Ramble 21 in Dave Ramm’s excellent book Rambling for Pleasure along the Thames is a lovely six-and-a-half-mile circuit from Henley. You walk anti-clockwise, through Remenham Wood to Aston, then Hambleden Lock, Mill End and back along the Thames to Henley. A perfect walk at any time of year.
But for more than a year the walk has been impossible because of the missing footbridge on Fawley footpath 12 across a side-stream at Fawley Court in Buckinghamshire. The path is barricaded one meadow to the south of this and there is a traffic regulation order (made under section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984) closing the route. I wrote about it last September. There is no safe alternative to this path; instead walkers have to use the dangerous A4155 Henley-Marlow road.
Understandably, local people are frustrated and angry at the lack of action. The Ramblers, Chiltern Society, Open Spaces Society and Henley Walkers Are Welcome, organised a protest walk on 16 November. None of us expected such a magnificent turn-out—more than 150 people from Henley and beyond.
We gathered at the southern end of the footpath, opposite the rugby ground.
It was reassuring to have police protection: two community support officers joined our walk. We set off on the path down to the river.
Then we turned left and followed the Thames in a long line
When we reached the barricade, at the start of the section which had been temporarily stopped up by the traffic regulation order, we were forced to halt.
I noticed that this barrier had been reinforced since my visit in September. One walker said that this had been done in the last 24 hours presumably in anticipation of our event, though of course we had no intention of proceeding further.
I stood on the bridge leading to the barricade and told the gathering the little I know of what was happening–which consists mostly of prevarication and obfuscation.
Buckinghamshire County Council as highway authority has a duty to replace the bridge, but there are evidently problems and the council is saying little, beyond that it is now in the hands of lawyers.
The council’s traffic regulation order to close part of the route runs until 16 December 2019 (having been renewed last June). The order can continue to be renewed every six months by the Secretary of State for Transport (whoever that may be) provided he or she agrees, and there is no opportunity for public objection or involvement. It is a lousy piece of legislation and we should campaign for it to be reformed.
There seems to be an impasse but no one is telling us exactly what the problem is. I suggested that we might offer to initiate a round-table meeting with the county council and the landowner to try to reach a resolution. Meanwhile, on behalf of the Open Spaces Society and Henley and Goring Ramblers, I have written to Aida Dellal at Fawley Court to ask if she would consider providing an alternative route so that people did not have to risk the dangerous road. I have received no reply.
I sincerely hope that this show of solidarity from so many local people will spur the county council into action, as it is vital that this footbridge is replaced forthwith.