Parallel and tandem are different: cyclists please note!

Last week I wrote to The Observer‘s Readers’ Editor: ‘I was concerned to see that in The Observer leader ‘Questions the PM must answer before we act’ (22 November, page 44) you have twice used ‘in tandem’ when you mean ‘in parallel’ (middle of column 2 and top of column 3).  The former means one after the other, the latter at the same time.  I am sure you intended the latter.’

The Readers’ Editor, Stephen Pritchard replied: ‘Thank you for your email which I will show to the leader writer. If indeed he did mean “in parallel” (which I suspect he did) we will correct it.’

Nothing has happened yet, the leader here still contains ‘in tandem’ twice and I could find no correction in today’s paper.  It is a common and irritating mistake.

It would be nice if cyclists knew the difference too.  In their case the change should be from parallel to tandem. I get fed up with them riding in parallel, filling up our narrow lanes, instead of in tandem which gives a driver a chance to overtake them.









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Military charade

These anniversaries make me feel old!  Forty years ago today, 25 November 1975, the Sharp Inquiry into military training on Dartmoor opened in Exeter. I was still at university and skipped some lectures to take part—because what better training could I have for becoming a campaigner than participating in a public inquiry?

We had anticipated the inquiry for some time.  In 1973 the report of the Defence Lands (Nugent) Committee was published.  The committee had been appointed to review the holding of land in the UK by the armed forces for defence purposes (with particular reference to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty), and to recommend to the Secretary of State for Defence what changes should be made to the holdings and to public access there.   A significant area of the Dartmoor National Park was (and still is) used for military training—live firing and ‘dry’ training (ie no live ammunition but still noisy and dangerous).

Looking north from Fur Tor into the Okehampton range

Looking north from Fur Tor into the Okehampton range

The Nugent Committee’s conclusions on Dartmoor were deeply disappointing, with a minor reduction in the size of the Okehampton range, disposal of a couple of small sites (Rippon Tor rifle range and Plasterdown Camp) and extension of public access on the Okehampton range by ensuring there was no live firing at weekends and a few other times.

However, John Cripps, a member of the committee and chairman of the Countryside Commission, boldly issued a note of dissent.  He made a number of recommendations which would have made a real difference: restriction in, and consolidation of, the use of the ranges; disposal of the 3,877-acre Willsworthy range; transfer of the live firing from Merrivale to Okehampton.  He proposed that a search be made outside the national park for a live-firing range and, if that was unsuccessful, the Commando Training Centre should be relocated elsewhere in the UK.  Moreover, he recommended that: ‘a public inquiry be held early in 1975 to recommend how the training requirements of Commando Forces Royal Marines and the Commando Training Centre can best be met outside and, to the extent that is essential, within the Dartmoor National Park.’

Langstone menhir, a prehistoric standing-stone damaged by military target-practice

Langstone menhir, a prehistoric standing-stone damaged by military target-practice

The government, in responding to the Nugent Report, accepted that there should be a public inquiry in 1975 to consider ‘how, in the light of the circumstances then existing, essential defence needs in the south-west can be met’.

Most of the land over which the armed forces train on Dartmoor is licensed to the Ministry of Defence by the Duchy of Cornwall.  The licences were due to expire in 1970 and the MoD sought a 14-year extension.  However the Duchy would not agree to this because of the objections from the amenity societies and Countryside Commission. The latter urged that the renewal be for five years only, and that at the end of that time all military training in the national park should cease.  The defence secretary would not of course agree and he undertook that, at the end of year five, there should be a comprehensive review to ‘ascertain to what extent there would be a continuing need for all or any of the training areas of Dartmoor’.  On this basis the Duchy agreed to a seven-year renewal of the licence.

And so the public inquiry was convened, stemming both from the government response to Nugent and the promise of a review when the licence was renewed in 1970.  The terms of reference were as follows.

