The previous section “Portlethen Shore – A Labour of Love” reminded me of a set of circumstances that embroiled my family in some local controversy in 1988, and I thought it worth including here as a news item and a piece of local history. We are still discussing my family and Portlethen so it does fit in with the other findings that I’ve recorded in this section and throughout the site.
As you now know, if you have read the previous section and observed the photographs therein, my family devoted a lot of time, effort and money in maintaining Portlethen shore and its roads; and keeping it to a standard where it was possible for people to use as a safe haven for their boats, whether they were part time fishers, pleasure craft users or individuals who kept a boat there without using them very much, if at all.
After all the maintenance work being performed by John and Ron, particularly after a series of landslides, all at their own personal expense, Ron mooted the possibility of charging boat owners berthing fees as a form of recompense, a practise that was followed in respect to some local harbours but not all of them. John wasn’t keen in proceeding with this sort of initiative but didn’t veto it either so with backing from Anne, Ron solicited legal advice and started proceedings to charge the boat owners a fee for berthing their craft at the shore.
Okay, Portlethen shore wasn’t a harbour heaving with facilities however the amount of money that Ron and Anne were thinking about charging users was of a nominal value and in keeping with what was being charged for users of similar sized harbours. Ron believed that the request was fair and just, especially as there were times where they had to forego building jobs of their own to ensure the safety of the roads and shore.
Letters were drafted, and sent to those individuals who had boats berthed at Portlethen shore, that indicated that they would be charged for doing so in the future. The result? A serious of revolting natives - or maybe I should rephrase that to read restless natives. People were not happy with what was being planned and it was quite clear that they found this proposal unacceptable. It didn’t take long for the Kenn name to turn to mud and very quickly they had turned from respected and well liked figures in the community into villains of the peace.
Let’s think about this for a minute.
It is the responsibility of the landowners to maintain their land. Fair comment – there can be no real argument against that.
It was the right of the users to expect the land to be kept in pristine condition, it was also the right of the users to expect access to the land and, furthermore, it was the right of the users to be able to use that land as they saw fit, which included the building of sheds and the introduction of winches. It was also the right of the users to make money whilst using this land as a base. It was also assumed that it was their right to have all of this free of charge. To me this looked like a case of having their cake and stuffing their faces with it.
I’ve always wondered what the boat owners would have thought if the shoe was on the other foot – if they were the ones that owned the shore, did all the maintenance and repaired all the roads? Would they have allowed people to use the shore freely, would they have given up time at their day jobs to ensure that the shore could be used by all, would they have allowed sheds to be built willy-nilly on their land? Make additional income using that land? I don’t think so. Not without charging for it.
The letters went out and suddenly all the hard work and maintenance of years gone by was conveniently forgotten (or ignored) and the general consensus of opinion centred around the phrases “How dare they do that”, “Do they really own that land?”, “We have our own rights”, “We are entitled to use the shore and all its paths”, “It’s in our title deeds”.
My family, for a period in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, became the village baddies and many local people, even those without boats or an obvious connection with the shore sympathised with the boat users – our name was getting muddier and my family was being blanked in the street. John was nicknamed the “laird” of Portlethen in the local press, somewhat ironically in that the main drivers in the dispute were Ron and Anne. Thankfully friendship did prevail with a few families in the village so it would be unfair to tar everyone with the same brush.
Although I wasn’t personally involved in this dispute and had no vested interest in the outcome it was possible to sense the mistrust of a few people, and I recall thinking at the time, with a sense of amusement and irony (despite the upset this was causing my family), that we had travelled back in time from the 20th to the 19th century and were in a village of mistrusting and suspicious fisher folks once again.
So began a long and protracted case of pursuing charges, claims by one side and counter claims by the other side that lasted around a year.
From a viewpoint of over 20 years later it’s perhaps easy for me to say that a stalemate was the likely outcome and ultimately a stalemate was the result – the chase for berthing fees was given up, boat users agreed to assist financially with the upkeep of the roads instead of berthing charges being levied, and trust was rebuilt and friendships were renewed gradually over a long period of time.
Ironically, the main players involved in the initial dispute in 1988 moved out of the shore within a few years and only two of the boat owners from that time remain there today. Boats were sold, and new boats and owners moved in to take their place. Today the shore and lands around it are still owned by John and Ron and still maintained by them at their own personal cost – no one ever did make a reasonable contribution towards maintenance of the roads, neither in the past nor during the present.
Ron no longer wishes to pursue people for berthing fees and is content to let boat owners utilise their craft in the shore with the single understanding of keeping the place tidy and discussing any special needs or concerns directly with him. I have no say or influence on shore or bothy matters but I know my brother well enough to understand the following two activities are a no-no:-
a) Don’t build a shed on the shore braes without asking – he’s trying to cultivate an aesthetically pleasing look to the area and a variety of sheds in different sizes, shapes and colours won’t help him achieve that goal.
b) Don’t use a vehicle on the road between the turning area and the bothy – if someone used your front drive to do as they pleased you wouldn’t be happy either.
So why am I re-opening a potential can of worms with this little slice of family history? Obviously I believed that what my family was trying to do in 1988 was the right thing, if they had given up entirely there was the prospect of the shore turning into rack and ruin with a single footpath and no boats down there at all. Look at Downies shore – no boats, no paths, no life. I’m glad that never happened to Old Portlethen but it could have.
In case my family bias is showing through a little too much in this section I have included a section of newspaper articles that appeared in the local press at the time. Anne wasn’t too pleased by the tone and some of the assumptions made by the press (and I do agree with her) however in fairness and for a sense of balance I have included them here so you can make up your own mind about what happened over 1988 and 1989.
Further information relating to rights can be found in the following “Rights and Wrongs” Section.