New Age travellers have moved to Scotland. Are they scroungers or


Ian Sutherland

reports from the shores of

Loch Ness.

CONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that there is no law of trespass in

Scotland. Such is the comforting power of myth. But in recent weeks a

60-strong group of so-called ''New Age travellers'' -- encamped in a

muddy wood near Invermoriston at the western end of Loch Ness -- has

found out the hard way about legal realities north of the Border.

The Criminal Trespass (Scotland) Act, 1985, is no dusty piece of

semi-abandoned legislation. It has teeth.

A number of travellers have been fined at Inverness District Court --

and it seems that more arrests and convictions are likely. Councils and

police say that they are unemotionally responding to complaints. The

travellers claim that ''the system'' is hell bent on eliminating its


Most of them are veterans of ugly confrontations south of the Border.

They tell stories of being ''under siege'' by riot police. Invermoriston

is not Stonehenge or Glastonbury -- and the Northern Constabulary does

not run to riot shields and body armour.

For all that, the New Age travellers are convinced -- rightly or

wrongly -- that they are being harassed to ensure that Scots MPs vote

with their English colleagues when the controversial Criminal Trespass

Bill is debated in the House of Commons on November 13. If enacted, the

new measure will permit councils in England to confiscate travellers'

vehicles and impose draconian penalties on persistent offenders.

Ian Forrest has been on the road for four years. His rationale for

living in a van sums up the philosophy that has drawn hundreds of

intelligent young people into a nomadic lifestyle.

''In the 1980s I bounced between periods of work and unemployment.

Life in the cities is utter hopelessness. We've seen what modern society

is about -- and it doesn't work.

''The country is in recession and the State is trying to deflect

attention from that. They are trying to point the finger of blame at

people like us. It's been done before against Jews and blacks.''

The Invermoriston dissenters seem convinced that we are on the eve of

destruction. Violence, racism, crime, addiction, alienation, mental

illness and repression are inevitable consequences of an urbanised world

which denies the essentially cyclical character of nature.

Ancient peoples moved around, allowing the environment to recover from

human activity. According to New Age traveller Hamish Berryman, settled

societies kill growth and the only way forward is back.

''The whole point about nomadic lifestyle is not to treat the land

you're living on lightly. Look what happened to Dartmoor. Things like

sitka spruce turned Dartmoor into a vast barren space. We want to act as

mobile tree-planters, bringing back varieties such as oak, Scots pine

and birch.''

But New Age travellers are attacked for claiming dole money while

effectively biting the hand that feeds them. Can they justify having

their cake and eating it?

Van-dweller Phil Fletcher says: ''It's libelous to say we don't want

to work. We are no different from the unemployed in the cities. Lots of

them don't have homes either.''

The travellers claim also that settled residents in the Invermoriston

area are supportive. That is hard to assess. Most want to remain


One man said: ''Look, there's a lot I could say against the New Age

travellers. But equally, I don't really think arrests and fines are the

way to deal with any problem. There has to be another way.''

New Agers have been banned from some pubs. At the same time, they are

offered odd jobs by Inverness-shire businesses. Scotland's traditional

travellers have experienced that kind of ambiguity for centuries.

Now, the New Age travellers have written to Highland Regional Council

seeking a meeting of minds. Broadly, most settled residents seem to

favour that approach too. Ultimately, human contacts could render

repression unproductive in PR terms.

That process has started. Last Friday Jemma Seth-Smith and Fiona

Cobbold, students at New College, Durham, were stuck for a place to stay

during a hitch-hiking tour of the Highlands. They ended up dossing down

in a New Age caravan. And they say that stereotypes are ridiculous.

''We don't have any prejudice towards the travellers. They were really

friendly. We had a good time. If anyone else gets the opportunity to

meet them, go for it.''