12 of us have been walking the North Norfolk coast path from Hunstanton to Hopton on Sea. For us, veterans of the South West Coast Path, it is amazing how different the walking and seascapes can be. Unsurprisingly this walk is much flatter and the going generally easier with little in the way of the steep ups and downs of the south-west and fewer spectacular cliff-top views. Instead you get the marshes, peace and calm of the different estuaries – with wonderful bird-spotting opportunities (as for example round Blakeney pictured here). If you know your waders, you can tick off a whole section of your bird book. Waders do tend to stay still long enough for even the inexperienced to line up the binoculars.
Usually the path is well defined with lots of boardwalks but occasionally you get tested on more difficult surfaces such as the shingle beach between Cley and Weybourne.
A new experience for me is that from Weybourne to Hopton on Sea the England coast path has been implemented. On this section we did encounter minor problems: repair works to the groynes meant we had to re-trace our steps at one point; some of the route through Great Yarmouth on a busy main road was unpleasant and works on new steps at Hopton were still taking place. And the concept of spreading room, or “coastal margin”, to use its official name, is not understood by even experienced walkers. The idea behind the coastal margin is that as the cliff erodes, the path is automatically realigned. Without this legislation it would be necessary to modify the Definitive Map every time the route changed as a result of erosion.
The England coast path is a wonderful project but there is a need to improve the visibility and to explain the concept, especially the difference from a traditional coastal path, as for example is already enjoyed in Wales.
2026 is the only date that matters for those of us trying to prevent the thousands of roads and paths which do not appear on the Definitive Map from being lost forever. Any claim relying on historical documentary evidence has to be submitted by 2026.
I was keen that Herefordshire Ramblers should play their part and decided to try and drum up support from our members. But I could only encourage others if I knew what to do myself – so I got going. I went on the course; I read the Bible, Rights of Way – Restoring the Record, by Bucks and Wadey; I joined the Hereford Archive Centre. And of course I succeeded in enthusing myself! I’m now a dedicated path researcher who (almost) longs for a wet day (but not Mondays when it is closed) so I can get down to the Archive Centre.
Here is just one example of the detective work which can be so satisfying. There was strong evidence of a bridleway from Bredenbury to Thornbury from a Railway plan as the bridleway happens to cross this long-disused track. But would that be sufficient to substantiate the claim? I wanted more evidence, but failed to find any until in desperation I tried the online newspaper archive which enables you to search for any item in any local paper from about 1880 to date. Searching for “bridle roads” in the year 1900, when the railway line opened, I realised that many news items were reporting meetings of local rural district councils. Bingo! Rural District Councils were the highway authority at this time so I immediately returned to the Archive Centre to look up Bromyard RDC from 1900 – 1902. The minute book was in beautiful condition and meticulously indexed, and there under “Wacton bridleways” was all the evidence I needed. See the featured excerpt. The RDC was clearly taking decisions about this bridleway, proving this was a public highway in 1900. And the maxim is: “once a highway, always a highway.”
So I took the photos, submitted my claim and today I received a letter from Herefordshire telling me that my claim was considered high priority for investigation because the evidence appeared “very robust”. My claim would be considered in the next 12-24 months. (In Herefordshire medium priority claims take about 16 years, low priority claims an indefinite period.)
So I am chuffed and wondering whether to let this sort of work take over my life.
I’ve led three walks recently – and after each one I was mightily relieved to get everyone back safely.
In July I led a wonderful walk for Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Radnor hills, catching the bus from Kington to Llanfihangel Nant Melan and walking back via Caety Trelow, Glasbury and Hergest Ridge. As we crossed near the top of Caety Trelow a short but violent thunderstorm hit us, with thunder and lightning pretty well overhead. There was no cover. So there was nothing we could do but put on our waterproofs and keep going. After 20 minutes or so, the storm subsided and we carried on our walk. Shortly afterwards I received advice from the Ramblers about what to do in such a storm, which seemed to include rolling ourselves into a little ball. I don’t know if that is the safest thing to do but it psychologically difficult to carry out. Just for that short time we felt extremely vulnerable.
Two weeks ago I led a party of 11 (not Ramblers) on the Three Welsh Peaks Challenge – to climb Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen y Fan in 24 hours. Despite a good weather forecast the rain soon came down and when the remaining nine of us (two turned back earlier) reached the top of Snowdon at 9.00 a.m., those with less good waterproofs were getting very wet and miserable, despite the elation of the summit. Soon into the descent one lad started shaking violently and his speech was incoherent. He had hypothermia. This being Snowdon, I decided to return to the summit and the cafe was fortunately just opening. We were able to warm him up and get a seat on the train down. Thank goodness for the cafe and mountain railway! After that, things improved, including the weather. The ascent of Cader was straightforward and that of Pen y Fan at night with our head-torches positively inspiring. A great achievement, but enormous relief on my part.
That brings us to today, a gentle seven miler with Leadon Vale Ramblers in the Mortimer forest and Herefordshire Trail. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the Vinnals car park was completely closed because of a moto-cross rally!! We had to re-group nearly two miles further away. We duly set off on an un-checked forest track, recommended by a helpful jogger. The track was lovely with stunning views and pretty level as well, so spirits were high, when we eventually linked up with the Herefordshire Trail at Burrington. But our return, we knew, involved crossing the race-track. We were on a bridleway which didn’t appear to have been closed for the day. There was however lots of red tape blocking our path and some fierce warning notices. So we waited while a few cars roared by at enormous speeds, drivers helmeted, but us defenceless. Anyway we crossed the track and reached the summit, High Vinnals, with its glorious panoramic views. Here it was strangely quiet, which was good because we knew we had to cross the racetrack again. But then we heard the racing was over and we could complete our walk (11 miles not seven) in peace. And another huge sigh of relief for the walk leader.
