Row after tour guide uses free ancient path to get to Giant's Causeway
A tour guide has hit out at the National Trust claiming that he was asked to provide his details by staff at the Giant's Causeway because he used a free path instead of taking visitors through its centre.
Jim Dickson, who runs Bespoke Tours Ireland, said he took a group of Australian tourists to the Unesco World Heritage Site last week using an ancient public right of way path, rather than paying to go through the landmark visitor centre.
The National Trust opened the £18.5m centre at the top of the path to the rock formation in 2012. It includes a cafe, gift shop, exhibition centre and access to the Giant's Causeway.
A ticket to the visitor centre costs £9 for an adult if bought on the day. A child's ticket costs £4.50 or a family ticket can be purchased for £22.00.
Mr Dickson said that he has been using the free right of way for years but as he was taking six visitors to the rocks, they were approached by staff who asked what they were doing.
Mr Dickson said: "I don't go through the visitors' centre. It's just a walk-through.
"I take my clients through the right of way but last week I was approached by two members of staff who asked what I was doing and said that they had been told to log everybody that doesn't use the visitor centre.
"I refused to give them my information and they didn't give me any explanation."
Tourists who want to visit the cafe, gift shop or use the toilet in the visitor centre are required to pay the entrance fee and the Trust also charges for use of the car park. There is also an additional fee for the use of a bus that takes visitors between the rocks and the centre. Discounted tickets can be purchased online beforehand.
Visitors who do not use the car park and who access the Causeway using a public path do not have to pay. The public pathway allows unrestricted access to the site at any time of the day or night.
Mr Dickson said: "This seems greedy. This isn't a reasonable charge. My customers are not visiting Northern Ireland to be ripped off. I will continue to use the public right of way. I refuse to be intimidated."
A spokesman for the National Trust said it "warmly welcomes all tour guides and visitors to the site, including those preferring free access".
"We carry out on-site market research continually in order to understand how the experience can be enhanced for all of our visitors, sharing this information with our tourism partners. Establishing the identity of a tour company is a standard part of this on-site practice," he said.
"With reference to Mr Dixon's concerns regarding the communication of free access to the Giant's Causeway, we do offer free access, however, we are clear that the £9.00 admission per visitor is competitive.
"This charge includes world class interpretation, guided tours, multiple language audio guides and on-site parking. Our charity invests all income from visitors to the site back into conservation.
"It is free to walk to the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site. In 2015, our charity welcomed 851,000 visitors, inclusive of free access visitors.
"The visitor experience is enhanced to world class standards when the story of this special place is told through the elements of the paid experience."