IT has been a popular beauty spot for decades, used by walkers young and old to get some exercise in the peace and quiet of the countryside.

But now a row has broken out over who has the right to stroll alongside the riverside at Lovat Bridge, near Beauly in the Highlands, with locals pitted against the land owner Lord Lovat.

And it appears that the aristocrat has the law on his side, with Highland Council saying that there is no right to roam on the circular river path.

The local authority's view has also been backed by Scotways, the organisation which oversees the National Catalogue of Rights of Way (CROW).

Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser, has recently returned to live on his ancestral lands, but has upset people living nearby who accuse him of making "strenuous efforts" to stop them walking on his land.

They say that rocks and traffic cones have been used to block lay-bys and other areas used for parking, forcing them to walk further to reach the walking path.

"Unofficial" parking tickets have also been left on cars parked in the area, and walkers say he has removed a well-used car park and blocked up other areas.

HeraldScotland:

The Lovat estate 

A walking group for older people and families with young children are among those affected.

Liz Hoey, a local resident who has been walking in the area for the past 20 years, said she had enjoyed the previous ease access to her walk because of arthritis.

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She said: "They want you to park in Beauly but that would add on so much of a walk and it's a single track pavement with big lorries rushing past.

"This pavement is not good for either dog walkers or small children. A lot of people I know that used to walk there just can't now, including a friend who leads the Beauly Walking Group which is a walking group for older people who are trying to exercise to keep healthy and they can't park anywhere near.

"I'm very disappointed about the whole thing because it's a beautiful walk that people have used for years."

A spokesman for Lovat estates said it welcomed walkers but asked that they used public parking as verges were being damaged by cars parking on them, while access to farm roads had also been blocked by walkers vehicles.

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He added: "We are asking people not to park down a private road, they are very welcome to walk, as is their right."

He said this was because the estate had to pay for the maintenance and upkeep costs of the road which were "considerable" and that the estate had made improvements to benefit walkers, including installing a fence alongside a core path to help walkers who were worried about walking through livestock and by replacing dead and dying trees.

For a path to be considered a right of way, it must join two public places, such as roads or other paths, be a defined route, and have been in use for at least 20 years.

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A Highland Council spokeswoman said: "The River Beauly - Lovat Circuit is not on the Catalogue of Rights of Way maintained by Scotways, no-one has provided the council with evidence that any of it is a public right of way and, as a circuit, it is unlikely to meet the requirements of a public right of way. The council has received several complaints about it.

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"The complaints have been about the diversion of the path by the river; and the closure of a car park near the Dutch Barn at the junction of the A862 and A831 (notices being placed on cars and walkers being approached while out walking)."

A spokeswoman for Scotways added: "I can confirm that none of the various tracks and paths which form a network of routes between Lovat Bridge and Black Bridge over the River Beauly are listed in the National Catalogue of Rights of Way (CROW).

"We have been informed that as part of The Highland Council’s response to complaints about public access here, evidence was sought regarding the potential for some or any of these routes to be unrecorded rights of way. It is our understanding that no such information has yet been provided."