The tweet below was shared by @cumbrianrambler a couple of month’s ago. One of the first things I noticed was the conveniently located #rudeoutdoors eligible location of Fanny Bridge in one of the maps in the thread. It’s included below for your sniggering pleasure. But, for once, I really did have an ulterior motive for sharing this particular #rudeoutdoors moment…
A rights of way question… Photo 2 taken at the red mark on the map. The right of way isn’t blocked as such but would require us to damage crops. We took an alternate route. What would you have done? #walking #hiking #GetOutside #getoutdoors pic.twitter.com/gvZy8EGSap
— Beth Pipe (@CumbrianRambler) August 10, 2018
The question posed, and the replies to the thread, are a pretty textbook example of the range of views relating to Rights of Way questions. So I wanted to have a look at some of the proposed solutions.
No access to Fanny Hill, except by the back way…
The issue raised is simple: there is a Public Footpath running across a field (on the map below the green dotted line running through the middle of the large field below Bond’s End). But the farmer has not maintained it, and now there are crops growing on it to the point it’s indistinguishable. What do you do?
Plough on through? Not the most popular answer in the thread, with many commenting that this would be disrespectful to the farmer, who is, after all, only trying to earn a living. If you did chose to do this however, so long as you could show you have stuck to the route*, you are, legally, absolutely in the right. You do, however, risk an angry farmer challenging you – just because you are in the right, doesn’t mean you will always be treated as such!
Walk round the edge? This was possibly the most popular answer, with people feeling this respected the crop, while still finding a way through. But, this is also why I wanted to blog about this. Because I think it’s also the most problematic (at least at this location). Once you divert from the legal definitive route you are technically trespassing. None of the information presented suggests the farmer wants you to go round the field edge, no polite sign etc. So not only do you still risk an angry farmer, you have also left your legal Right of Way.
Use the other Public Footpath just to the south? It’s close by. It’s a legal route. Leads to the same place. Isn’t much longer. Perfect right? It’s possible this is even the intention, as this path actually runs more round the field edge. But, if the overgrown path is owned by a different farmer, increasing the footfall on Path B may well antagonise that landowner (the eagle-eyed will spot the risk of a grumpy farmer is a theme for this blog post!). The second path seems to run through a farm yard, or very close to buildings.
What would Theresa May do? Well, it’s a matter of public record what Theresa May would do. But we can’t all approach life with the kind of cavalier disrespect for landowners and farmers our Prime Minister, on her most naughty of days, shows can we?
What would I do? In truth, none of the options are perfect. The safest bet is probably taking the second path. But depending on what mood I’m in, what the conditions on the day are, I could see myself doing any of the three options. I do sympathise with the desire to keep the farmer on side – and it’s good to see so many walkers taking the farmer’s needs seriously. But, they do have a legal obligation to maintain the route – and it’s in their interests to avoid people randomly marching around/across their field when faced with an overgrown path. A politely-worded sign indicating their request (you are not obliged!) would be enough for most of us to happily, and confidently, divert. Of course, if all farmers do it you’ll soon be zig-zagging cross-country on every hike, but they won’t!
Report it! The one thing I definitely would do is report it. Again, despite respect and understanding for the farmer, this is a legal Right of Way. This option isn’t quick – but for the individual it is the safest. Take a photo, and send it to your local Council’s Rights of Way team. It’s also recommended to send it to your local Ramblers or Open Spaces Society reps. They will almost always, between them, have volunteers who pick up these issues with the council, and can often recommend suggested approaches to the route if they know the area. If you do, consider joining them too – they can’t help protect our network of Rights of Way with we don’t support them to do so! Most farmers will also be in receipt of a public subsidy that requires them not to be breaking any laws, such as not maintaining a Right of Way, so you could also report it to the Rural Payment’s Agency, though your chances of success this route are, erm, slim.
*Assuming in this blog the green lines marked on the OS map are consistent with the local council’s Definitive Map and so are legal Rights of Way