Monday, October 15

The Internet as Historical Document - Safeguard those Rights of Way (cont)

It was with some irritation I hit the footpath on the morning of Saturday October 5th, slightly ahead of a single horse rider who had just left the field attached to an adjacent bungalow.

I kept a good stomp up from the outset in an attempt to not impede their progress, and they quickly fell away behind me. Well as I said on the last post, the path was narrow in places. And as to why I didn’t wait for them to go ahead? Well ever tried following a horse for any distance? I’m all for smells of the countryside, but its nice to have the choice, rather than have it made for you.

Half a mile further along I swung onto an interconnecting Public Footpath, off the bridleway, ready to cross two fields towards a local road. Part of the 45 minute figure-of-eight route many locals have used for years - indeed footpaths that had been adopted by myself to safeguard their continued availability. So one in which I have a vested interest of care.

At a suitable point I stopped. Partly to pause and roll a cigarette in the morning sunshine. Partly to catch my breath after the early start to the stomp. But mostly I was curious to see what the rider would do next.

For I Had My Suspicions.

This path bordered crop fields and often carries traces of hoove prints, but to date there has never been any sign of the creators.

On this occasion my curiosity was rewarded as after a couple of minutes the rider turned off the bridleway to follow my own footsteps. She called to me as she rode up, seeking to bypass me and and go ahead. I suspect in part irritated herself that her daily ride had already been disrupted in some small way by my presence. A passing conversation then engaged as she cantered up and past me. I politely pointing out that the path (or more precisely the part of the field that she was now crossing) was off the Bridleway and had the status of a Public Footpath. This was countered with her argument as to why I was therefore using the path with two dogs!


Oh what fun that comment sparked off as I chose my next words carefully and still most politely pointed out that myself and the dogs had every right to use the path. However she and her horse did not. And that if she wished to debate the differences concerning the statutory usage of Footpath V Bridleway I was more than happy to do so in detail having made myself aware of the key distinctions as part of my footpath adoption role.

Predictably her canter then broke into a gallop on across the field, but with a parting shot to the effect "Well I’m not hurting anybody doing this".

Of course the dear lady was correct in her own way, and seemed sure that her viewpoint was acceptable. This was a mature local adult rider, not some child from the local riding stable on an hour’s rental ride, unsure of their route, but trying to use bluster to cover up their lack of knowledge.

Later on, as I completed the loop of my walk, I again met the rider crossing the road as she re-entered her field. Her ride now complete. But there was a pointed aversion of the eyes, a refusal to recognise the presence of the dogs or myself. Must have been the traffic I guess? Or then again maybe not.

So was my action mean minded or petty to the extreme? And was she indeed correct in her assertion about her harmless action?

Better to ask the farmer whose crops are repeatedly trampled each year by repeated horse crossings, avoiding the narrow path that the pedestrians keep to along the the narrow strip of field edge.

And then during the wetter weather over the winter months ask the pedestrian trying to use this muddy path despite it now being churned up by the persistent use of heavy iron shoes.

But most of all ask the future users.

Because without recording this incident here any future attempt to get this footpath upgraded to a bridleway would be successful on the grounds that ‘usage is allowed as no one had ever had cause to complain’.

Well in this instance I did. And this is a formal statement of fact. One to which the Dorset County Council Rights Of Way Officer will be pointed in case of future questions as to accustomed usage.

For we all share the countryside. Mostly on a fair basis. But in some cases pressure groups will take advantage of poorly organised, or poorly informed groups despite any numerical supremacy. And those that care are often disheartened by the antics of those that do not, but expect the guardianship of such rights to be there at their whim.

This is nothing "serious" like a wind farm erection or closure of footpaths across private property. Just a single example of one walker making a stand, based on watching a public review hijacked by a minority interest. Standing up to prevent the rights of the many being ridden over roughshod. And please forgive the pun.

In my own little piece of the world it’s not a situation that I will sit back and allow to happen again now I understand more about the process and the spirit of the law.

And to balance this out a little. The New Forest, with miles of good bridleways and uninterrupted open land is a few miles down the road. Like the horse rider I use this particular route when time is short. But personally I prefer the open Forest land.

The riders of this locality however seem to be a little less flexible in their choice of trips out. Maybe.

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I know what you mean about the horses on footpaths, cyclists too. One of the local footpaths here is often used by horses even though there is a sign saying not too but then this summer the path became just about impassable because of nettles and other vegitation so a few horses running up and down it might have done some good in that instance. Bob.
Well Done John.

On my LEJOG walk I often had encounters with 'Nicley Brought Up Girls' on the horses on MY footpath. I pointed out to each of them the rights & wrongs of the situation, and to a 'man' they all looked down their noses at me as though I was raving mad! None of them (from memory about six or seven) had a single intelligent word to say on the subject.

Perhaps they should carry identification plates so that they can be reported, although to whom I am not sure! Perhaps a photograph posted to the local newspaper to name & shame might do the trick?

How about posted on the web? That would be good - a nice mugshot of the stupid on their horses with the date and time and place of the misdemenour.
I had the same thought leter - so working on the publish and shame pix as we speak
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