Today was a good day for Bromyard walkers. A work party of five Ramblers and the local parish footpath officer installed a gate to replace two dodgy stiles and some steps up a very steep bank. It was a long day from 10.00 till 5.00 pm and we were all tired by the end but the job was done, and as usual with the Ramblers, it was done well.
But this one day of work was the culmination of more than a year of planning, persuading, cajoling and pleading to get the necessary funding. The need for the job was identified 18 months ago by the local parish footpath officer and by Bromyard Walkers are Welcome. The total cost if done by a contactor would have been over £1,000. If volunteer labour could be used, the cost would be £350. Herefordshire Council has little money for rights of way work. Worse, their contractors Balfour Beatty, are bad at working with volunteers. They will not even obtain landowner consent. It was only through the persistance of Balfour Beatty’s helpful locality steward (there are thankfuly always exceptions!) that funding for the gate was obtained, so £150 was funded with £200 to go. Here the local parish council stepped in, thanks to a new and supporive chairman. The parish council is not the highway authority, and it has no money delegated to it for rights of way works but they wanted to support the efforts of the parish footpath officer and agreed the £200 from their own resources.
So by February 2017, after umpteen meetings, the funding was in place and the materials ordered. Even then there was a long delay with Balfour Beatty’s supplier, and the materials were not delivered till July.
Now we can celebrate – but getting this sort of thing together is hard, hard work. The work on the day is just the tip of the iceberg.
Sadly I have fallen in love with walking technology. I used to be a map and compass man but now I use an iphone6 with several different apps. I have the whole of GB at 1:25,000 via the OS app. I’m already a subscriber @£20 p.a. to their service on my PC and the app comes free with that. You seem to need to access the particular areas you need via your home wifi before you set off. But once there, you are relying on GPS – you don’t need a mobile signal. As a fail-safe I also use GPS GB (free) which doesn’t have a map but tells you your current grid ref. and height wherever you are. Most useful climbing a munro when you really want to know how high you’ve got!
I also use Viewranger. If I need their premium maps, that will cost me extra so I tend to use Viewranger for tracking my route. This gives you brilliant stats on distance, altitude, speed, timing, and will work without purchasing their premium maps – not that these are particularly expensive.
Yesterday I was on the Brecon Becons with my friend Jim and discovered on the top of Pen y Fan (pictured) on a wonderfully clear day that the Viewranger background map of GB is excellent for working out the view. There is a built-in compass so you can orient yourself and then expand or contract the map as you need, depending on the distance. So we could be sure that we could actually see Exmoor, something not possible with a paper map.
This brings me to my last app, Peak View Scanner. This is supposed to tell you exactly what mountains you are looking at over a 100km range but on my phone it doesn’t work properly. Very obvious large mountains do not appear whereas tiny hills do. Very frustrating. I have logged these issues with Peak View Scanner but to no avail. Hence the Viewranger map comes into its own.
But of course I always have a paper map just in case. And that compass is in my rucksack!
I attended a most interesting conference organised by CPRE Shropshire.The whole event was very professionally run by CPRE. Speakers were dragooned into sticking to their time limits with unexpected ruthlessness. The result was plenty of time for questions and we finished on the dot. The speaker list was varied and stimulating. As always, it was nice to meet and chat to like minded individuals and catch up with acquaintances.
OK, so what did I learn? Four main points:
- Christopher Price from the CLA gave an informative account of what is actually going on in government to determine the future of farming and the environment. He said that the 25 year strategy paper on the environment was nearly ready but the sister paper on farming was held up because of the UK’s concern to develop a UK single market for farming post-Brexit. This is particularly difficult because agriculture is a devolved function and Scotland will not accept this approach.
- Mark Measures graphically illustrated the problems and wastage created by soil erosion and poor soil quality
- Liam Bell, a gamekeeper, explained how there are conservation benefits, such as more lapwings, from shooting lots of ducks
- But most interesting for me was Joy Greenall, an organic farmer from Newcastle on Clun who talked about her 130 acre farm Cow Hall. Only the previous day I had walked on the section of Offa’s Dyke near her farm and seen for myself the unusual cultivated uplands of the Clun forest. Her highest field is 1,300 ft, and this is the only one she ploughs – because it is the flattest! So keen students of my tweets will recognise that I have used the same photo twice – one for the walk tweet and one on this blog.
Thank you CPRE for such an interesting event.
I have just returned from a memorable holiday with friends and family in Guatemala and Mexico. In Mexico we explored the volcano of Iztaccihuatl. The minibus took us a long way up and then we climed about 1,200 ft on foot to a height of nearly 14,000 ft, the highest I have ever been on land. It was a wonderful chance to explore a beautiful remote landscape. The volcano is not active so the slopes were not covered in ash as they are for instance on Etna in Sicily.
The guide told us that on these regular tours he has virtually no native Mexicans. All his customers are foreigners. A Canadian on our trip explained that he and other Canadians occasionally organised work parties to try and clear some of the mountain trails which would otherwise disappear altogether from neglect. There is apparently no tradition amongst Mexicans of mountain walking.
So here is my point. We do not always appreciate how incredibly lucky we are in the UK to have inherited BOTH an amazing variety of beautiful landscapes AND a tradition of exploring and enjoying them, supported by a hard-won series of access rights. Let us continue to protect and enjoy our heritage.