Having regard to all relevant factors, including:

(a) the purposes for which the national park was designated;

(b) the economic constraints set out in the Statement on the Report of the Defence Lands Committee;

(c) the need for the army and Royal Marines units based in the south-west to retain their present bases and to have training facilities in the area;

(d) public and local opinion on Dartmoor and at possible alternative locations.

To consider:

(1)  Whether and to what extent the training needs of the army and Royal Marines which are at present being met in the Dartmoor National Park could, without unacceptable loss of efficiency, be met elsewhere.

(2) In the light of (1) above, what changes, if any, should be made in defence land holdings on Dartmoor and in the extent and nature of their use.

To make recommendations.

We arrived at the inquiry that Tuesday morning with some hope that at last the case against the continued battering of Dartmoor with military shellfire would be given a fair hearing.  Sylvia Sayer (who appeared as an individual) recalled in her evidence her experience of previous inquiries into the military on Dartmoor, starting with ‘the sad and farcical inquiry of 1947, the first public inquiry I ever attended and the octogenarian Hansford Worth’s last.  I remember the inspector’s refusal to allow Mr Worth to make his statement orally, and Mr Worth’s quiet comment “I expected this” as he handed it in.’

The terms of reference invited us to provide evidence and opinions on how the military’s training needs could ‘be met elsewhere’.  And so Sylvia and others prepared detailed submissions on alternative training sites in Britain and overseas.  It was a bitter blow when the inspector, Baroness Sharp, announced at the start that the inquiry would only consider alternative training sites in the South West.  The terms of reference had no such restriction, and the objectors protested loudly.

The objectors were represented by barrister Michael Howard (later to become an MP, and Leader of the Conservative Party 2003-5) for the Countryside Commission and Dartmoor National Park Committee; Lord Foot for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, and Jerry Pearlman for the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, Ramblers’ Association and Youth Hostels Association.   They argued strongly that the restricted terms of reference made the inquiry a charade—we all knew that there were no such alternatives in the South West.

From Roos Tor looking into the Merrivale range to Great Mis Tor

From Roos Tor looking into the Merrivale range to Great Mis Tor

The Western Morning News for 26 November recorded that ‘There was an immediate row over what evidence could and could not be given.  … Baroness Evelyn Sharp, who was formerly one of Britain’s top civil servants and who is conducting the inquiry, agreed that the terms of reference were not crystal clear.’  John Foot said that ‘It would be illogical to interpret the preamable in the terms of reference in the restricted way in which you would appear to have in mind’.  Konrad Schiemann, counsel for the MoD, countered that if Lady Sayer was able to suggest that training areas should be moved elsewhere ‘we are going to be a travelling circus, because then you would need to have regard to local opinion about each alternative site all around the country—or in Gibraltar or wherever’.  Sylvia responded that ‘If we cannot discuss in the light of new circumstances whether bases near Dartmoor are still necessary, then we will be very severely handicapped.’  And of course we were.

Eventually Lady Sharp agreed to ask the ministers (Roy Mason for defence and Anthony Crosland for environment) for confirmation of the interpretation of the terms of reference, and the inquiry got under way.  On day 3, Thursday 27 November, the answer came back—the terms of reference were to be taken to mean that the army and Royal Marines would stay in the South West.  We could only propose alternative sites in the South West.  In effect, as we all knew there were no such sites, we could only discuss mitigation, with no chance to free Dartmoor from its military incubus.

Lints Tor in the Okehampton range

Lints Tor in the Okehampton range

Nevertheless it was gripping stuff and I was there most days.  I particular enjoyed cross-examining Major General Pounds, Commanding Commando Forces, Royal Marines, the military’s principal witness.  (I now learn, from his obituary in the Telegraph, that he had retired to an Exmouth bookshop but came out of retirement at about the time of the inquiry).  This was my first foray into cross examination, and I asked him: ‘Are you satisfied with your present arrangements for the removal of live ammunition from the ranges after firing?’

