Day of Access is a collaborative project conceived by artist Alec Finlay, sharing place-aware creative practices and events that help people overcome limitations on access to wild nature. It features 18-months of innovative events, workshops, short walks, exhibitions and talks. 

At the heart of the project is Month of Access, UK-wide events for disabled people in June 2020, featuring a series of Day of Access based on a successful pilot held in Perthshire on June 15, 2019. 

As an artist with constrained walking Finlay has developed creative ways to further access over the past decade, including photography, drawings, manifestos, micro-navigation, and sharing forms, such as ‘word-maps’, ‘word-mountains’, ‘conspectus’ place-name visual poems, and ‘counterpane blanket landscapes’. These offer ways to represent and relate to landscapes, enrich views, and help disabled people feel they belong in wild places. 

This short introduction is an invitation to help make up Day of Access events happen at public and private estates in 2020. These blend together disability perspectives of landscape, creative approaches to viewing, and progressive strategies about ecological remediation. 


We are looking for partners across the UK who can fund the project and provide venues, vehicle(s), and/or drivers. Any form of contribution is appreciated. We would also like to hear from people/groups interested in participating. 

Day of Access events are for anyone who has difficulty accessing hills, including the disabled, people with chronic illness, pain, or constrained walking. Our main focus is on chronic conditions – for example, M.E., M.S., fibro-myalgia, lupus, or the effects of old age. We try to offer events accessible to any condition, within the limits the event imposes. 

Each local event is unique – mountain, hill, moor, saltmarsh, woodland – and we intend that in the future organisations and individuals develop their own version of Day of Access. Our focus is inclusion, working with partners to share creative place-aware strategies and ensure this becomes an annual UK-wide event. 

The project promotes the positive use of vehicular tracks to encourage access, but it doesn’t promote the creation of new tracks. We have had positive discussions with John Muir Trust, Paths for All, Maggie’s Centres, RSPB Scotland, Lapidus, Walking Institute, Deveron Projects, Mountaineering Scotland, Woodend Barn, Falkland Centre for Stewardship, and Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research. 

In 2019 the project will include a touring exhibition by Alec Finlay hosted by the Travelling Gallery, opening in mid-August and visiting venues around Scotland until December. 

To plan a Day of Access event you will need to: 

  • Identify a hill track or location and plan a route – most events last c. 3 hours. 
  • Ensure the availability of a vehicle and experienced driver; ideally, events should include 2-3 vehicles for reasons of health & safety 
  • Suggest any local disability organisations who would be interested in taking part 
  • Establish whether the venue has public liability insurance 

Contact us to help organise and promote your event; we will supply an experienced artist or poet and a place-aware map of the location: 

What people say about Day of Access 

For me the Day of Access was about the practicalities of making the event fun – as well as comfortable and safe – and the weather. We were able to make Alec’s idea a reality thanks to the generosity of our drivers, Graeme, Gareth and Jez in giving their time and vehicles. 

There was lots of interesting discussion about current land management and – through interpreting place names – a sense of how it might have been used in the past. Weather-wise, the Day of Access was cold, but the cloud lifted and views opened up. Thinking about the weather made me reflect on a comment that was mentioned on the day – ‘Why a disabled person would want to go into the hills?’ Why wouldn’t they? After the birth of my son, I needed to use a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk far. It was a challenging time, but what I missed most was going out in the rain. No one wanted to take me out in the wet and actually, as long as I have the right waterproofs on, I quite like going out in the rain. Happily, I recovered and I can get out into the hills again – I feel incredibly fortunate that it’s part of my job. 

Our Day of Access was an opportunity for people who wouldn’t often get up into the hills to have that chance. It would be great to have access every year, when existing tracks are used to bring people out for a new experience. I hope the experiences from this pilot event will inspire future events. We will never be able to count on the weather, but we can count on the power of people working together in partnership to bring together memorable days.’ 

– Liz Auty, John Muir Trust, Heart of Scotland Partnership 

‘In the first ten years of M.E. I wasted a lot of time waiting to get better. That’s the natural impulse isn’t it? Curl up, head down, let the storm pass. But what if it is like one of those two- hundred-year storms on Jupiter? In the second half of my M.E. career – and it is a career, I decided to be ill in other places. I’ve passed out in Amsterdam, been removed from planes in Edinburgh (panic attacks) and, more recently, cycled twenty-two miles on my electric bike to Rosslyn. That Rosslyn escapade for a pot of f*@%!*g tea took on the significance of some early Amazonian expedition. It was my Kilimanjaro! 

