Sunday 28 August 2005 was a landmark day in the south west of England. Ten years ago today the new access rights under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000 came into effect. This meant the public had the right to walk responsibly over mapped access-land—mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land.
Although Dartmoor already had its Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, giving the public the right to walk and ride over the commons, there were still many areas of open country where we could not go by right, and the CROW Act restored access to some of these places. I had spent much time in 2003 and 2004 exploring these Dartmoor sites and making submissions for their inclusion on the access maps. We won some and lost some.
The Ramblers, who had done so much work to achieve access, celebrated Access Day with a rally at Venford Reservoir on Dartmoor, in brilliant sunshine. John Skinner, Ramblers’ Devon Area access officer and I (then Ramblers’ chairman) were among the speakers.
There were representatives from the Countryside Agency (who were in charge of the mapping), the Dartmoor National Park Authority (who had worked hard to get stiles, gates and signs up), the Country Land and Business Association and the National Audit Office who were studying the effects of the new law.
Then 60 of us set off for a walk over Holne Moor, stopping for a break at Horns Cross.
One of the highlights was the walk across Huccaby newtake, from the moor below Henroost Mine to the road above Hexworthy. This was the first time we had walked there by right, although many had gone there before. It makes a big difference to walkers as it’s a long way round if you cannot cross the newtake.
The path claim, initiated by the late Ron Bagshaw, was the subject of two court cases and a public inquiry. The case was lost because the land belongs to the Crown, the Duchy of Cornwall, and so the normal laws for path claims do not apply. The tenant had locked the gates and put up private notices. Now these had all been removed and the national park authority had put in a stile.
This was the opportunity for another celebratory speech from me! Then we climbed the stile and had our lunch overlooking the beautiful Dart Valley. It was a memorable day.
While we celebrated on Dartmoor, it is important to remember that many other areas of access land were opened up in the South West, for instance on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Exmoor (Devon and Somerset) and the Quantock Hills in Somerset and on the many commons in between.
John Skinner had published a useful book, Something to CRoW about?, showing all the newly-mapped access land in Devon—I am lucky to have one; not surprisingly they proved to be extremely popular.