A mixed welcome in Norfolk

It was good to go to Swaffham, in Norfolk’s Brecklands, for the annual get-together of the Walkers Are Welcome Towns Network.  Swaffham is the only WAW town in East Anglia and it certainly gave us a great welcome, with an excellent meeting in a super venue.

Buttercross, Swaffham

Buttercross, Swaffham

Less welcoming was the shoot taking place on Castle Acre common on the afternoon of Saturday 19 October.  The Iceni Partnership, which organised the conference, arranged three walks for us.  I went on the Nar Valley Way from Castle Acre to West Acre and back (about three miles each way).  

Castle Acre priory

Castle Acre priory

The path runs along the north side of Castle Acre common which straddles the river.

Nar Valley Way alongside Castle Acre common

Nar Valley Way alongside Castle Acre common

The shooting was taking place on the common, which is public-access land.  The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives the public the right to walk on all commons which had no pre-existing access.

Shooting on the common

Shooting on the common

Landowners can carry out their own activities on access land, but they need to tell Natural England and advertise the access restriction.  In the case of shooting, obviously they must put up notices and arrange for people to be posted at all access points to prevent walkers from being shot.  There were no notices and no one to warn us.   The shooters didn’t stop when we passed by on the footpath.

I have complained to Norfolk County Council, the access authority, but so far have not had a satisfactory response.  This was dangerous, walkers were at risk, and the incident should be followed up to ensure it does not happen again.

West Acre common

West Acre common

The council should also arrange for access signs to be put up at all the access points access plaqueonto common land.   There was none on Castle Acre common nor on West Acre common, yet we passed some obvious access points.  For many, the rights to enjoy these commons are a well-kept secret.

The sign below (not a county council one) on West Acre Common exacerbates the confusion.  Yes, strictly speaking, it is private property, just as all land in this country belongs to someone, but those words in large letters are off-putting to walkers.  Then if we read on, we see that we ‘are welcome’, as if the landowner is generously giving us permission, whereas of course we have the right to walk here.  A county council public-access sign would make things clearer.

Sign on West Acre common

Sign on West Acre common

Path maintenance in Norfolk is patchy and inconsistent.  The total recorded network is about 2,400 miles.  Half this length, 1,200 miles, is branded Norfolk Trails. These routes get higher priority and waymarking.  The stretch of the Nar Valley Way which we walked is well signed with sparkling new waymarks.

There are more waymarks on the Nar Valley Way than on the unpromoted paths

There are more waymarks on the Nar Valley Way than on the unpromoted paths

The unpromoted routes are not so well cared for.  Of course all the paths are public highways, and Norfolk County Council has a duty to keep them all in good order. This two-tier system is damaging for those which are not named trails.  

Norfolk has fewer paths than many counties, due to the predominance of influential landowners when the definitive maps were prepared in the 1950s, so it really has no excuse for neglecting any of them.

(Since writing this I learn that, in a survey by the National Highways & Transport Network, Norfolk ranks bottom (ie 25th out of 25) for public satisfaction with the maintenance of its public rights of way.  So it seems that this hierarchy system is clearly not working.)

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About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, common land, Natural England, Walkers Are Welcome Towns and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to A mixed welcome in Norfolk

  1. While the Norfolk paths are better than they were when I was an undergraduate in Norwich (89-92) they are certainly patchy now. Good by the big trails, non-existent elsewhere. I have complained about some paths to the council and the RA but didn’t get a response from either – what is the point of the RA online paths complaint form if complaints are ignored?

    • Geoff Mullett says:

      I thought all the RA did when receiving an online report was to pass it on to the local FP Officer. In my experience, some of these volunteers are far more active than others.

      • Geoff’s right, it goes to the Area footpath secretary. As AFS for Bucks, Milton Keynes and five outer London boroughs, I then pass it to the local path checker. I do try to follow up to ensure the report is checked, if necessary, and passed to the highway authority, and I try to encourage the reporter to join the Ramblers if he or she is not already a member.

  2. Geoff Mullett says:

    Just up the road in Lincolnshire, the Council operates a 4-tier priority system (this year, next year, sometime, never). As always, they cite budget cuts, but my local Council, East Lindsey, has gone a step further, removing fingerposts and either end of a RoW if there is an obstruction along the route that makes the route unwalkable. In one area, I have recorded 85 missing signs over 17 Parishes, and there must be many more. They then have the nerve to say the paths are not worth clearing because nobody walks them!

  3. Sylvia Ronan says:

    In Cornwall, it seems to be never ! Then waste a lot of Public Money on Hearings which would not have been necessary had the correct proceedings been adhered to.

  4. Helpful if RA GFO’s were obliged to communicate with complainants so that we could all know what, if any, action had been taken.

  5. chris says:

    Keep ‘banging’ away Kate – as one of the walkers involved it was disturbing to find yourself in the middle of a shooting gallery – another case of NCC looking to sweep the problem (landed interest pressure?) under the table!

  6. Hazel Perham says:

    in responce to stravaigerjohn I would like to say that all this week as a ROW Officer in Cornwall for Ramblers I have been working my socks off with reporting and negotiating with our Cornwall Council, Parish and County Councillors and Landowners regarding obstructions and complaints from the public regarding ROW in my area. As Funding gets less and less and the ROW Section in our County Council seems non existent, life becomes more and more fraught especially when trying to relay Councils reply to the complainants. It needs more of the public to report incidents involving PROW to their Councils, MPs and Parish Councils.

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