Last week, pumped full of codeine and carbs, I joined other professional exhaustives near Schiehallion – and was taken higher than I would possibly be able to reach unaided. Much of the journey there and back was with noise cancelling headphones with my eyes shut. On arrival, I got my DSLR out and photographed 200 images in a well-practiced burst of energy efficacy. 

But yes, the right to be ill somewhere else. It’s nothing new. It’s part of the right to roam in my view. Usually, the ill have to be creative and make those lost horizons appear in some alchemical event at home. But you know what? Every now and then I’m awed by a simple lift up a simple hill by someone who cares.’ 

– Chris Dooks, participant, ‘The right to be ill somewhere else’ 

You will see from many comments on rewilding that there seems to be a common theme of most large privately-owned estates being “the bad guys“. As I’m sure you’re quite aware, this isn’t the case, and it’s something I’m working to address. Your project sounds great, and I hope it becomes popular – and I believe there is a possibility that it’s something we could be involved with in the future.’ 

– Head Stalker, Highland Estate 

‘My mother has lived much of her life on estates and interacting with nature and really. She would love to be driven into a wood and sit, listening to the birds, taking in the smells and ambience, or see the deer or birds of prey again.’ 

– future participant 

Great day last Saturday – a real opportunity for reflection. Very good to meet you and I really enjoyed our discussions.’ 

– Jez Robinson, land-owner and supporter of Day of Access pilot 2019 

The tag line “what would a disabled person do up there” really struck me. I have enjoyed the outdoors for around 7 years now, was about to start working as an outdoor instructor but I ruptured my ACL which meant I couldn’t experience the outdoors like I used to. By no means am I comparing my recoverable injury to that of someone living with a disability, but I now have an appreciation of the barrier that can present someone and how hard it can be to answer that question. 

But I’ve come to learn it’s not about “doing” anything, it’s a multi-sensory experience with so many different depths. It’s about harvesting the multi-sensory experience for those with a barrier to access that makes it such a valuable experience. And it’s wonderful that somebody is trying to bring that to those who until now haven’t been able to get that kind of experience.’ 

– Alison Craig 

‘Before the project I took for granted my ability to reach a mountain peak and reap the benefits of doing so. There is a great benefit for your mind when looking out at the vastness of the landscape of our country. To make that accessible to the less able would be invaluable.’ 

– Sam McDiarmid, photographer 

‘Thank you so much for enabling Annie and I to participate in Day of Access. This was a tremendous experience for me, reinforced by the range of conversations particularly about the issues of: future and current land use; conservation and the environmental threats; addressing the consequences of historic degraded landscapes; and consideration of the access issues for everyone as well as the needs of disabled people. 

I was impressed by the landscape vistas themselves particularly the back of a brooding Schiehallion and the panoramic sweeping views of Lochs Rannoch and Tummel and their environs. Truly magical! Further as a local resident I really appreciated getting access, as a disabled person with a lot of mobility problems, to a guided travel experience about the nature and naming of the surroundings. It’s worth saying that I would not fully have comprehended or understood what was important without the inputs from Graeme, Gareth, Liz and Jez on the day. The discussions with them and you gave the day even more meaning and richness. 

I offer a number of reflections. I think that responsible access to remote landscapes isn’t just a right but is a necessary adjunct to our overall health and well-being, as well as good citizenship. In enacting such rights we must be mindful that we all bear a fair responsibility towards special places and would wish to leave them in as good a condition as we encountered them. Right of access without a responsible relationship with nature is ultimately counter-productive and damaging, whether by commission or omission. This places a duty on those who manage such places to provide as much information and guidance about what people are able to do, or likely to see and encounter, and how to best facilitate that access. It’s a mindful business with expectations on both sides being one of my key messages. It is important that all visitors are empowered to engage with nature through that relationship as it’s not a one-sided contract. It would certainly be a key statutory expectation for any publicly funded body managing the general public around access. A good example where this could also be improved with potential learning for Heart of Scotland is the current access to the Black Wood of Rannoch. The Black Wood is a SSSI with a very special ancient Caledonian Pine relic of the once Great Forest of Rannoch. There seems to be a view that if we don’t tell anyone about it or broadcast its specialness that it will not be overwhelmed by visitors. There is very little public interpretation of why this wood is so important locally and consequently very few people from Kinloch Rannoch or elsewhere ever go there unless you’re in the know. The important thing for me is that without encouragement to learn about special places we will not nurture potential advocates to support future forest conservation and funding. It’s only now that people are beginning to recognise that if an area is degraded to such a state that it no longer can regenerate itself then these places are in danger. I believe our children’s current awareness of our environment and the damage and threats to it is a reminder that it is also their heritable legacy that we are responsible for. 

