OUTLANDER: The Finnich Glen culpable and reckless conduct case and the implications for outdoor recreation

A scene from Outlander, Glen Finnich, where filming takes place and the dangerous road nearby.

By Bill Heaney

May 4, 2021 

The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond attracts millions of visitors from all over the world.  It really is – after Edinburgh – the jewel in the crown of Scottish tourism.

There are many things that attract people to the longest stretch of fresh water in Scotland and the verdant surrounding hills.

The banks and braes have become a magnet for film makers who have upped sticks from Hollywood and Elstree Studios in Essex to make blockbusters such as the star-speckled Outlander television series.

These include the Irish actress Catriona Balfe, who has been a Golden Globes nominee and possesses many other awards, and co-star Sam Heughan.

The presence of the BBC Scotland production studios at Lomondgate in Dumbarton makes the area even more attractive for movie producers to work here.

As ever, however, there are problems relating to indiscriminate dangerous parking and overcrowding in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and its environs.

The parking area at Finnich Glen, where Outlander is filmed, is small and can just take ten cars at most.

Nick Kempe, pictured right, the Parkswatch Scotland campaigner, said: “That was adequate so long as one of the natural wonders of the Glasgow area was only known to a few people. It  became hopelessly inadequate after Outlander was filmed there.

“People started parking on the main Glasgow-Drymen Road but, instead of creating extra parking and improving the access infrastructure, Stirling Council responded by imposing a clearway and painting the road with double yellow lines.”

He added: “While addressing the safety risks to cars, nothing was done to address the safety risks to pedestrians.

“Currently the only viewpoint for Finnich Glen which is safe from natural hazards is at the road bridge.

“Unfortunately, for those wanting a safe view down the gorge, in summer there is almost nothing visible from the road bridge.  That means if you want to see the gorge the only option is to try walking along one side or the other.

“The nature of the gorge and the vegetation, however, means there are no ‘safe’ viewing points from above.

“Anyone wanting to see the bottom necessarily has to take some risks.  It is hardly surprising that, as with the man who fell last week, serious accidents occur.

“There was a time when, notwithstanding our rights to take risks, those responsible for managing access  saw it as their job to create appropriate infrastructure, including safe viewing points, for the general public in visitor hot spots like this.  Austerity and neo-liberal ideology put paid to that.

“The other main option for viewing the gorge is to enter it from above or below, which appears to be what both the parties needing rescued did.

“While there is a safe path round the fields to the bottom of the gorge, it is not sign-posted, and many people take the more direct route.

“This takes a mud slope above a fence where there is a high risk that anyone without appropriate footwear or used to such ground could slip into the gorge.

“Once at the bottom of the gorge, you are heading into the unknown.  A great adventure – which is why outdoor centres bring children to experience gorge walking here in suitable conditions – but with its dangers.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that anyone determined to see the gorge, or who is keen to show their photos on Instagram, many make the wrong choice when conditions are marginal.  There is indicator to show when water levels are safe.

“It is thus almost inevitable that some people get into difficulties and call the rescue.

“It is these people that Stirling district of Police Scotland now want to brand as having committed a serious criminal offence.

“The old access sign, which explained the hazards of the site, was perfectly adequate before the glen became well-known.

“The problem now, however, is that the gorge has become so popular that the framework for managing access that is provided by the advice in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code is not, by itself, sufficient.”

Nick Kempe said: “There are no bins and litter is a significant problem wherever people gather.

“Unfortunately, however, instead of our public authorities paying the farmer to install appropriate infrastructure, managing visitors and compensating him for the loss of his field – or even buying it for the public good – he has been left to find his own solutions.”

Stirling Council have now approved a major development for the site, contrary to their Local Development Plan, which will turn it into a major visitor “attraction”.

The Parkswatch principal added: “This will have serious implications for access  rights.  The question of whether people will still be allowed to enjoy the gorge for free is still to be decided.

He said the authorities’ approach to the two accidents in the Glen had led to two men being charged by the police with culpable and reckless conduct.

