In pale autumn sunlight, on Sunday 7 October 2012, about 30 people gathered on the western bank of the River Thames near Shiplake in south Oxfordshire.
Most had walked there from Shiplake on a newly-claimed footpath, the completion of which they were there to celebrate. We had been summoned by Dave Ramm, the hero of the path, by whose dogged persistence and sheer hard work the campaign had been won.
The 257-metre path (foopath 38) runs east from Mill Road, Shiplake, past Lashbrook Chapel, under the railway line to join footpath 37 which proceeds to the river. Until the path was added to the definitive map, footpath 37 was a dead end.
Local Ramblers, inspired by Dave Ramm, began collecting user and historical evidence for this route in 1995, and they submitted an application for a definitive map modification order (DMMO) to Oxfordshire County Council, the highway authority, in 1998. The council rejected the application, so the Ramblers reapplied in 2002, having gathered more user evidence. Again, the county council rejected it so they appealed to the Secretary of State for Environment for a direction to the county to make the order. The appeal was upheld and, in 2008, the council made the order.
In May 2009 there was a public inquiry, at which many residents of Shiplake gave evidence of their long use of this path to the river. In fact, at the point where it meets the river it then turns south, upstream, on a fairly new riverside route around the curve of the river, but there is no route downstream from this point. It’s a dead end because the Lashbrook Ferry, which used to take it across the river from the late 1770s to about 1953, no longer exists.
The main opponent at the public inquiry was Brian Paterson, who had bought Brookfield to the north of the claimed route in 1996 and had challenged walkers’ use of it. However the inspector confirmed the order. At the last minute, Mr Paterson appealed to the High Court against the decision, and there was a hearing in February 2010 at which the Ramblers were represented. Mr Paterson argued that the public use was not ‘as of right’ because local people had private easements there. Fortunately the judge, Mr Justice Sales, upheld the inspector’s decision and the order was confirmed. You can read the judgment here.
It took a year to get the path in order, but it was certainly in a good state by the time we foregathered on the riverside, to drink champagne and unveil the information panel which Dave had designed. This was funded by the Ramblers, Shiplake Parish Council and the Thames Heritage Trust.
I spoke to the gathering in my capacity as Ramblers’ president. I said that this victory was achieved by a combination of the Ramblers’ campaigning and technical skills, and the determination and courage of local people who gave evidence of their long use of the path, without permission or being stopped–not easy when you are speaking against a neighbour.
The route now provides a vital and attractive link in the path network, enabling those using the Thames Path to reduce their somewhat tedious road-walking through Shiplake. As the Thames Path is a national trail, the claimed route is a win not just for local walkers but for the nation.
So after 17 years of campaigning, it is great that this path has been added to the definitive map, and can be used and enjoyed by all. Now we just need to get the stretch of path from Lashbrook Ferry upstream (which was made by a creation agreement in 1995) designated as the official Thames Path instead of the trudge along Mill Road into Shiplake. That’s the next campaign!