On Saturday 18 June visually-impaired Marika Kovacs led a walk for the first day of the Herefordshire Walking Festival. It was the route we tested in May so that Marika could update her braille instructions.
On our recce we found oil-seed rape obstructing Little Marcle footpath 4 and were forced to walk round the edge. The rape had been there on Marika’s earlier visit on 1 April, and, according to the Herefordshire Ramblers’ database, it was reported in March. With three months’ notice, and the knowledge that this is one of Herefordshire’s popular promoted paths (even if it didn’t know about the festival walk), the council should have got the path cleared.
Sadly, it was not to be, and on the festival day Marika once again faced an impenetrable field of oil-seed rape across the footpath (running SW from grid reference SO672374).
I had provided her with some words, which she had transcribed into braille, to read out:
You will see the crop of oil-seed rape ahead. This has been planted across the public footpath, which should continue in a straight line. The person responsible, the landowner or occupier, is committing a criminal offence of obstruction of the public highway.
Footpaths are highways in law, just like any road. You would not expect to find the A49 blocked, nor should we expect to find a public footpath blocked—and especially not a path which is promoted as the Herefordshire Trail.
Some weeks ago, the Ramblers reported this obstruction to Herefordshire Council. The council is the highway authority, and has a legal duty to ensure that the path is kept clear to a width of at least one metre across the field, but it has failed to take the necessary action. The council should prosecute the owner or occupier for obstructing the public highway.
The Ramblers will pursue this, we shall not allow the person responsible to get away with this. Meanwhile, as it is physically impossible to walk the route we must follow a longer route around the edge of the field. We have the right to do this because our way is blocked.
Unfortunately it was wet so her braille was not easy to read, but she had memorised the words in any case. (Her college no longer has the laminator which has saved her on previous occasions.)
And so they walked round the edge again, but at least Marika could tell the walkers some path law and the importance of reporting problems. The festival is supposed to welcome people to Herefordshire but this does not give any welcome at all.
Sadly neither of the two stiles I reported after our recce had been mended either: two further illegal obstructions.
There was some good news. The path blocked by barley, which we noted on our 12 May recce, had been cleared by an employee from Newbridge Farm, at the request of Sally Smart, the footpath officer for the Pixley group of parishes. This was extremely kind of him, as this path is not Newbridge Farm’s responsibility, but that of the rape-blocker.
We shall keep up the pressure on the council, and may have to consider threatening prosecution ourselves to get these paths sorted.