Trouble at the mill

As a property developer, Henry Pelly must surely know the law on public paths.  Yet he bought Luccombe Mill at Bratton, near Westbury in Wiltshire, apparently unaware that local people had, for decades, been enjoying the Watercress Walk which runs across his land.

The path runs between grid references ST 921520 and 922518, both on the Imber Road south-east of Bratton village, on land owned by Henry Pelly and Wessex Water.

Private notices 
Mr Pelly bought the mill last August.  When he put up private notices and barbed wire across the stiles, the local people put in an application to Wiltshire Council to add the path to the definitive map.  They have 78 witness statements to prove that the path has been walked continuously without challenge for more than 30 years, so there is a powerful case that this is already a public highway.  It is on Wiltshire Council’s register of definitive map applications here.


Katherine Beaumont and Liz and Phil Workman at the entrance to the footpath. Photo: Trevor Porter

One of the witnesses, Katherine Beaumont, sent Mr Pelly a letter of welcome.  He replied rather patronisingly that ‘There are many wonderful walks in this area clearly shown on the OS map and as a local I am sure you are aware of the alternative Wessex Water route to the spring—and not through our garden.’  It is tosh to claim the Watercress Way is through his garden, it runs through woodland some distance away, with hardly a view of the house.

Long use
The previous owner of the mill, Mary Seymour, deposited a statement in December 2015 under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980 declaring there were no public paths on her land.  However it is hard to believe that Mr Pelly bought the mill without knowing that people had long used the path and that the chances are that it is already a public highway.

I was on Radio Wiltshire this morning for the Open Spaces Society explaining that, provided there is good evidence of use for more than 20 years, the path is a highway and people have a right to continue using it.  I hope Wiltshire Council will swiftly determine the application so that this much-loved path is recorded, reopened and restored to the people.

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Lincolnshire Wolds, a well-kept secret

The Lincolnshire Wolds are probably the most unsung of our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but they are exquisite.  Last weekend I went to the Walkers Are Welcome towns annual get-together, hosted by the three Lincolnshire Wolds WAW towns of Caistor, Horncastle and Market Rasen.

On the Saturday morning there was a choice of walks and I opted for the wolds one, led by Gary Beighton.  We met in the square at Market Rasen where Gary told us something about the walk and introduced Colin Lingard, the back marker.


Gary Beighton welcomes us, Colin Linguard is on the left.

We crossed a field and entered Willingham Woods.  Market Rasen Walkers Are Welcome have published a leaflet about walking in the woods because not many people know about them, and it is easy to get lost there.  The woods belong to the Forestry Commission and are dedicated to access under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.  There are two public footpaths and numerous tracks, and a medieval hermitage in the centre with no recorded routes to or from it.  That needs rectification, it is highly unlikely that there are no historic public highways leading to this site.

Once out of the woods we had a lovely view of the Wolds in pale autumn sunshine.


View of the wolds

We climbed to the Ramblers’ church  with its window depicting walkers and cyclists.



Pevsner says the mediaeval church has been ‘very tactfully restored’ and it is simple and uncluttered.  We followed the Jubilee Way past the oak tree planted in memory of stalwart Grimsby rambler Nev Cole.


Plaque on the Viking Way at Walesby church

Then we followed the Jubilee Way along the ridge of the wolds, with some steep undulations.







Soon we met the Risby flock of Lincolnshire Longwool sheep, now a rare breed.


Lincolnshire Longwool sheep

There is a hut which is open to the public, full of leaflets and information about the sheep. The Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeders’ Association was founded in 1892.  You can buy cards and wool there.  The view from there is good, but it was too misty to see the spires of Lincoln cathedral.


At Risby on the Wolds

We continued on the downs a bit further and then descended to Tealby.


Descending to Tealby

We stopped for lunch by the fine, ironstone church, on a steep hill.


Tealby church

I peeled off to visit the point where the Jubilee Way crosses the River Rase on the south-east corner of the village.


Standing on the bridge, 31 years ago in August 1985, I made a little speech.   The Ramblers organised a walk around Great Britain to mark its fiftieth jubilee, and this took in part of the Viking Way.  As a committee member, I was invited to join the stretch from Tealby and to address the gathering at the start.  As explained in an earlier blog I used the opportunity to relate why the Ramblers would no longer follow the country code.

