Someone in the government is trying to put forward a Bill to allow paths to be constructed around our coasts, taking over land belonging to those it will pass through. I believe this has not been thoroughly thought through. When my children were young we used to go walking in the hills, forests and on heath-land. When they became teenagers (1965) this was no longer possible because there was the risk of molestation, even being shot by youngsters with rifles. Later those same heath-lands were set alight at least once in the summer. Today I see them set alight at every opportunity.
The level of vandalism, in towns and cities today is so vast, so extreme, so brutal, even with the level of policing we have, as to give serious worry to those in charge and fill the prisons to overflow. How much more dangerous are the paths going to be and how are they to be made safe? The property owners are going to have to fence their boundaries with razor wire, and keep guard dogs, if their property is anyway remote.
There is no shadow of doubt that walking along the cliff path enjoying the countryside, the views across the sea, the sky and the wildlife is an ideal that we have all enjoyed, but times have severely changed. At the end of the war I and my brother-in-law spent three days walking every inch of the coast from Ballycastle to Coleraine, staying at youth hostels overnight. I have never forgotten that holiday and look back on all the different aspects with amusement and pleasure. So to some extent it hurts me to be so negative today, but in those days you didn’t even have to lock your front door. Today you are not sure who you can trust.
I think that this proposal must be selective, made in such a way that it is safe for those using it, those maintaining it, and those whose property it skirts. This is a tall order in the light of the news on television every day in the week, of murder, assault, stabbings and rape. We have coastal paths. It would seem logical that an overall survey of groups of these paths should be made, delineating their type of location, from remote to paved and lighted, the amount of use they receive, and the number of incidents reported on each. A pilot scheme in some county will be worthwhile as an opener, and if it produced anomalies, then the scheme may not be worth enlarging,
When I see the damage that is done to the Cave Hill, its wildlife and its fauna, so regularly, without any conscience, it gives me more than pause for thought.