Previously, I led several national statutory bodies, campaigning charities and funding bodies in Scotland and UK so am familiar with the politics and policy environment around disability and impairment. These aren’t always immediately understood by the public at large but are increasingly understood by funders and those with public sector duties. Community planning also carries the inequality and fairness brief within locality planning. 

For myself, being virtually mobility impaired since birth through polio I have lived and struggled with my impairment all my life. I am however ‘not disabled’ by it nor do I feel ‘vulnerable’ or ‘damaged’ and neither should we conflate these as being the same. The real issue is about inequality of opportunity and access and overcoming barriers which society often places in our way whether it be to employment, transport or access to the countryside. When we talk about the parallels between damaged landscapes and damaged people, which might be a personal experience or interpretation by some, we have to be careful. Disabled people may live with the consequences of their impairments whether it be mental health, physical or sensory loss problems which is hard enough and may feel awful for some – but we are not damaged. This is why I focus on empowerment and addressing inequalities as the key issue for funders and others. So, we need enabling messages and access practice rising above illness, impairment and losses but focussing on the whole person itself and what we need to get equal. This is another key message for us all. 

Finally, I believe the Heart of Scotland Disability and Access Project is a great opportunity to underline the benefits of a healthy environment, active and healthy life-styles and well-being, and addressing access inequality for disabled people. It’s all very wonderful and I welcome your initiative and wish you good luck for the future.’ 

– Bob Benson, participant, Chair Loch Rannoch Conservation Association 

‘Our day in the hills, guided by Alec Finlay, and in co-operation with the Heart of Scotland Partners, was magical. I felt as if we travelled to the middle of the world, on and on, up and down to a remote and wild part of Scotland – the heart of Scotland indeed. 

To access this world in any other way but in the back of a 4 x 4 was beyond my reach. The chat; the information about what had been; the wonderful Gaelic names leading us to speculate and then to hear from the team what might happen next, all educative and vitally important in the times of global warming, 

John Muir would have been happy with our pace – OK we were being driven, but it was at a slow and “sauntering” with many stops to get out, breath the fresh air and orientate ourselves in the land; the views; the scenery. Place-names put us in the place. We also followed the code of leaving nothing but footprints (tire tracks) and taking nothing but photographs. Those photographs are beautifully evocative of the day. 

I would add memories, thoughts, and future ideas to the list of things we took home with us. I wish Alec well in his way forward and as an artist with knowledge of working and living with disability I offer my help and support. Thank you for this opportunity. 

– Anne Benson from The Day of Access Manifesto 

For the chronically ill wild land remains a paradox: exhausting challenge and domain of healing. 

The chronically ill understand a world defined by resource depletion. 

Like the loss of a limb the loss of access enhances perceptions. 

What will come of introducing vulnerable bodies into vulnerable ecologies? 

There are different paths – they don’t all reach the summit. 

Try to be moss for a few hours or lie still like a patch of lichen. 

From the moment a community considers access for the chronically ill their concept of Nature alters. 

– Alec Finlay 

The inaugural Day of Access was held on June 15, 2019, at Meall Tairneachan, The Thundering- one Hill, Perthshire; four disabled people were given vehicular access to an altitude of 720m., with the support of Forestry and Land Scotland, John Muir Trust, Heart of Scotland Forestry Partnership, and Dalchosnie & Kynachan Estates. Photographs: Mhairi Law, Sam McDiarmid, Chris Dooks, Alec Finlay, 2019 

if you are interested in supporting Day of Access, or participating, contact Alec Finlay: 

The inaugural DAY OF ACCESS, Heart of Scotland Forest Partnership in partnership with John Muir Trust, Forestry and Land Scotland & Dalchosnie and Kynachan Estate. A party of people with constrained walking will be driven in off-road vehicles along the Meall Tairneachan track to the Barytes mine. 

Day of Access, Meall Tairneachan 

This pilot event explored the idea that disabled perspectives and place-awareness could, together, offer new approaches to furthering wellbeing for the chronically ill and people with constrained walking, as well as offer insights into rewilding and ecological remediation. 

My motto for the day was: vulnerable bodies in vulnerable ecologies. The issues were brought home when Annie Benson told me about her experiences campaigning to persuade a laird to make gates accessible and being told, “but why would a disabled person want to go up there?” Why would anyone? 