The walk home involved a long trek across the middle of large fields, but the farmer had at least run a tractor along the path.

big-fieldBack in Market Rasen the Walkers are Welcome towns had organised tea where I met David Rodger and Nick Jarvis, both project officers with the AONB.  They had a stand with many attractive leaflets of short walks.  It may be a small, little-known AONB but it is doing a great job to celebrate Lincolnshire’s special countryside.


Walesby church


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Heroic Hazel

No one could be more deserving of recognition for Ramblers’ volunteer effort than my friend Hazel Perham from Treverva in west Cornwall.  This week she received a certificate from the Ramblers for her outstanding contribution to walking.


Hazel, who tragically can no longer walk far because of illness, has devoted her life to improving conditions for walkers on the battlegrounds of West Cornwall.  For far too long Cornwall’s inland paths were in a deplorable condition, with severe blockages particularly through farmyards, and there was hostility to walkers (despite our contribution to the Cornish economy).

Small in stature but with huge courage, Hazel would combat these, and was a terrier at the heels of the council and intransigent landowners.

I was pleased to join Hazel, and her colleague Maureen Donovan, in opposing the diversion of Manaccan footpaths 7 and 21 at Trevaddra Farm on the Lizard peninsula where Cornwall County Council had connived with an obstructive landowner. We won following a public inquiry in 1996 at which I called Hazel as one of my witnesses, and we won our costs too. But two years earlier she had been with a group of ramblers who were accosted by the landowner, Edward Bone; he grabbed her and threw mud and dung at her.  Such charming behaviour was not unknown in Cornwall in those days.


Hazel (left) with Maureen Donovan











For years Hazel was footpath secretary for Kerrier, chairman of the Cornwall Ramblers’ Access Group and a pillar of the Penwith/Kerrier Group, regularly leading walks through her beloved countryside.

The best day
Says Hazel: As I sit in my chair remembering all my varied works and achievements for the Ramblers I chuckle to myself. The best day was when I got a very excited phone call from Head Office to tell me my name had just been read out in Parliament and a big cheer went up from the gallery. This happened after an awful lot of campaigning for access legislation, by continually writing to my MP Candy Atherton, and she told parliament I was always writing to her. The worst days were being bitten by a sheepdog in the back of the leg and another time was getting an electric shock from a heavy duty electric fence on the back of the head.  I’ve never been the same since.

Now Hazel keeps all her Facebook friends entertained with her many memories and photographs, particularly of Cornish life past and present.  She is a mine of information.

We have so much to thank Hazel for, and it is amazing that she has remained cheerful and smiling through all her adversities.  Thank you Hazel, you are a dear and loyal friend to all ramblers.


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Walkers Are Welcome: never more relevant

The 2016 Walkers Are Welcome Towns’ annual get-together was based on the three Lincolnshire towns of Caistor, Horncastle and Market Rasen.  As patron, I gave a brief talk at the AGM about the ‘state of the nations’.  Here it is.

I regret to say that I haven’t walked in Lincolnshire since I joined the Ramblers walk around Great Britain to celebrate its 50th Jubilee in 1985.  I walked a stretch of the Viking Way, and visited the Ramblers’ church in Walesby.


Walesby church

It was a joy to be back there again on Saturday on the walk led by Gary Beighton.  The church has the famous window depicting walkers and cyclists, with Christ walking through the cornfields and the words: And it came to pass that he went through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day.  In Lincolnshire, 31 years ago and probably today, he would surely have found his path blocked—despite the efforts of those stalwart Ramblers: Brett Collier, Nev Cole and Tom Dagwell and others of treasured memory.


Plaque on the Viking Way at Walesby church

And that’s where Walkers Are Welcome comes in.  We work to get the paths around our towns in good order, reporting problems and doing practical work and encouraging people to walk them.  It is now well known that walking is good for our health and good for the economy.  We must persuade our governments that money spent to improve the conditions for walkers is truly an investment and that to cut the path budget is a false economy.  In our towns we need to provide some hard evidence of the benefits of Walkers Are Welcome status.  Please gather facts and figures, even anecdotes, to show this and let us know.


