Tuesday, May 23, 2017

No Trespassing On The Coast

It was the early 1960s. Summer holidays. We'd grown bored hunting for newts and waiting to see the London train rattle along the viaduct that crossed the dusty lane that led to the estate. To pass under the bridge was to enter enemy territory. We lived on an estate, but it wasn't like the other estate. That was council; ours was pretentious posh. The lane petered out into an even dustier narrow track that bordered part of the estate. To the other side was scrub, waste and field. There was a sign in black lettering: "No Trespassing".

Such an order was of little deterrence. We had already mastered the art of trespassing in the dark and mysterious copse with its pond that was as deep as Australia. A gate of greater height than we were served only to be a challenge. A warning of no trespassing carried an assumption of hidden dangers and horrors. The field with its long grass next to the estate, we convinced ourselves, was full of snakes. We climbed another gate. There were no snakes.

Nowadays, and as responsible citizens, no trespassing would mean precisely that. But there are those who have never lost their inner small child. Provide a warning, and the warning will be ignored. Indeed, the very existence of a warning elevates the forbidden territory to a status of seemingly very much greater importance than it might otherwise deserve. However, there is a principle at stake. The right of access, especially if it involves the sea.

The coast is the public domain. When superyacht occupants invade a stretch of beach in Cabrera, they are accused of "privatising" it. Not that they did (this was last summer), but installing luxury tents and what have you amounted, in the eyes of some, to a privatisation. When hotel groups (one in particular) appear destined to dominate beach of a Calvia and beach club variety, this is also privatisation, even if it is not. The coast is free. Unfettered access to it reinforces the unshakeable relationship with the "playa", the playground for all.

Cala Castell in Pollensa is accessible from the sea. It can't, strictly speaking, be accessed from the land, except for special reasons; these mainly being scientific. The cove lies at the end of the finca of Ternelles, and the access to the finca has been a matter of controversy for years.

There was once, during the administration of Francesc Antich from 2007 to 2011, a mass trespass. Famous photos are regularly reused to highlight the Ternelles case, and they show ramblers clambering over the gate to the finca. The reasons for access being denied are twofold. One has to do with protection zones in the Tramuntana region. The finca has such a zone; it encompasses the cove and the ancient Castell del Rei. Balearic law may lead to these zones being removed, thus allowing rambling in areas deemed significant as natural habitats.

The other reason is ownership. The finca belongs ultimately to the March family, the Banca March, March family, the descendants of Joan March. When the mass trespassers, including notable eco-nationalist politicians, smilingly climbed the gate, there was at least some feeling that they were doing so as a gesture against the legacy of the old rogue, March. Gleeful disobedience of no trespass betrayed no fear of hidden dangers: the finca, the estate, was being confronted. How many of those trespassers had an account with Banca March one didn't know.

The legal arguments continue. They are batted back and forth between upper courts. The Supreme Court in Madrid once took the view that there should be right of access precisely because of the coast. The public domain of Cala Castell was being denied. The arguments, though, have been far more complex than just that. They still are.

Had there never been any denial of access, how popular would the ramble across the finca be? One asks the question because Ternelles has acquired its reputation principally because of the "verboten" nature of access; there is access but in a highly controlled way. Is the principle more significant than any mass desire to go wandering over the land? And has this principle been elevated because of the ownership?

Move east along the coast from Cala Castell and you come to the headland that separates the bays of Pollensa and Alcudia. On its tip is Cap Pinar. It isn't even accessible by sea. It's a military zone. There have been arguments about access here as well, but they have never been in the Ternelles league. There is, like Ternelles, the possibility of limited and controlled access. But Alcudia's mayor, Toni Mir, says that since he took office in 2015 there hasn't been a single request.

Why the difference? There are no snakes in Ternelles, but there is greater temptation and challenge. The black lettering is that much bigger and so is the gate.

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