We met in the car park by the old limekiln, near Loch Kinardochy (Loch Ceann Àrdachaidh), Highland-end Loch, and took the forestry track opposite A’ Chailleach, The Hag. Over the course of the three-hour journey we shared our knowledge and sketched an ecopoetic mapping of the heart of Scotland, as this area is known. A totemic landscape was revealed, rich in historical lore. When I originally mapped the route, using the 1st edition OS maps, I noticed two place-names in proximity to one another: Coire an t-Suidhe, The Seat Corrie – suidhe, seat, refers to a place for spectating deer-hunting – and Meall Damh, Stag Tump. A third name may be related, Coire Tharruin ‘Chon, which Peter MacNiven suggested could be hauling? dogs corrie, from tarraing. After the event Margaret Joan MacIsaac advised me that tarraing, is drawing or pulling (Dwelly), which would also give the meaning driven by hounds, and I could imagine wild animals being chased into this flat enclosed corrie for slaughter. 

Debate ensued, for the hill we ascended, Meall Tairneachan, is not, as I thought, related to ptarmigan – although there is Meall Tarmachen, Ptarmigan Tump, on the north of Schiehallion – but, as Jake King explained, the hill and nearby burn, Allt Tarruin’chon, are from tairneachan, thundering, making this The Thundering-one Hill or Lump. He also noted an older source gave tarruing chonnaidh, Hill of the Dragging Wood, where dragging could, again, refer to hunting. It would be a poet pushing things too far to suggest the thundering of the rut or cacophony of driven stags and hounds. Probably the hill was named for the burn in spate. The old SMC journal gives the hill as Tarruin’chon and I found some botanical notes published by D.A. Haggart in the Transactions of the Perthshire Society of Natural Science (1915), which Jake would dispute. 

‘When one gets to the real base of Meall Tarruin Chon the field begins to get very interesting. The name of this formidable hill is rather curious, and commemorates old wolf-hunting days, when the rents of the little pendicles and farms were paid in kind or the heads of wolves. The equivalent in English of the above is hill for drawing, or withdrawing dogs. Connected with this we find two small fords on the Keltney burn, called respectively Ath-leig-Chon (Ford for slipping dogs); and the other Ath-ceap-Mhaduidh (Ford for stopping wolves).’ 

Ceapach is, in fact, a place with tree stumps, from ceap, referring to ancient bog fir. A similar name appears in the Cairngorms, Ceap Mad, Root-bog of the Wolf. 

There was a choice of land forms that could have been the seat: a mound, a hillock and a hill shoulder, all looking over the enclosed corrie which was a perfect cul-de-sac for the conclusion of a tainchell, deer-drive, slaughtering animals in a kind of performative battle before an audience. As part of this project I’m exploring the parallels between suidhe and viewpoints for disabled people with constrained walking where they could explore the landscape visually and enjoy the drama of place-name lore. 

Nearby is a rare phubaill or pùball name, Tom Phobuill, meaning tent, shelter – or, in my version, Bender Tom, referring to a shelter that was probably made of willows, hides and heather. This would have been the traditional location of the hunting camp. The views of Schiehallion from the ancient corrie were stunning and, looking west, I noticed a possible name-pair for the stag in a prominent shoulder of Schiehallion, Cnoc an Aighean, Hinds Knock. Together these names suggest a kind of ancient package tour for hunting parties, with totemic views of a symbolic mountain, The Fairy Hill of the Caledonians. It’s fascinating to travel through a map and, reading the landscape, see how names and meanings could connect up. There are also wood names here, Dùn Coillich and Druim Choille, which I thought were the wood dun and wood-ridge, but Jake tells me this was the dùn of the cockerel, Dùn Coilich. These place-names refer, respectively, to the community woodland below Schiehallion and the forestry plantation below Meall Tairneachan. 

The old-style forestry plantation is being slowly given over to woodland remediation and rewilding, and above the wood there are some rowan and willow emerging from the heather. The forestry plantations are commercial, but Forestry and Land Scotland are remediating the hillside to montane scrub and we saw rowan and pine coming through the heather. Hereabouts browsing problems are caused by sheep, not deer. History goes on and land use changes. Over the hill we ended our tour by turning the landrovers round at the barites mine. I wondered if this might possibly connect to Creag an Oir and Tom an Oir, both nearby, which relate to gold or perhaps minerals. The mine is due to close, with production moved to Duntanlich, and the area here will be replanted, offering another opportunity for woodland remediation. 

All of the staff volunteered their time to make Day of Access possible, as a collaboration between Forestry and Land Scotland, John Muir Trust and a local laird, Jez, of Dalchosnie & Kynachan Estate. These parties who work together, along with the community woodland, to benefit native ecology, overcoming obstacles that delay progress elsewhere. From our final viewpoint near the summit Jez pointed out Lochan Beoil Chathaiche, Mouth of the Fight Loch?, beneath Speirean Ruadh, Red Needle, or to be accurate, spindle-shank, where he has a herd of Highland cows hefted, and offered to drive us up there for the 2020 Day of Access. 

– Alec Finlay