We must chime with our governments’ aims.  In Wales this has been made easier. The Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 puts a duty on public bodies to work for: a globally-responsible Wales, a prosperous Wales, a resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, a more equal Wales, a Wales of cohesive communities and a Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language.  Walkers Are Welcome helps to achieve all of these.

Brexit has thrown everything into confusion, but there are opportunities too.  The new agricultural-funding regime should include a generous pot of money for access.  This can pay for new and improved access, and when landowners abuse their paths, their grant should be docked and the money added to the access pot.

In these uncertain times, we can look to our path network as something constant, reflecting our history and traditions.  But our definitive maps are incomplete and we need to apply for the addition of unrecorded, historic paths before they are lost on 1 January 2026—less than ten years away.  Rights-of-way user groups have organised training events run by experts Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey.  Chepstow Walkers Are Welcome helped to organise one last summer.  There will be more next year, watch the Restoring the Record website.  Walkers Are Welcome towns, who know their localities so well, can fill the gaps on the maps.

Now is the time to get alongside our elected representatives, to tell them what we do—for Walkers Are Welcome has never been more relevant.


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Like the Forth Bridge

Common Wood: part 10

No prizes for guessing what Common Wood, my land near Horndon on Dartmoor, and the Forth Bridge have in common.  

The Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) conservation volunteers spent their seventh day here on Monday 10 October—back on the same patch we had worked on 19 November 2012, our first day at Common Wood.

The DPA has a smart new vehicle for transporting volunteers and tools.  This was its first visit to Hillbridge Farm where we meet.  Derek Collins parked it in the field and Squaddie the horse was intrigued and had a lick.


Squaddie and Derek

We walked along the leat to Common Wood where Jenny Plackett of Butterfly Conservation advised that we return to the section of slope where we worked four years ago.  The vegetation had grown up and we needed to remove the encroaching gorse and bramble.


Before we started work


Jenny explains








This is to provide a suitable breeding ground and food plants for the Pearl-Bordered and Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary butterflies and their caterpillars.  The DPA volunteers are used to bashing bracken, but here they must preserve it because it provides shelter for nectar-rich violets and bugle, on which the butterflies feed.

Stephen Barrow and Derek Collins worked the brush-cutters to make paths through the site: helpful for visitors, and for the cattle which we hope will venture down from the top fields and trample the vegetation.




Newly-cut track






We worked all morning in glorious sunshine



with coffee and lunch breaks.


Lunch break

We carried the cut material down to the leat to build up the windrow which, four years on, had partially disappeared.  The hazel stanchions were still there to provide the framework.


Sylvia Hamilton: from Birnam Wood to Dunsinane


The windrow














Jenny and I went down to marshy bit at the bottom, which is important Rhôs pasture, to see how the vegetation was doing.  We hope to encourage Marsh Fritillaries and we did some work here in February.  Jenny felt that the vegetation was pretty good (the cattle from fields on the other side of the river can cross when the water is low).  It needs very little grazing for the next year or two, and another work day to remove encroaching willow and scrub.


The Rhos pasture

Then it was back to Hillbridge for tea, after an excellent day’s work.  But we know that our work at Common Wood will never be done.





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In the footsteps of Midland Ramblers

On 5 October about 60 Ramblers’ volunteers met at the Birmingham and Midland Institute to talk about their work to research and record historic routes.  We have to beat the 2026 guillotine, when many ancient, unrecorded routes will be extinguished. The path workers have a huge knowledge and ability and we all learnt a lot from each other.

It was especially good to meet at the Institute, a historic venue for Ramblers.  A plaque in the reception marks the centenary of the Institute Ramblers in 1994.  The Institute’s students and teachers formed a ramblers’ group in 1894, which was the forerunner of the Ramblers’ Midlands Federation.


