Holyrood agency under fire over footpath photo blunder

A Scottish Government agency is under attack after seeming to encourage people to “enjoy walks” along a famous footpath in Edinburgh that has been closed to the public since 2018.

A photo in the latest magazine from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) shows people walking along the Radical Road on Arthur’s Seat, under the caption “Enjoy walks in Holyrood Park this spring”.

But HES has barred public access to the road for more than four and a half years with high wire fences. It is worried about the dangers of rocks falling from Salisbury Crags above the road.

The blunder has prompted criticism from outdoor campaign groups concerned about prolonged delays in reopening the footpath. HES had promised to publish a review in 2022, but that has been postponed.

There was “immense frustration” over HES’s “remarkable lack of urgency” and its “glacial” progress, campaigners said. They hoped that it would be possible to enjoy walking the Radical Road “this spring as advertised”.

HES described the photo as “historic” and “general”, insisting that it was not intended to encourage people to access the footpath, which remained closed. “We will provide further updates as soon as we are able to,” it said.

The photo from Historic Environment Scotland magazine

The Radical Road runs for three-quarters of a mile from near the Scottish Parliament, towards the top of Arthur’s Seat. Giving panoramic views over Edinburgh, it used to be one of the main attractions in Holyrood Park, which is visited by more than two million people every year.

The road was famously built by unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland two years after their general strike led to the Radical War in 1820. The project was suggested by Sir Walter Scott to try and avoid further political unrest.

HES closed the footpath to all visitors in September 2018 after rock falls from Salisbury Crags, and fenced it off. The Ferret revealed in April 2022 that an internal HES study favoured making the closure permanent as the cheapest and safest course of action.

After an intervention from a coalition of campaign groups in May 2022, HES agreed to review access to the footpath as part of a new strategic plan for Holyrood Park. In August it promised to publish the plan for public consultation before the end of 2022, and in November said it would “consult with key stakeholders early next year”. 

But there is still no sign of the plan, nor of the Radical Road reopening, and stakeholders have not been consulted. Despite this, HES pictured walkers enjoying the road in the spring 2023 issue of its magazine for members, Historic Scotland.

The photo showing people on the footpath beneath Salisbury Crags headed page two above an article welcoming readers. It was used again across pages 22 and 23 as part of a feature encouraging visitors to Holyrood Park.

The photo caption urging people to “enjoy walks” in the park particularly annoyed campaigners. It was a “sad irony” given that the 200-year-old Radical Road remained shut, according to Ramblers Scotland.

“We share the immense frustration of residents and visitors about HES’s remarkable lack of urgency over getting the road reopened,” said the walkers’ group’s director, Brendan Paddy.

“We’re fast approaching half a decade of this iconic footpath being closed, following false dawns and missed deadlines. HES has repeatedly pointed to unnamed complexities, then delayed further.”

Paddy added: “It’s time to stop managing this world-famous geological feature like a crumbling historic building. Walkers should be advised of the risks then allowed to make informed decisions, like everywhere else in Scotland.” 

Salisbury Crags

Mountaineering Scotland pointed out that Salisbury Crags and the Radical Road were an important recreational resource for climbers. “Progress to reinstate public access has moved at a glacial pace,” said the group’s chief executive, Stuart Younie. 

“The current security fencing is unsightly and inappropriate for such a scenic and a prominent landmark. It’s time HES came up with a solution that removes it and returns the area to its natural state – as featured in their spring membership magazine.”

ScotWays, which promotes public access rights, highlighted how the “well-loved” Radical Road “features prominently” in HES membership materials. “So it is to be anticipated that there will be no further delays in its reopening,” said chief operating officer, Richard Barron. 

“We look forward to enjoying walking it this spring as advertised.”

Footpath closed ‘for public safety’

But Historic Environment Scotland stressed that the Radical Road was still closed because of the risk of rock falls. “A historic image of Holyrood Park has been included in the introduction to the spring edition of the Historic Scotland magazine as part of a wider feature on the signs of spring,” said a spokesperson.

“In no way is the use of this general image intended to encourage people to access the Radical Road which currently remains closed to the public for safety reasons – with clear signage and barriers in place at the entrance.”

The HES spokesperson added: “We appreciate people are keen to access this wider route within the park, however, the health and safety of visitors is our priority.”

HES accepted that developing the plan for Holyrood Park had taken “longer than initially anticipated”. This was “due to the complexities of the park and ensuring we take all aspects into account, including the views of Scottish ministers where there have been recent changes,” it said.

“We will be publishing the outline strategic plan soon. Alongside this we are undertaking a separate review of access to the Radical Road as part of any future proposals and will provide further updates as soon as we are able to.”

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