Walk for a minister

The challenge was to plan a walk for the environment minister, Richard (Lord) Benyon. He required a maximum of two hours, not far from his west Berkshire home, and including a national trail. The access bodies (British Canoeing, British Horse Society, Open Spaces Society, and Ramblers) wanted to show him some issues which we felt he should know about.

Last March I reccied a route with Stephen Russell from the Ramblers and we came up with a great walk which met the minister’s criteria. It shows fragmented access-land in need of joining up, a lack of welcome, a safe path through a farm (too often farmers want to move paths away from farm buildings), and opportunities to improve paths by offering payments under the new environmental land management scheme (ELMS). All this is in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and so we could pick up the recommendations in the Glover report on protected landscapes, calling for greater access.

Stephen devised the map below to remind us of what we wanted to point out where.

Our walk. Ordnance Survey.

We started from the car park on the Ridgeway west of Streatley at grid reference SU 566 813. It is just about the midpoint of the Ridgeway, between Overton Hill to the west, and Ivinghoe Beacon to the east.

Signpost at car park on Ridgeway.

We walked west along the Ridgeway and soon we had a good view (1) over Streatley Warren access land to the south, but frustratingly there is no way from the Ridgeway onto that land. ELM payments could provide at least one access point and path to the access land. (There are countless such examples of isolated access land throughout England and Wales.)

Isolated access land, looking south from 1 on map.

There is no official access-point to the land where it adjoins either the Ridgeway or the restricted byway running the south.

At point 2 on map, access land fenced off from Ridgeway.

There should be access points all the way along these paths, and especially at the path junction in the north-west corner (point 3 on map).

We turned south off the Ridgeway to walk alongside the access land, with a great view east along the Chiltern escarpment. The access land is being used for grazing and has become poached. There is a gate at point 4, but hardly welcoming.

There is an illogical break in the access land (the right-hand 4 on the map) so one has to trespass to get onto what is a completely isolated piece of access land (the long rectangle). ELM payments could provide not only some friendly access-points but also a link between the two pieces of access land.

Looking east from 4 on map, the break in access land is also marked 4 on map and is beyond the hedge in middle distance.

We came to Bower Farm (5). The footpath past the buildings is well marked, an example of good practice. We then joined the lane to Aldworth. Here ELM payments could fund a path inside the hedge to avoid the lane (6).

Narrow lane to Aldworth, it needs a path inside the hedge (point 6).

The next stretch is across fields, where the path had been restored, but again the farmer could be paid to leave a wide, unploughed path, and to offer a bridleway or restricted byway to link with the restricted byway from Westridge Green (7 and 8).

We took a lovely path between the fold of the hills where we saw hares, before coming out at Kiddington Cottages and then rejoining the Ridgeway.

To the north of the Ridgeway is Thurle Down which, from its appearance, should have been mapped for downland access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, but it was not (9). Again ELM payments could provide access to and on this land.

From Kiddington Cottages looking north. Thurle Down, to the north of the Ridgeway, is in the background.

Having reccied the walk and at last confirmed the date of 20 June with Richard Benyon, we were sorry that he had to pull out at short notice due to a leg injury. I too was absent because of a bad cold (the first time I’ve had to miss an event in years). However, representatives from British Canoeing, the British Horse Society, British Mountaineering Council, and Ramblers met the minister at the car park for a useful conversation before doing the walk with Defra officials.

Despite numerous promises from ministers, we have yet to see access being included in the ELMS, to open up and increase access land or create and improve paths. But at least Defra officials have now seen on the ground what we are calling for. Our campaign continues.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Access, AONB, British Horse Society, campaigns, Defra, Open country, Open Spaces Society, Public paths, Ramblers, riding, walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s