‘Yes,’ he replied.

‘Well’, I said triumphantly, ‘Lady Sharp, you will see from my evidence that an arrangement which the army feels to be satisfactory is very likely to cause serious injury or fatality.’

When I later gave my evidence I presented a photograph, similar to the one below, of what I believed to be an unexploded missile on Dartmoor and made the point that while the military occupied the national park the public would always be at risk.

Unexploded missile on Dartmoor

Unexploded missile on Dartmoor

In fact, under questioning from Jerry Pearlman, General Pounds did concede that ‘We do agree that the aims of the national park and the services are incompatible’. This was an important admission and led to Lady Sharp writing in her report: ‘I accept that military training and a national park are discordant, incongruous and inconsistent’, and that ‘on Dartmoor military training is exceedingly damaging to the national park’.

Ugly look-out hut on Oke Tor

Ugly look-out hut on Oke Tor

Our objections were, among other things, to the restrictions to public access, danger to the public, the visual intrusion of look-out huts, flag poles and targets in wild country, military roads extending far into central Dartmoor and used by civilian cars, damage to ancient monuments and noise.  The Sharp Inquiry made little immediate change although over the years there have been some improvements, in particular the removal of shell and mortar firing and the closure of the military roads to civilian traffic.  But Lady Sharp’s pronouncements about the conflict between military training and a national park hold true today.




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‘To venge the common right’

On the night of 6 March 1866, 120 navvies marched from Tring Station to Berkhamsted Common in Hertfordshire to fell the unlawful fencing erected by the landowner Lord Brownlow.  To celebrate the 150th anniversary of this event the National Trust has staged an excellent exhibition at the Ashridge visitor centre.

1 exhib

Lord Brownlow, egged on by his mother Lady Marian (who claimed the townsfolk had little interest in their common), had erected two five-foot-high fences with seven horizontal rails.

Lord Brownlow

Lord Brownlow

Marian Alford

Marian Alford










The site of the fencing on the common

The site of the fencing on the common

According to the History of Berkhamsted Common by George H Whybrow, ‘one ran alongside the Ringshall road, from the point where the common begins to broaden out on the east, and as far as the south-west corner of the park. That made it impossible for anyone to get to the main part of the common from the Northchurch side.  The other fence was from the corner of Frithsden Beeches, where a road runs down to Frithsden, and it terminated at the edge of the common near the old rifle range.  This effectively shut off the main part of the common from the eastern side.’

Map showing the fences (emphasised in black)

Map showing the fences (emphasised in black)

The enclosure was about 400 acres, roughly the same area as had been enclosed by King Charles in the 1640s before the tenants, the Edlyns, pulled down the fences.

The Commons Preservation Society had been formed in 1865, the year before the fences went up, and fortunately there was a wealthy commoner, Augustus Smith (Lord of Scilly). Under the society’s auspices he was prepared to take direct action.

August Smith

Augustus Smith

Hence the navvies congregated at Euston Station, went by special train to Tring Station, marched three miles to the common and pulled down the fences.  It is recorded graphically in an anonymous poem published in Punch a fortnight later: A Lay of Modern England (a parody of Macaulay’s Horatius (A Lay Made about the Year of the City CCCLX).

Berko leaflet 1Augustus Smith of Scilly,
By Piper’s Hole he swore
That the proud Lord of Brownlow
Should keep the waste nor more.
By Piper’s Hole he swore it,
And named a trysting night,
And bade his myrmidons ride forth.
By special train from London’s north,
To venge the Common Right.

The poem describes the event at length, with frequent references to the navvies’ hope for beer. In fact their contractor drank too much at Euston Station and George Mickelwright, confidential clerk to the Commons Preservation Society’s solicitor P H Lawrence, is believed to have stepped into the breach and led the navvies to the common.

