Land Rover’s Dere Street pledge

THE Land Rover company has said it intends to repair all the damage done to a stretch of the 2,000-year-old Roman road, Dere Street, during the recent launch of its updated range of famous four-wheel-drive vehicles for 2012.

Built by Rome’s legions to connect York all the way to the northernmost boundary of their empire on the Firth of Forth, Dere Street was a major supply route for Roman forts along the eastern section of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.

Although much of the stretch of Dere Street that passes through the Borders is now riddled with ruts thanks to years of use by farmers’ tractors and off-road vehicles, it is still possible to see in places the cobbled surface on top of a stone base, which was constructed by the Romans.

For years, the use of the road by off-road driving enthusiasts has been a source of much contention with bodies such as Historic Scotland at loggerheads with drivers who relish the chance to test their skills on one of the best stretches of open track in the country.

Recently, one couple contacted TheSouthern to say how one of their favourite walks in the Borders is the three-mile stretch of Dere Street from Pennymuir to Whitton Edge.

Last month they were enjoying a circular walk that included this section of Dere Street. “The first section of track from Pennymuir is over boggy ground and is always muddy.

“We knew that the Land Rover company had been using this route over the past three weeks, allowing journalists from all over the world to try out the latest 4x4 vehicles off the road, so we expected to find the track more rutted than usual,” they stated.

“Nothing, however, prepared us for what we found. From Pennymuir the track was impassable, a morass of deep ruts and a sea of mud as far as the eye could see. It continued like this for a large part of the way, a scar from start to finish. This ancient Roman route has been ruined.

“Another track used by Land Rover was from Hownam, following the street and then Belford Hope to Belford in the Bowmont Valley. This track has also suffered, leaving deep ruts and scars, but is not as bad as Dere Street.

“Who is responsible for repairing these rights of way? Left as they are, they will only send out all the wrong messages to trail bikes and off-road vehicles.

“Land Rover will have benefited financially from hammering this area for the past three weeks with their numerous vehicles, so why should they not be asked to make amends for the destruction their vehicles have caused?”

Asked to comment on the complaints, Land Rover spokesperson, Lucy Reynolds, said the company was working with Scottish Natural Heritage to ensure the sections of Dere Street which had been churned up by their vehicles would be restored to their condition before the event took place.

“We will make sure this piece of land is made good – any damage will be repaired to the condition it was before or better,” she told TheSouthern.

“We are consulting with SNH because it is important to make sure that this work is done during the right time of the year. Whenever we use a piece of land we always ensure it is restored.”

Ms Reynolds said the press launch for its range of 2012 vehicles had been very successful with an event that will have brought in journalists from the world’s motoring press, giving a welcome economic boost to the region.

“The local people have been very hospitable. We have used this area before and work closely with farmers and landowners, and try to make sure these events do not disturb people.”

More than a decade ago, the former Borders Regional Council agreed to a request from Historic Scotland to close Dere Street to all traffic with the exception of farm vehicles, much to the dismay of organisations such as the Scottish Off-Road Club.

At the time, the Scottish Sports Council called for a compromise, recommending that Dere Street could stay open to all users “through sensitive management”.

However, the then Scottish Government of Donald Dewar refused to rubber- stamp the closure move and since then there have been no restrictions on vehicles, other than warning signs erected at senstive farming times such as the lambing season.