It’s such a simple request, that the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council should dedicate a path across an open space which it bought, for £1.2 million in 2018, ‘for all residents to enjoy’.
The land is Battlemead Common (sadly not a registered common), more than 100 acres at the north-east corner of Maidenhead, close to people’s homes. Currently there is no access to more than half of it: East Field which links the open space to the Thames Path National Trail, is out of bounds.
I crossed East Field when we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Maidenhead millennium walk last September—the council allowed us to use the path for that event. This direct route is the missing link in the walk, which is an important trail linking Hurley with Maidenhead riverside; it connects with the Thames Path at both ends and provides several pleasant circular walks.
At all other times walkers are forced to follow the northern boundary of Battlemead, unable to enjoy the direct route which links to the Thames Path, with glorious views of Cliveden which emerges from the wooded hillside.
The reason for banning the public from East Field is on the tenuous grounds of wildlife protection. Wild Cookham and Wild Maidenhead say that the path is ‘a threat to the protected wildlife area’, which is over the top. East Field is extensive, and one fenced path across it is unlikely to cause any threat at all. Indeed, by enabling people to enjoy nature we increase their awareness and commitment to protecting it.
The council is to agree a management plan for Battlemead Common on 3 August, including the proposed access arrangements. The Cookham Society, Maidenhead Civic Society (led by the indefatigable Ann Darracott) and Ramblers, with support from the Open Spaces Society, have written to all councilllors urging them to agree to the path across East Field.
They have reminded councillors that the council bought the land to deal with an under provision of public open space in the borough. The council noted, when agreeing the purchase, that ‘the land will enable the council to compete the boundary walk and one of the remaining links in the millennium walk, and increase the council’s overall open space/playing fields and will be available for all residents to enjoy.’
A subsequent news release stated that ‘ … future generations and wildlife can continue to enjoy the area as an unspoilt outdoor space, with breath-taking views of Cliveden and the surrounding countryside’. (However, the view of Cliveden can only be seen from East Field, so it was clearly the council’s intention to provide access there.)
Whatever the council agrees on 3 August I am confident that the access bodies will not give up. We can be sure that the Maidenhead access champion, the late Margaret Bowdery, would have fought on, and so shall we.