The National Trust's anniversary walk around where the fencing was

The National Trust’s anniversary walk around where the fencing was erected

There, miles of iron railing
Scowled grimly in the dark,
Making what once was Common
The Lord of Brownlow’s Park:
His rights that Lord asserted,
Rights which they hold a myth,
The bold Berkhamsted Commoners,
Led by Augustus Smith.

Spoke out their nameless Leader,
‘That railing must go down.’
Then firmer grasped the crowbar
Those hands so strong and brown.
They march against the railing,
They lay the crowbars low,
And down and down for many a yard
The costly railings go.

It is recorded that the job was completed by six am, with the railings left in neat heaps on the ground.  By seven o’clock the alarm was given but in the meantime the inhabitants of the villages had ‘flocked upon the scene’ and taken away ‘morsels of gorse to prove, as they said, the place was their own again’.

The National Trust’s exhibition celebrates the event and the common.  It has been put together by the Ashridge ranger, Emily Smith, who has done a great deal of thorough research. I photographed her next to some iron railings which were found on the common, which the trust believes date from about the time of the navvies: could they be the very ones (the only difference is that there are eight railings not seven)?

Emily Smith and the iron railings

Emily Smith and the iron railings.

The iron railings. The tags are comments left by visitors

The iron railings. The tags are comments left by visitors










Emily found a poster from 1870 calling on people to pull down fences erected by Lord Spencer on Wandsworth Common in London.  It shows that the Berkhamsted escapade was well known.  At the bottom it says:

Follow the Noble Example of Mr Augustus Smith, who destroyed three miles of fence on Berkhampstead Common; the men of Wigton who broke down the fence erected by the Earl of Galloway; the men of Buckinghamshire who broke down the fences on Northall Common; the men of Surrey who broke down the fences on Shalford Common and so preserved their rights! Men of Battersea and Wandsworth, GO AND DO THOU LIKEWISE!

2 exhib


In a panel about the two societies, the National Trust has recognised the role of the Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society) in saving Berkhamsted Common from enclosure.

6 exhib

The exhibition is at the visitor centre until 31 March 2016, entry is free.  You can pick up a leaflet (illustrated above) of the waymarked commemorative walk from Dick’s Camp car- park on the B4506 (just south of the Aldbury turning) which follows the route of Lord Brownlow’s enclosure.

On the actual anniversary, Sunday 6 March 2016, there is to be a celebratory guided walk led by Emily and archaeologist Gary Marshall followed by barbeque (you must book ahead).  I shall be there to speak for the Open Spaces Society.  It should be fun.

The Countryside and Communities Research Institute at Gloucester University has made a video of the story of Berkhamsted Common, as part of its online courses on commons. You can watch it here.

Posted in Access, campaigns, common land, common rights, commons, National Trust, Open Spaces Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cambrian Mountains: unfinished business

With the government’s welcome announcement last month that the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks are to be extended, another chapter in the long history of our protected landscapes closes.  But the vision of Arthur Hobhouse in 1947 has still not been achieved in full.  There is the unresolved question of the Cambrian Mountains in mid Wales.

Above the Elan Valley

Above the Elan Valley

I was there a few weeks ago for the AGM of the excellent Cambrian Mountains Society, and I walked with the society’s secretary, Michael Rolt, on the Monks’ Trod above the Elan Valley.  It is wild and remote, with grand, sweeping panoramas.  It struck me as extraordinary that the mountains have no landscape protection whatever.  Indeed, if the Welsh Government had its way, they would be peppered with wind turbines.  Fortunately the Westminster Government recently rejected five applications for wind farms in Powys; the Welsh Government might have responded differently.

The Report of the National Parks Committee (the Hobhouse Report) in 1947 recommended 12 national parks in England and Wales, and these areas have all been designated, albeit with different boundaries.  The committee also recommended the designation of 52 Conservation Areas.   Most of these are now protected as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), but two on the list are among the few still excluded: Plynlimon and the Elenith Mountains, which occupy a significant proportion of the Cambrian Mountains.

