As I think about having pulled our home on wheels over 30,000 miles through parts of the United States, Scotland pops into my thoughts. Years ago while visiting the most northern country in the UK, we discovered an interesting fact about it – there are no ‘Keep Out’ signs on fences in the Scottish countryside. In fact if you are hiking through Scotland, you can climb over a fence when there is no reasonable alternative nearby without fear of an angry land owner and his dog, that is as long as you avoid causing damage.
Per Scotland’s Land Reform Act of 2003, everyone has access rights to ‘go into, pass over and remain on private property for recreational or educational purposes, and then leave it’. Basically, an individual in Scotland can walk, run or pedal through the bucolic countryside without detouring around fences as long as they are not hunting, shooting or fishing. This is a big deal because almost all of Scotland’s land is privately owned.
As a citizen of the United States, the concept of allowing recreational access to private property on a countrywide scale through a national government edict is odd and contradicts ‘individual rights’, for which this country was founded. So familiar to me are endless miles of fences and red and white ‘Private Property’ signs, not to mention the variety of colorful words used to warn us with no uncertain terms to ‘Keep Out’. Given this, one who seeks out natural areas to explore could be envious of Scotland’s land reform. But here’s where the United States has an advantage – it is massively large and as the newly formed Federal Government acquired large swaths of land, it did not give it all away to private individuals or commercial entities. Instead, it kept a large amount of it and over the years, gained back some more.
The United States contains 2.27 billion acres of land, whereas Scotland is about the size of South Carolina or less than 1% of the total U.S. acreage. While 97% of U.S. land is rural, most of it is privately owned (about 61%) which can be partially attributed to the Homestead Act of 1862 through which the federal government promoted westward expansion by divvying out parcels of land to most any individual. Despite this and thanks to the “Leave it as it is, you cannot improve upon it” mentality of Theodore Roosevelt and others, 840 million acres remained or has since become public land. In short, U.S. citizens collectively own one third of the land. In contrast, public land in Scotland is about a third of 1% of the total land. This makes the U.S. quite compatible for overland traveling where individuals can drive their RV through millions of acres of public lands. And akin to the Scottish walker, one can hike and wander the wilderness areas across several state lines without stepping foot on private property- if they have the will to do so.
This is not to give Scotland a bad mark by any means; instead, I can’t resist a good juxtaposition. And it’s also an interesting rabbit hole of inquiry into the reasons Scotland (and many other European countries for that matter) came to provide public access on private lands for the purpose of recreation. My simplistic answer after some research can be summed up as follows – the feudal system.
Through the Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act in 2000, Scotland was the last country to rid itself of feudal tenure. Up until then, that was how most land was owned – having been passed down by generations of nobilities. Currently, a little more than 400 people own half of Scotland’s private land and as few as 16 individuals own 10% of the country. And only 0.025% of the population owns 67% of the country’s rural land. The Land Reform Act of 2003 is an attempt to correct the inequality of land ownership without a government land grab. In short, to give people more space to recreate.
For Vivian and I, RV traveling has many layers to it, not the least of which is a wilderness experience on public lands. While we enjoy the land magnificent that is available to us, we cannot forget its acquisition came at a great cost to many people. Throughout our journeys, we see sad reminders of this often, yet we continually enjoy the rich experiences of exploring these public lands. I can filter it down to this – whether trekking the Scottish Highlands where serfs toiled long ago or parking an RV on remote BLM lands that once served as hunting grounds for an indigenous people – it is for us, the preservation of wilderness and history that is the endgame. “Leave it as it is, you cannot improve upon it”.
While traveling, Vivian and I love to take day hikes through many of the public wilderness areas we visit. I always carry a daypack that holds water & snacks, and many other “just in case” items that I may or may not need. I recommend the Osprey Daylite DayPack.
And of course one of the primary activities is photography. While I do use my iphone for picture taking, I use my DSLR mirrorless camera in those special places and when I have optimal weather and lighting conditions. Many of the photos you see above were shot with my Sony a7riii and quite often, I use a Hoya polarizer filter for those brilliant blue skies.
3 thoughts on “Looking Back – Imagine RV Travels without Public Lands”
Another great post. I never knew that Scotland had these “pass through” laws. Very interesting. I wonder if there are some restrictions on how close to the home of the land-owners one can “stray”? I don’t think I’d like strangers peaking in my windows! While we have never camped on BLM land, I understand the appeal (sort of). You two seem to find the best places to camp. By the way, your pictures are STUNNING!!! I especially loved the Mule Canyon photo. I am assuming that’s you and Vivian in the lower right corner? Very creative. How long did you set the timer on your camera in order to get back down to that spot?
Lol, I don’t think my camera has a timer long enough for me to run back up that rock! That’s Vivian & her sister, remember she traveled with us for 2 mon. She appears in some of our photos.
Haha. Okay, that makes sense!