Radical Road

‘National embarrassment’: famous footpath stays closed

A Scottish Government agency has again delayed plans to re-open a famous and popular footpath in Edinburgh, prompting angry denunciations from walkers and climbers.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has told The Ferret that “further reviews” were needed about access to the Radical Road on Arthur’s Seat. The issues were “complex” and the solutions could come at a “significant cost”, it said.

The historic footpath through Holyrood Park has been closed to the public for five years since a rock fall on 11 September 2018. Access has been barred by high wire fences lining the hillside.

Outdoor campaigners condemned the prolonged closure as “farcical” and a “national embarrassment”. They accused HES of “broken promises” and of “stringing us along”. 

HES blamed delays on “challenging situations” with their properties across Scotland. It stressed, however, that its statutory obligation was to “manage public safety around a known risk”.

High fencing lining the hillside

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 footpath 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 2018 to protect them from rocks falling from Salisbury Crags above. The Ferret revealed in April 2022 that an internal HES study favoured making the closure permanent as the cheapest and safest course of action.

But after an intervention from a coalition of campaign groups in May 2022, HES agreed to review access to the footpath. A new strategic plan for Holyrood Park was promised for consultation in 2022, but then delayed.

Now HES has told The Ferret that decisions on access to the footpath have again been postponed beyond 2023. “The Radical Road remains closed to the public while we undertake further reviews,” said an HES spokesperson.

“There are a number of complex issues to be addressed and a combination of interventions may be required, some of which could be at significant cost. We appreciate people are keen to access this wider route within the park, however, the health and safety of visitors must remain our first priority.”

They are ‘stringing us along’

The campaign group, Ramblers Scotland, urged HES to stop managing the Radical Road like a crumbling historical building. “Residents and tourists should be advised of the risks then allowed to make informed decisions, like everywhere else in Scotland,” said director Brendan Paddy.

“It is farcical that HES has failed to reopen the Radical Road, following half a decade of missed deadlines and broken promises. Rather than truly engaging stakeholders, it appears to be stringing us along.”

He added: “It is a national embarrassment that the body tasked with caring for and promoting Scotland’s historic environment has left this iconic 200-year-old path shut away behind ugly fences for five years, with no end in sight.”

The climbers’ organisation, Mountaineering Scotland also expressed its frustration at the lack of progress. “It’s almost five years since the access restrictions were put in place,” said chief executive, Stuart Younie.

“You might be forgiven for thinking that HES is not interested in finding a solution. Is it easier and cheaper to retain the barriers it installed and continue to deny public access?”

The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (ScotWays) accused HES of closing the Radical Road without following the correct procedure. “I really should not be surprised that there are further delays to re-opening this historic route,” said the society’s chief operation officer, Richard Barron.

‘Managed access’ to footpath

While the footpath remains closed, HES did say that it had investigated how to facilitate “managed, safe access” to specific points of interest, such as the geological site known as Hutton’s Section. “We anticipate delivering this before the end of the year,”  the HES spokesperson added.

But this was criticised as “typical fluff” by Angus Miller, a geologist who leads tours in Holyrood Park. There was a “mismatch” between senior management responsible for “vacuous non-statements” and the people on the ground, he said.

“The reality is that the ranger service has responded to requests to facilitate access to Hutton’s Section for the last two years,” he told The Ferret.

“Unfortunately, there is no information about this access on the HES website or at the site, leaving visitors who are following in the footsteps of James Hutton to squint through a fence at Edinburgh’s most important geological site.”

HES insisted progress had been made on a “high level strategic plan” for Holyrood Park. Following discussions with a “small number of key stakeholders”, it anticipated launching a public consultation on the plan in September.

“We have had challenging situations across the country in recent years, and have had to deploy the resources we have at our disposal on a prioritised basis,” said HES director of cultural assets, Dr David Mitchell.

“This has invariably meant some things have taken longer than we would have liked.”

He added: “We are however very clear on our statutory obligations in relation to the Radical Road rock risk, which is to manage public safety around a known risk, and everything we do is framed by that. We are making progress and will update as soon as we are able to.”

Since April 2022 HES has closed 70 of its historic properties across Scotland to the public because of risks from falling masonry. According to the HES website, 22 properties are still closed and a further 38 still have some restrictions on access.

  1. I hope pressure is kept on hard. These fences make me angry every time I run or walk on the hill. We had some idiotic experiences in 2017 (before the closure) with Historic Scotland making up Holyrood Park regulations that did not exist. (There is no bylaw on drone use; CAA rules apply, and do apply, but HS mislead the parkies, leading to conflicts. We were using a drone in full compliance with the actual rules to make a video ahead of our wedding, at Dynamic Earth, just at the base.

  2. The Hutton’s Section point is pathetic. They never needed to have fenced that off if they had thought about the issue at all.

  3. This makes me so angry every time I go to the park as well. Can’t they protect the cliff with nets like they do at the Castle and all over the Highlands? Then let people make their own risk assessment. Weak liars, paralysed by fear.

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