The map with the Hobhouse report. Proposed mid-Wales conservation areas in pale green.

The map accompanying the Hobhouse Report. Proposed mid-Wales conservation areas in pale green.

The National Parks Commission, the designating authority, in 1965 agreed to start the process of achieving a Mid Wales National Park, and this was taken up by the commission’s successor, the Countryside Commission.  Eventually, amid opposition from the Country Landowners’ Association among others, the commission published an order designating the Cambrian Mountains National Park, 467 square miles of glorious countryside, on the centenary of the first national park, Yellowstone, in 1972.

The slopes of Pumlumon. Photo: Liz Fleming-Williams

The slopes of Pumlumon. Photo: Liz Fleming-Williams

Things went quiet after that until, in 1973, the Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Thomas, announced that he had rejected the order.  He gave no solid reason. However he did say that it would be more appropriate to designate the area as an AONB.  Nothing significant happened until 2005 when the Cambrian Mountains Society was formed to pursue the campaign.  For the last ten years they have done a great job and never miss an opportunity to argue the case.

The Elan valley. Photo: Liz Fleming-Williams

The Elan valley. Photo: Liz Fleming-Williams

A couple of encouraging things have happened in the last few weeks.  Two days before the CMS AGM the Welsh Government released the report National Landscapes: realising their potential. This followed the review of the designated landscapes in Wales undertaken by a panel consisting of Terry Marsden, John Lloyd Jones and Ruth Williams, all of whom appreciate fine landscapes.  The government sat on the recommendations for some time but has at last released them and it is good that the report spells out the value of Wales’s special landscapes to residents and visitors.  Although it does not recommend new designations, it raises the profile of the protected landscapes and provides an opportunity for the CMS to promote its case for the Cambrian Mountains to join them.

The other piece of good news is that the Elan Valley Trust and its partners have secured Heritage Lottery Funding to safeguard the heritage of the Elan Valley and provide opportunities for people there.  The Elan Valley is in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains and this funding will demonstrate how crucial this place is to the culture and well-being of Wales.

I have offered to help the CMS with its renewed campaign for an AONB.  It won’t be easy. The decision maker is Natural Resources Wales, the successor but one to the Countryside Commission (the Countryside Council for Wales existed in between them); it is the designating body, but unlike the Countryside Commission it has been sucked into the Welsh Government, with the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission added to it.

We shall have to find the right arguments to persuade NRW of the importance of this task. And then the Welsh Government must confirm the designating order, so it too must be persuaded.  But it’s worth the fight.  This is an immensely worthwhile campaign and, until it is realised, the mountains will continue to be under threat.  They too deserve proper protection.

Posted in AONB, campaigns, Natural Resources Wales, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pathwatch at Chillaton

Last August my friend Hil Marshall suggested a walk from Chillaton in west Devon.  I had never walked from there so was pleased to join her.

Chillaton is to the west of Dartmoor (about seven miles north-west of Tavistock), with deep river valleys and rolling green hills.  The views to the moor are lovely.


View west to Dartmoor

View west to Dartmoor

It was only after we had set out that I realised I could tick off a couple of squares for the Ramblers’ Big Pathwatch.  This requires you to select a grid square and walk every public path shown on the 1:25000 Ordnance Survey map, recording the good and bad things you find.  It was easy to knock off a couple of squares (SX 4281 and 4381) on our Chillaton walk as we were walking every path depicted.

2 Hil walking

The survey made the walk more enjoyable, because we thought about the state of the paths.  This was dairy-cattle country and there was too much electric fencing around the insides of the hedges: you had to duck as soon as you had crossed the boundary.  However, there were many good features too—the wide views and the magnificent oak tree at the bottom of the hill.

Oak tree

Oak tree

We only walked a few miles, but the route had pleasant variety between open fields, scrubby bits and woodland.

