Saturday, May 15, 2010

Do Holy Island monks think they are above the Law of Scotland?

Well the Calmac bacon and sausage rolls had barely settled before it was time for second breakfast. We decided to land at the north end of Holy Island. Unfortunately it was low tide and there were innumerable slippy boulders to negotiate. No sooner had he got out his kayak than Jim made his way over to assist me. He helped me to the top of the beach while Tony and Phil carried my kayak.

My knee nearly dislocated again as I winced, just watching Phil try to negotiate his way up the slippy beach!

Soon we were sitting enjoying second breakfast and a wonderful view over Lamlash Bay as the MV Caledonian Isles made her second approach to Arran of the day.

Then Phil went for a stroll but soon returned in a rather agitated state. "Come and see what I have found!"

Just a short way along the beach, Phil showed us this. Right on an ideal spot for wild camping, which is a legal activity under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, the monks have built a little cairn round this illegal sign.

If you wish to camp here, do not be intimidated by these Buddhist monks, who have an excessive attachment to the land and a disregard for Scottish law. This is a perfectly legal place to exercise your right to responsible wild camping. If this possession of and attachment to the land is typical of Buddhist behaviour, then it is easy to understand why Mao Tse-Tung was so hostile towards the religion.

Scottish history has many landlords who have enjoyed possession of the land. Well it looks like the monks of Holy Island are on their way joining the company of Elizabeth, 19th Countess of Sutherland et al. Fortunately for the monks, Scotland is a democratic and law abiding country, which has not undergone a People's Revolution.


  1. Why not just let the monks be and find somewhere else to camp?You do have the rest of the country to choose from,the monks have only a small part of a small island.

  2. Bob, your argument could apply to all islands/all of Scotland ("not in my back yard - you have the whole country to camp"), and we'd soon be back to the bad old days. The Monks need to abide by the law like all other landowners. In any case, I don't think that by peacefully camping there for a night means that campers are NOT "letting the monks be" - as I understand it the monks live out of sight and would be completely undisturbed.

    Douglas, sorry, I didn't mean to use your brilliant blog as a public forum, but felt stirred by this! Did you report their illegal sign to the access rights people?


  3. Hello Bob it is good to hear from you and thank you for asking this very important question. In answer, first of all the monks do not want wild camping anywhere on Holy Island. Secondly, although much of it appears very wild all of Scotland is owned by someone and Scotland has a history of some pretty poor landlords.

    All over Scotland, in our travels, we find abandoned dwellings where families had lived for generations before the landlords cleared them for sheep. The Highland Clearances resulted in a mass forced emigration of Scots all over the World. More recently many landlords refused any access to their land, even for things like hillwalking, for example, the owner of Rum used to chase people off the island with shotguns!

    This is why one of the first laws the new Scottish Parliament passed was the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003. This allowed the citizens of Scotland to access its wild places provided they follow the guidelines and responsibilities set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access code. What the Code says on wild camping is this: "Access rights extend to wild camping. This type of camping is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures."

    As you can see from the photos, the sign is on wild land at the top of the shore, is not in an enclosed field and is well away from buildings, roads and historic structures.

    If the monks are allowed to be exempted from the law, what about all the other landowners? I do not think that monks should be exempted.

    A good friend, Alan, and three companions arrived on Holy Island by sea kayak near this spot as sun was setting about 2 years ago. A monk in robes used aggressive manners and threatening language and left a female member of the party in tears, which I think was most unholy!

    Bob, I hope that this addresses the concern that you obviously felt for the monks case and that you now appreciate a citizen of Scotland's point of view.

    Thanks again for your post.

  4. Bob and Lucy, Lucy has posted a much more succinct reply, while I was composing my far too long one!

    Lucy, I have not been very well recently and have not contacted the access officer yet but I will soon!


  5. Hello Douglas,

    I really hope you get well again soon - take it easy.