It’s lovely to have the right to walk on mapped access-land under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000. But, irritatingly, we have no guarantee of legally being able to enter some of that land except by parachute. In such ‘landlocked’ places you may have to trespass across non-access land to get there. The act conferred no duty to provide a means of access to access land.
This is a problem which has been exercising the East Riding and Derwent Ramblers, particularly in the Yorkshire Wolds—indeed the Ramblers’ general council passed a motion from the Area on this subject in 2007 and the matter has been discussed at subsequent council meetings (see my blog from last year). But it is also an issue within a mile of my home in the Chilterns, at Grays Lane Bank in the parish of Ibstone, Bucks.
Grays Lane Bank was the final piece of land to be added to the CROW access maps, in 2009. This small area was subject to two public inquiries and a legal challenge. It was initially mapped as access land in 2005 but the landowner, Mr Hamid Hakimzadeh, challenged this on a technicality in the courts, and the case for inclusion as access land was put to a public hearing in February 2008. The inspector, Mr Clive Kirkbride, had to be satisfied that the land was downland and thus within the definition of open country to which the public has a right of access.
The inspector concluded that the site ‘comprises predominantly unimproved calcareous (ie chalk) grassland with scrub and that it qualifies as down by virtue of its vegetation and other surface characteristics’. He also noted that there were good, long-distant, 180-degree views of the surrounding countryside, and that the site was generally open, forming part of a downland landscape (decision letter CROW/7/M/07/1, 27 March 2008).
No legal means
Although the land is adjacent to Ibstone bridleway 16 (which runs between Grays Lane, Ibstone, and Holloway Lane, Turville) there is no legal, unobstructed, means of access to it. You have to scramble up a steep bank and climb a gate.
This is permissible under the CROW Act provided one does no damage, but it is hardly encouraging. Unfortunately Bucks County Council, the access authority, has not yet pursued this. As it might involve court action, the council was unenthusiastic at the time and nothing happened. And now its budget has been severely cut.
I occasionally walk on Grays Lane Bank and ventured there the other day. It is an exhilarating hillside with a whole new perspective of the Turville valley. As so often occurred with the mapping for CROW access, this land looks the same as other land nearby. The definition of access land depended largely on the presence of various plant species but the distinctions between sites are often not obvious to the layman.
I am pleased we won the right to walk on Grays Lane Bank, even if it is a bit of a challenge to get in there. One day we’ll sort that out.