Michael Bird, in The Midland Area of the Ramblers’ Association, 1930-1987 (download here) tells us:

The formation of the Midland Federation is described in a memoir written 45 years later, by George Skett of the Institute Ramblers, and is the only account we have: One Saturday afternoon in the early weeks of 1930, a party of Institute Ramblers could have been seen walking along the lower slopes of the Clent Hills, prior to returning to town for their Annual Meeting.  I, then a young man of twenty-eight and very young for my age, caught up with an older member, a Mr. Burton, and chatted about several footpath obstructions recently encountered.  We both regretted that no local footpath society existed to whom such matters could be referred.  During the evening Mr. Burton moved and I seconded a motion that steps should be taken to bring about the formation of such an organisation. Resulting from this motion, the Secretary of the Institute Ramblers, Alan Anderson, convened a meeting to which all local rambling clubs were invited to send representatives.

Inaugural meeting
That meeting was held on 9 September 1930 and was soon followed by a second meeting at the Institute on 13 November 1930; this was the inaugural meeting of the Midland Federation of Ramblers (which became part of the Ramblers in 1935).


The Birmingham and Midland Institute

Once definitive maps were established in law, the Midland Ramblers worked prodigiously to claim paths over a wide area.  I mention this in the foreword to the Midland Area history:

We forget just what an extensive territory the Area covered. That is particularly significant when we read of how its members claimed paths for the first definitive map of rights of way and then checked the draft maps for omissions. This was in the early fifties, when fewer people had cars—yet they had to cover an area from Montgomeryshire to Northamptonshire, from Staffordshire to Herefordshire, largely from the stronghold of Birmingham. It is hard to conceive now how they achieved this.

The work we must do today to ensure that unrecorded historic routes are saved is a similarly massive task.  We did it then and we shall do it now.






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Flag at half mast for ‘Mr Moreton’

The flag on Moretonhampstead church in Devon stood at half mast on 3 October in honour of Ian Mercer whose funeral was that day.  It was the first time in at least a generation that the flag had been at half mast for a resident (rather than royalty). That’s what Bill Field told me and he should know. He was evacuated to Moreton in 1939 and has lived there ever since.


We all learned new facts about Ian at the funeral.  I was already acquainted with some aspects of his very full life: warden of Slapton Ley field centre, Devon County Conservation Officer, Dartmoor National Park Officer, chief executive of the Countryside Council for Wales and secretary of the Association of National Park Authorities (the first in each case), as well as chairman of the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council and of the South West Uplands Federation, and president of the Field Studies Council and Devon Wildlife Trust, and much more.

Adrian Phillips, who had known Ian for 43 years, gave a thoughtful and fascinating address about his professional life, gleaned from his personal observations and the many tributes which people had sent.

Heart of the town
I didn’t know how vital Ian was to the Moretonhampstead community.  I learned from Bill Hardiman, chairman of the Moretonhampstead History Society (MHS), that Ian was ‘Mr Moreton’.  He lived at Ponsford House, in the heart of the town, for 40 years and flung himself into every local project.


Moretonhampstead from Mardon Down

He was chairman or president of the MHS for 36 years; he kept its AGMs admirably short and helped it with grant applications.  He was president of the rugby and cricket clubs, organising matches and keeping the balance between competitiveness and fun. He was a formidable driver  on the Bovey Castle golf course, able at the same time to point out the natural features of the upper Bovey valley or identify a bird song.


Stone circle on Mardon Down

He helped to ensure the continuing survival of the grade I listed church and was chairman of the Friends of St Andrews.  He led the carol singing in the White Hart on christmas eve and the more risqué renditions on new year’s eve. I have no idea how he found time for all this.

The church was packed for the funeral with people from all parts of Ian’s life.  The Dartmoor National Park rangers did a fine job helping with car-parking and ensuring that people signed the books so that the family know who was there.

Sweeping views
Before the service I walked on Mardon Down about Moretonhampstead with its sweeping views of the moor, and the town below.


Moretonhampstead from Mardon Down

When I last came up here in June 2007 I saw Dartford warblers.   I realised that this is where Richard Austin took the photo of Ian, his beloved binoculars on a string, with the backdrop of Hay Tor round to Hameldown.  It is on the Plymouth Herald website here.  I took a photo of a similar view.


Ian is buried in Moretonhampstead’s churchyard in the shadow of Mardon Down, the perfect spot for one who so loved the moor and the community where he lived for 40 years.


Mardon Down from Ian’s grave



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