if it had been massive black bulls experienced on Applecross earlier in the year I may have been concerned.
    I assume a course on meditation/yoga etc was running as several non robed people came out for a walk near us and all taking the opportunity to use mobile phones. We were not made to feel unwelcome by any of them.
    We left at 8am the next morning seeing no one and one of our party collected 4 large bags of rubbish from the beach.
    We were four nature loving peacefull sea goers looking for a nights rest.
    I can only hope this Monk is a one off and did nothing to promote what the Island stands for.

  5. Please pass on to all concerned the importance to contact Mike Dales at the SCA about this sort of thing and find out what he requires by way of a report as to what happened.

    You are not the only people to be bullied (unsuccessfully this time since you stayed) out of exercising your rights under the land reform act, and the only way we can stop this sort of thing spreading is to fight it as it is encountered (in a peaceful way of course, I'm not suggesting anyone should get physical with any landowners).

    This has intrigued me slightly although I have no intention of visiting places with religious connection, especially not an active monastery. I wonder, does anyone know what the status, legal and/or claimed, is with Little Cumbrae these days - it has long been accepted as private, but it certainly does not appear to be all laid over to curtilage and gardens.

  6. Alan, thank you very much for your detailed report of the incident. It must have really spoiled your visit to what should be a very peaceful island. I do hope you will report it to the various authorities mentiomned above.

    Jim, the monastery buildings and gardens are a tiny proportion of the area of Holy Island. The majority is wild land. I cannot see how anyone could claim the whole island is a closed monastery.

    I just hope that if the authorities do investigate this that they do not kow tow to some god of misplaced "political" correctness and give the owners exemption because they are a religious group.

    I have landed at least three times on Little Cumbrae this year, even climbed to the top of the castle with no problems.


  7. The Buddhists purchased the whole of Holy Isle from the previous owner, and so it is all private property, and not 'wild land'.

    1. Hello Anonymous and thank you for your comment. Your understanding of land ownership and public access is not the legal situation in Scotland. I refer you to the Land Reform Act Scotland 2003 which explains the public right of responsible access to privately owned land in Scotland. Best wishes, Douglas.