Balmoralgate is just a wee squall in a southern teacup

ROSEANNA and the Queen. There's a strange connection between these two slightly lofty, distant, elegant women, gleefully set at loggerheads last week by a leaked Home Office email and a panting male press corps.

Although the environment minister is young enough to be her daughter, Australian enough (by upbringing) to have the diplomatic manner of Phil the Greek, and "common" enough to have worked as a lawyer all her non-parliamentary life, Roseanna Cunningham, like the Queen, is a powerful female presence. Neither is exactly clubbable, but both command attention.

The prospect of one attempting to sabotage the safety of the other appears to have titillated the excitable gentlemen of the Scottish press in the manner of an upmarket mud-wrestling competition. Or perhaps, subliminally, as a rerun of the last cross-border battle when an independent-minded Scotswoman was vanquished by a vigorous English Elizabeth. Add to this heady mix, Ms Cunningham's well-known opposition to monarchy and a feminist republican plot of Fawkesian dimensions appears to be unfolding.

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Until you read the details.

The local planning authority – the Cairngorms National Park – wanted to publicise some of the paths around Balmoral. No-one locally had big objections, but the Scottish environment minister had to notify the Home Office (about to upgrade Britain's security threat to severe) who erupted in barely contained fury.

Ms Cunningham backed down but the e-mail exchange found its way into the public domain via Labour's favoured Scottish organ, the Daily Record, and Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, whose ill-judged advertising of Balmoral's accessibility to terrorists has earned him little but brickbats.

Ironically, Mr Gray has done a great disservice to the land reform legislation he helped draft as justice minister in the 1990s, because if anyone thought they understood Scotland's right to roam policy, they must be fairly confused now.

Balmoralgate's only point of contention was whether particular paths should be designated a "core path network" – an attempt to coax wary city-lubbers out of cars by advertising precise routes where no angry landowners or famers will be encountered.

But the paths themselves are still walkable, indeed all of Scotland is still walkable. All that needs to be applied is common sense – as it's aye been.

A point well made by the former factor of the Queen's Balmoral Estate, Peter Ord, whose submission to the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) in 2008 is surprisingly constructive. There are 250km of paths on Balmoral Estate currently used by the public for walking, cycling and riding.

Mr Ord's only misgivings about plans to designate 30km as core pathways, are practical – the factor points out people can't be confined to paths in the open country and raises perfectly valid concerns about their safety on high paths, ropeways or bridges: "It's unacceptable for the CNPA to leave the issue of path maintenance dangling in the air."

In short, the Queen's factor in Balmoral isn't objecting to the core path network, nor is there a whiff of concern about public access posing a threat to royal security. Isn't it strange that no-one checked the views of Balmoral before the views of Buckingham Palace? Or is it naive to think this row has anything to do with the practical business of land use in rural Scotland?

Who cares if the urbanised, anglified and timorous Scottish public now believe they will be arrested if they stray from the car park outside Balmoral? Who cares if the royals are now thought to be stuffy, paranoid, space invaders who expect a 200-mile exclusion zone around their favourite Scottish playground? Not members of Her Majesty's government.

As a woman who doesn't stand for the Loyal Toast and doesn't mix much with private estate owners, I've got to say that Balmoral's factor seems OK – a practical man who understands the right to roam principle. The "storm" that has erupted is not of Grampian origin – it's a wee southern squall whipped up by people who wouldn't know a core path network if they saw it exhibited in Christies.

Dave Morris of Ramblers Scotland says: "The attitudes (at Balmoral] nearly always struck me as sound and we have frequently used the estate as an exemplar when arguing about access elsewhere – if it's good enough for the Queen it should be good enough for anyone who's bought an estate in Scotland."

Land reformer Andy Wightman also praises the relaxed attitude of the royals and estate managers at Balmoral: "I have walked by Glas Allt Shiel and seen Charles and chums having a picnic. I've passed Princess Diana learning to drive and have a friend who was skinny-dipping on the estate one day, got out, dried herself and found the Queen waiting to chat. My friend was mortified because she hadn't put her knickers on (though she was wearing her skirt!)".

Perhaps some will think that tale is demeaning to the Queen or a further threat to her security. Actually, the cat was let out of the bag last Thursday. And actually, the safety of the Queen – and everyone else – was compromised seven years ago by a misguided invasion of Iraq, not by royal attempts to co-exist with fellow lovers of the great outdoors in Aberdeenshire.

This isn't a fuss about nothing – UK health and safety rules are also being used to override Scottish access rights where walkers cross railway lines.

Clearly, desk-bound London-based officials think Scotland is like Windsor Park, with more duck ponds. Their twitchiness over the Queen's penchant for Balmoral is an echo of Queen Victoria's frosty reception in London when she opted for life in the frozen north.

There is an easy solution to this culture clash. Senior Home Office staff should get out more. A word of warning though – the seven-mile access road to the controversial Glen Muick footpaths is apparently still completely blocked with snow. Strangers beware.