Yesterday, we exercised the “right to roam” while in Scotland. This is a Scottish law that says everyone has the right to be on or cross land (or water) for recreational purposes, as long as it’s done responsibly and without interference with the landowner’s property.
We were on the very small (3 mi x 1.5 mi) island of Iona (“eye-oh-na”), which is off the west coast of Scotland. We arrived there by taking a 50 minute ferry from Oban to a 1:20 minute bus ride across the island of Mull to a final 15 minute ferry. We had two hours to wander around the island, which is said to be where Christianity arrived in the UK around 500 AD.
Our guidebook (Rick Steves!) said to walk 10 minutes past the abbey visitor center to climb a steep hill (“Dun-I”) to a nice look out. We had picked up some picnic provisions and thought we’d have a nice hike up to a scenic place to eat lunch. We wandered down the (only) street but didn’t see any trails. We finally felt like we’d walked at least 10 minutes and could see what appeared to be the biggest hill on the island.
In the US, if we didn’t find a trail, we wouldn’t dare to just wander into someone’s yard. But, knowing that we had the law of the right to roam behind us, we decided to just open a gate, walk into a field of sheep, and head our way up the steep hill (which was strewn with rocks, grass, and “sheep pies”).
We climbed our way up to the top and found a rock cairn and some amazing views. It was very windy and cold but the views were well worth it. We enjoyed a picnic (sheltered in the lee of some rocks for wind protection) and even used our binoculars to find David’s parents wandering by on the street below us, eventually making out our waving arms and silly dance moves.
Not only was our hill top picnic beautiful, it felt especially exhilarating because we’d wandered our way up there without a trail or other people to follow. The right to roam was passed in the UK around 2003 and is a treasured right; you can learn more by reading or listening to an interesting episode of the podcast 99 Percent Invisible.