I had a proper ‘get orff my land’ moment last weekend. A really quite unpleasant experience (and I’ve had a few such experiences in 40 years of walking in the British countryside).
I’d heard about a wonderful river valley walk in Brecon Beacons National Park
from a reader of Countryfile Magazine so with my wife and son, we set off to check it out.
It was a beautiful late June day and we’d driven up a remote valley to a Forestry Commission car park. Two routes lay open to us – one headed up the hill and along a ridge, but the other – a very inviting track – followed a twinkling stream.
It was hot, so we followed the track. The stream tumbled over little waterfalls into pools and I showed my son the numerous brown trout that flitted in the current. Meanwhile, dippers and grey wagtails feasted on the abundant insect life.
We passed a small farm with a couple of gates blocking the track. But these were easy to open and we passed on up the valley for a lovely picnic by the river. The boy had a paddle in the stream while my wife and I brewed a cup of tea in our new storm kettle and felt very happy about life. Several other walkers passed us in both directions.
All well and good. On the way back, however, we found the gates by the farm had been padlocked shut and, with no other route to the carpark, had to clamber over them. My hackles rose. I knew what was coming.
As we passed the farm, a decidedly angry voice from behind a hedge yelled at us “Excuse me. Did you just climb over those gates? This is private property.”
Like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn but without the charm, a woman appeared out of nowhere in the garden high above us. I assumed she was the farmer. We protested that there wasn’t any signage and that the gates were unlocked when we walked up there. We apologized profusely. Even my little boy echoed “sorry!”
The woman was not to be placated and claimed the gates had been locked and that we were trespassing. She made it pretty clear she thought we were lying and that we had best be on our way (with slightly more robust language). “The public footpath is up there,” she yelled, pointing far up the hill. With a dismissive gesture, she showed us where to go – in every sense.
Chastened and with our lovely walk marred, we set off for home.
But something didn’t feel quite right. How come so many other people had been walking the same track? Had she given them all an earful too? And what about Right to Roam? We hadn’t strayed off the track into the heavily fenced farmland until we’d reached the common grazing land beyond.
So I contacted Brecon Beacons National Park Authority for their advice. They told me that the CROW (Countryside Right of Way Act) did not apply to land within 20 metres of a dwelling. The track in question was within the 20m zone but actually owned by Welsh Water to give them access to a reservoir higher up the valley.
They had received reports of a householder on the track blocking the lane to walkers, graziers who had the right to run their sheep flocks on the common land and even Welsh Water employees.
The Authority’s local wardens were seeking a way to find a solution to keep all parties happy because people have been using it for years and it’s a popular local walk.
I certainly wouldn’t want to intrude on anyone’s privacy and I hate footpaths that insist on going straight through a working farmyard (just insane). But here the track wound around the property without overlooking it. To block it was to block off an entire valley, which seems a little harsh.’
But then, privacy is a highly valued commodity in this country. Possibly too highly…