My visit to Hidcote Manor garden in Gloucestershire on 20 June this year was the first time I had shown my National Trust card and gone in by the main entrance.
In 1989 and for some years after I visited using the public footpaths which crossed the garden—although I did so with some difficulty since they had been obstructed by hedges, locked gates and other paraphernalia.
The matter came to my attention in May 1989 when Cotswold District Council made a diversion and extinguishment order to move the blocked paths around the illegal obstructions in the garden. The Open Spaces Society’s policy is normally to object to the diversion of obstructed paths, since paths should be reopened as required by law rather than diverted to avoid the blockage. In fact, the society’s former local correspondent for the area, Peter Newman, had objected to the diversions in 1985.
I walked through the garden, making use of Ebrington footpaths HEB6 and 8, and found the obstructions. I had to make the necessary deviations to enable me to continue my journey.
The Open Spaces Society objected to the diversion and extinguishment and wrote to the National Trust and Gloucestershire County Council, pointing out that there were ten obstructions on 835 metres of public footpath at Hidcote. The obstructions were:
HEB 8: a thick hedge, an unopenable door marked ‘private’, a padlocked gate
HEB 6: four hedges and two fences
HEB 5: fence
The OSS also issued a press release which received good publicity and caused some outrage from the tenant farmer. Other objectors appeared, but unfortunately the Ramblers Gloucestershire Area did not object to the order.
Correspondence continued for some years. At first Gloucestershire County Council was defensive, claiming that the definitive map (the legal record) was wrong. However, it relented and the National Trust did largely reopen the paths. On 13 July 1996 I led a walk of Ramblers’ Area secretaries, who were attending the Area secretaries’ conference in Warwick, on the public footpath through the garden.
Eventually, in March 1997 Gloucestershire County Council said that the orders would be withdrawn. After further discussion, and the offer of paths in addition to those created by the diversion, the OSS agreed not to object to a revised order and it was confirmed in August 1999—more than ten years after the original order.
The additional routes were one across the parkland adjoining the gardens, and a path parallel to the road leading to the car-park, which takes walkers off the road. It has a generous width, stated in the order: ‘to be an enclosed width of a minimum of 2m at point U gradually widening from the gate at that point to a minimum of 4m wide and a maximum of 5m wide measured from the edge of the boundary adjacent to the unclassified road to the north, numbered 40518, leading to Hidcote Manor Gardens car park’. I have put a copy of the plan at the end of this blog; it is quite complicated!
When I visited on 20 June it was difficult to see where the paths had once run, and few people will remember that there were once paths across the garden. It is good to know that as a result of the Open Spaces Society’s objection to the 1989 order, we have useful additional paths which would not have otherwise been created.