4 path

The Big Pathwatch is the first comprehensive survey of all the public paths in England and Wales, and the results will give the Ramblers a good idea of the state of the network—essential information to support the campaign to get paths open.

The Big Pathwatch runs until 1 January, so it’s time to sign up and get walking!

3 BW sign

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Holne from Holne

When voting for myself (as one does) for the Great Outdoors magazine’s Outdoor Personality of the Year Award, I saw that the Holne community shop and tearoom on south-east Dartmoor had been nominated for the Walkers’ Café of the Year Award, and I voted for it too.  (You can do so here, before 15 November.)

I have a happy memory of a visit to the tearoom on 27 April 2007.  I had been invited to chat to Lindsey Sill of the Mid-Devon Advertiser, and we had agreed to meet at Holne.  I was staying with my friends Pat and Rozel Lawlor and their three rough-haired dachshunds, Gromit, Diva and Pip.  Gromit was my special friend and I could see that, as I set off for the moor, he wanted to come.  So he got into the front seat of my car, proud to be the Campaigner’s Dog.

Setting off with Gromit, proud to be the Campaigner's Dog

Setting off with Gromit, Campaigner’s Dog


Welcoming sign

Welcoming sign

When we met Lindsey she said she would prefer to do the interview indoors rather than walking and talking.  So we repaired to the Holne café, which welcomed us all, including Gromit.  He would have hated to have been left in the car, and instead he sat placidly under the table while we talked.

Subsequently in 2011, Holne villagers formed a co-operative and in 2014 raised enough funds to buy the premises with the help of the Charity Bank and local shareholders.  Community volunteers have run the shop ever since, and it is registered with South Hams District Council as an Asset of Community Value, which gives it greater protection.

The café was, and still is, friendly and accommodating.  Gromit found it most acceptable and it takes pride in its dog-friendly tearoom.  The refreshments are excellent, and the shop stocks a good range of local produce and crafts. It is also an information point for the Dartmoor National Park.  It is just the sort of place that walkers are pleased to find.

And afterwards, on that April morning I strolled with Gromit along the Wheal Emma leat, the trees just coming into leaf.  I enjoyed the views over the Double Dart while Gromit searched for rabbits.

Looking for rabbits

Looking for rabbits

Across the Double Dart to Eagle Rock and Sharp Tor

Across the Double Dart to Eagle Rock and Sharp Tor








It was one of those days which lives in my memory.  The Holne community shop deserves to win the award.Holne leaflet

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Walkers Are Welcome towns—our time has come

Last Sunday the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network held its AGM in Whitchurch, Shropshire.  Whitchurch Walkers Are Welcome (WAW) did us proud, it is a fine town with plenty of excellent walking opportunities.  It was a shame we did not have the time to explore them.

I had a quick look at part of the town, in the rain.  St Alkmund’s church (1712-13) has the largest eighteenth-century tower in Shropshire outside Shrewsbury.  It is built of red sandstone and is visible from much of the town.

St Alkmund's church

St Alkmund’s church

No 21 High Street is now appropriately named.  Pevsner says it ‘has a symmetrical timber-framed front of 1677 (much pulled about)’.

No 21, High Street

No 21, High Street

Opposite is the bank, which Pevsner observes is  ‘spick-and-span timber-framed, with four gables, an imitation taller than any local original building.  Well-meaning but preumptuous.’

'Well-meaning but presumptuous'

‘Well-meaning but presumptuous’

I would have loved to have seen more, but we had a packed timetable in the Archibald Worthington Club.   We had a good representation from WAW towns in England, Scotland and Wales.  Over the last year the towns have been producing squares for our banner, and some of the squares were displayed.

1 quilt

There was a lot of discussion and swapping of ideas of how to promote walking and get the most out of the walking festivals.  We had a short presentation from Otley who are preparing the Welcome Way, a 28-mile route taking in the Yorkshire WAW towns of Baildon, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Otley, with a Bingley loop.  We also heard about next year’s get-together, to be organised by the three WAW towns in Lincolnshire: Caistor, Horncastle and Market Rasen.  It is good that towns are working together as it increases our clout and capacity.