And advocated that this may lead to a situation whereby the only way to stop people recklessly endangering others is to force them to pay to access the proposed viewing platform, which is part of the visitor attractions project.

He added: “Instead of our public authorities supporting access rights, they are allowing them to be privatised. The recent predicable accidents at Finnich Glen and the police response provide another good example of the consequences of our failure in Scotland to invest publicly in visitor infrastructure and the way that our public authorities are resorting to the criminal law to manage visitors.

“If this goes unchallenged there are real risks that this could be extended to other parts of Scotland.  It is surely time that all those who care about outdoor recreation and our access rights call for a halt to what is happening.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone.

“More specifically:

  • Police Scotland nationally should instigate an inquiry into how their Stirling District has been using the offence of Culpable and Reckless Conduct to criminalise outdoor recreation;
  • The Procurator Fiscal’s office should reveal how they have handled the other cases to date (I will submit FOI requests).
  • The new Scottish Government should commission an independent review into the use of the Culpable and Reckless Conduct charge from a human rights perspective.
  • If Police Scotland does not act, consideration should be given to transferring their responsibilities for mountain rescue to the Fire and Rescue Service

“The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights issued a report (see here) calling for every single Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) issued under the Coronavirus Regulations during lockdown to be reviewed.  The report has numerous implications for Scotland.  Our public authorities should heed the final sentence in the summary:

“A heavy-handed approach to enforcement in such circumstances risks unjustly penalising a wide range of behaviour, in circumstances where there are insufficient safeguards in place to protect people from arbitrariness and unjustified interference with basic human rights”.

Sam Heughan urges fans of Outlander to respect historic sites

Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish’s on travel show exploring Scotland PIC: Starz

Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish on travel show exploring Scotland.

Meanwhile, the ‘Outlander effect’ has been credited with boosting Scotland’s economy with fans flocking to see sites used as filming locations for the show.

The 41-year-old, tipped to be the next James Bond, said he hopes people will be mindful of how they treat historic sites.

Diana Gabaldon, the show’s writer, has urged fans to “tread lightly” at heritage sites after learning that stones had been taken from the Culloden battlefield.

Heughan’s plea come ahead of his appearance at Aye Write book festival in Glasgow with co-star Graham McTavish to discuss Clanlands – a book based on their road trip around Scotland.

Speaking to The Times before the festival from May 14 and 23, Heughan said: “Hopefully, reading our book or other books, people will understand the history of what happened and treat historic sites with the respect they are due.”

McTavish said: “I certainly don’t agree with people taking souvenirs. These places are to be shared by everybody and if you start dismantling them for your own selfish gain, then that’s not helping anybody at all.”

Heughan has gathered a global following his portrayal of Highland warrior Jamie Fraser in the fantasy drama which charts the adventures of Claire Randall, a former Second World War combat nurse played by Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, pictured right.

Randall is on a second honeymoon to Scotland with her husband Frank in 1945 when she is mysteriously transported back in time to 1743. It is here, on the cusp of the Jacobite rising, that she meets the dashing Fraser.

Heughan’s teenage years were spent in Edinburgh before he went on to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.

Early roles include parts in River City, Midsomer Murders and the BBC soap opera Doctors, before Heughan landed his big break in Outlander in 2013.

His part in David Greig’s Outlying Islands in 2002 saw him nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as most promising new performer.

The star, from New Galloway, Kirkcudbrightshire, has thrown his support behind plans for film studios in Scotland, arguing that previous opportunities had been missed because of a lack of facilities.

“There are big, big productions coming to Scotland and so the more we can encourage them, the better,” he said.

While he has admitted he would “jump at the chance” to step into the shoes of Daniel Craig, who has played 007 since 2006, Heughan has played down Bond rumours.

Recently he revealed his ambitions to make a theatre comeback, after being cast in action movies for years.

Heughan said: “I’d love to go back to theatre. I have been talking to various people, before the pandemic.”

The actor has also revealed being asked what was under his kilt has become “rather boring”.

“I’m still trying to think of a good answer,” he said.

The Outlander stars will speak about Clanlands on May 16. The talk is part of a programme of literary events that involves 140 authors.

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