First they came for the birds. Then the otters. Now, it would seem, they’re after our footpaths.
Hackles were high again last weekend, up at Strawberry How, as dog walkers discovered their way barred – on a path, across the field from Tom Rudd Beck, which some of them have been wandering for nigh on forty years.
I risk repeating myself here, so soon after the hedgerow spats and ongoing concern for the otters but, good grief, when it comes to working with the local community and fostering good relationships (the tale his PR people tell), Mr Story really does lead the way.
Questions were asked. All the way up to county level. Shoulders were no doubt shrugged. Eyes rolled. Things muttered, I imagine, out of earshot. And not for the first time. ‘Bloody do-gooders…’
Sheila Brown, the town clerk, spoke ‘at length’ to county but county, no doubt consulting the county computer, said ‘no’. Nothing to be done. ‘There are NO (note capitals) legal protections in place to reopen an unofficial right of way.’
Well, there may not be an ‘official’ right of way across this section of land but, according to ramblers.org.uk or – for those who like things more ‘official’ – the government’s Standard Note SNSC 06026, the ‘most common way that rights of way come into existence is by presumed dedication. There is a long-established principle that long use by the public without challenge can constitute evidence that the landowner intended to dedicate the used route as a public right of way.’
The note quotes from the key guide on rights of way law, John Riddall and John Trevelyan, Rights of Way: A guide to law and practice (Fourth Edition 2007).
‘In terms of statute, the Highways Act 1980 provides for a period of 20 years for a right of way to become a highway but this does not stop a claim being made under common law with less time. The 20 years is calculated retrospectively from the date the right of the public to use the way is brought in to question.’
The lawyers will no doubt tell us that the transfer of ownership to Story Homes entitles them to overwrite all those years of common use. Indeed, when I popped over there to take a photo, I was greeted by one of the orange gang, who seemed surprisingly well-briefed on the legal situation.
‘What you doing?’ he asked. Perfectly politely, I should add.
‘Just taking a photo of the path,’ says I. Equally politely.
‘It’s our right of way,’ he says, completely unsolicited. ‘We’ve had legal advice.’
Under normal circumstances, it’s entirely possible that those who have enjoyed this unofficial route, unchallenged, for so long, could provide sufficient evidence that a right of way had been established, apply for a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO), and have it recorded on the definitive map. But these are not normal circumstances.
We may, once again, be running to catch up, but my friends at SUSCO (Sustainable Cockermouth) are encouraging people to fill in the appropriate form and return it to county. You can download the form from their blog. Good luck.
Grounds for complaint
Meanwhile, we were busy enjoying the Anglesey air, in Beaumaris, revisiting old haunts and discovering new. One of the ‘new’ being ‘Nespresso World’, a world that really doesn’t have the time to wait for a kettle to boil. Or care about tea. George Clooney, Jack Black, you have much to answer for. A shot of the black stuff may be your wake-up call of choice but, for me, the day hasn’t really got going without that first steaming hot mug of not-too-strong tea (Pantone 727 or thereabouts). Usually delivered by the climbing gremlin, bless his cotton climbing socks.
And sticking a plastic pod of tea leaves under a 25-second burst of lukewarm water (requiring two bursts to even two-thirds fill the oh-so-stylish cup provided), just won’t do it. Unless you like your tea a) tasting of coffee, b) reminiscent of the first pot of tea I ever made, as a fledgling Brownie. The one where I forgot to actually boil the kettle. Or maybe just filled the pot from the hot tap. Same result, either way.
Thankfully, Nespresso World was the only blemish on an otherwise crackin’ stay in the Townhouse. Next time we visit, however, we will definitely be packing the kettle.
A brief moment of Schadenfreude, amidst all the gloom – from one of my dog-walking pals. Passing the point, at the lower edge of the site, through which water from the field gushes across the footpath towards the beck during even moderately heavy rain, she was hidden by the bushes but close enough to hear their worried conversation, just the other side of the barriers.
‘Bloody hell!’ said one, probably scratching his head. ‘Where’s all this bloody water coming from?’
Cue snorted laughter from my friend.
I hate to say we told you so, but…