After lunch and before the AGM I gave a little update of our walking world.

I said that Walkers Are Welcome towns have never been more relevant.  We are not just a group of walkers.  We are a movement whose time has come.  Everyone now is talking about the importance of walking to the economy.  The recent House of Commons debate on the economic value of outdoor recreation reflects the high profile of this issue.

In that debate Walkers Are Welcome was mentioned twice, by David Rutley MP for Macclesfield who referred to Bollington and Disley in his constituency, and James Heappy, MP for Wells, who spoke of Cheddar and Burnham-on-Sea, we did not even know the latter was applying!  The parliamentary under-secretary for Culture Media and Sport, Tracey Crouch, responded with some helpful statistics—people who visit England to go walking spend £1.8 billion a year.

Tough times
We are all facing tough times, with drastic cuts in expenditure at government and local authority level.  Walkers Are Welcome towns are campaigners, working for beneficial change for the walking public and we need to target the decision makers.  They may be our county or unitary councillors who are responsible for the paths, or our MPs.  It is great to get your MPs involved in your work, to invite them on walks and show them what you are achieving.  Norman Lamb, MP for north Norfolk, joined the Cromer Walkers are Welcome at Erpingham church the other day, to celebrate the 600th anniversary of Agincourt.

At Erpingham church, Norfolk where Aylsham and Cromer WAW towns and Norman Lamb MP congregated

At Erpingham church, Norfolk where Aylsham and Cromer WAW towns and Norman Lamb MP congregated

There are some worrying things happening—the Welsh Government has recently issued a consultation paper on access and recreation in which it floats the idea of Scottish-style access in Wales (good), but then proceeds to denigrate the path network, claiming it is expensive and burdensome.  What happens in Wales may happen in England later, so we need to look across our borders.

Cherish the ordinary
While our named routes are splendid, we also need to cherish the ordinary paths—the history of our landscape is written in the path network.  With the likelihood that definitive maps in England and Wales will be closed on 1 January 2026 to further path claims based on historical evidence, we need to research those unrecorded ways which are not being used and ensure we have applied for their inclusion before it’s too late and they are closed for ever.

Limestone pavement on Little Asby Common, between Orton and Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, which will be included within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo: Friends of the Lake District

Limestone pavement on Little Asby Common, between Orton and Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria, which will be included within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo: Friends of the Lake District

On the bright side we can applaud the extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks to include the land which was omitted when they were designated in the 1950s.  And coastal access is being extended around England, thanks to the efforts of Natural England and Ramblers and a welcome injection of funds from the government.

We have plenty to celebrate, and we must not undersell ourselves.  Walkers Are Welcome towns have a crucial role to fulfil and we deserve to be heard and respected.

Prees Heath common
I stayed at the excellent The Glas bed and breakfast at Dearnford, with Charles and Jane Bebbington in an attractive house which they built in a field eight years ago.  On Sunday morning I got up early to visit Prees Heath common, a couple of miles south of Whitchurch.  In my Open Spaces Society role I have been involved in battles to protect it over the years.  In the 1990s there was a planning application to extract sand and gravel which was defeated.

Prees Heath common, south of Whitchurch, where I went before breakfast on Sunday

Prees Heath common, south of Whitchurch, where I went before breakfast on Sunday

Now it belongs to Butterfly Conservation and is well managed.  Charles Bebbington is a retired local farmer, and he told me that he was called in to plough up the common, burying the top soil which had been enriched with chicken manure, to enable heather to be seeded there.6 sign

It is now home to a number of butterflies, included the Silver-studded Blue.  A lovely spot, it is well worth a visit in the butterfly season or indeed at any time of year.

Posted in Access, campaigns, Public paths, Walkers Are Welcome Towns, walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment