The following information is taken from a discussion with Cliff Dunster and Howard Newth, written by Mr. Dunster. It is reproduced from ‘ Look! This was Timsbury’ by kind permission of The Cheshire Home.
One of the first issues of the Timsbury Letter had, on the back page, an outline map of the footpaths within the parish that are public rights of way. This aroused in me an interest and a desire to explore some of them.
Soon after the issue of this particular Letter the Timsbury Natural History Group held one of its field trips. It was an organised walk around Burrington Combe. Howard and I were walking together chatting, when the subject came around to this map and footpaths in general. Howard said that he would like to walk some of these paths. I replied that I was of the same mind.
Whereupon Howard said, ”When shall we start?”
Off the cuff I said, “Next Tuesday” and so it has been allocated that every Tuesday afternoon is a footpath priority.
At first we had great difficulty in planning a route, the paths were not sign-posted or way-marked, and we had no maps. Howard remembered a few of the paths vaguely from the time when, as a child, his father had taken him for walks across the fields. However by various means we acquired one of two maps which, though helpful, were not conclusive.
One particular event proved the turning point for us. It was a lovely sunny summer afternoon and we decided that we would try to find the paths that would take us from Timsbury to Woodborough via Camerton Court. After frequent reference to the map and much effort, we achieved our objective. It was now about 5 o’clock and we had to get home. As it was so late we decided to keep to the main road; this was a fortunate decision.
We were at the top of Skinner’s Hill girding our loins for the ensuing effort, when a car pulled up beside us and the driver asked if we wanted a lift. We gratefully accepted the offer.
The driver was Eric Brimble, Clerk to Timsbury Parish Council.
Naturally the conversation veered to why we were where we were and what we were doing there anyway. We explained that we intended to walk the footpaths but that we were having difficulty in finding them.
Eric said he could help us in that as the Parish clerk he had a copy of the Definitive Map and also a corresponding written description of all the public rights of way in Timsbury Parish. Later, on a map which we provided, he drew all the lines of the paths and numbered them; we borrowed the written descriptions and made copies.
Subsequently, we repeated the exercise with the Parish Clerks to our neighbouring villages. We have now accumulated information on footpaths as public rights of way in respect of Timsbury, Farmborough, High Littleton, Camely, Paulton, Camerton and Priston. It would appear from this information that, within a radius of 5-6 miles we have 50-60 miles of documented footpaths.
Having acquired the foregoing information we were better able to search out the footpaths; and search is the operative word. Many of the paths had not been used for years; in some the stiles were broken and concealed in overgrown hedgerows. Howard developed quite a technique for locating the old stiles or the position where they should have been. At this stage the secateurs were set furiously into action to open a gap in the hedge, whilst our sticks belaboured the weeds to improve the access. The gap was always left stock-proof.
In law it is the landowner’s responsibility to provide and maintain the stiles. But as one can see, the stiles can be of mixed characters, not always easy to climb, and in lots of cases maintenance is non-existent. Fortunately for us circumstances have changed and thanks to the good offices of the Countryside Commission’s Manpower Services, County Councils etc., we can now get stiles erected at no cost to the farmer.
In our early days of walking, we would report these problems to the Planning Department of Avon County Council. But we found that although the willingness to help was there, the system was unsatisfactory; it could take a long time to be effected; sometimes the paper-work not lost.
Therefore the system was devised whereby I ask for three copies of a large scale map of the footpaths we wish to survey. Then Howard and I, accompanied by the leader and an assistant of the A.C.C.E.S, team (the young people who will do the work), walk these paths and decide the necessary action to be taken; it may be a brand new stile or merely a new foot-plate. Quite often where there is only a field-gate (frequently field-gates are hung using only binder twine) we ask the farmer if we can erect a stile beside the gate. This allows the farmer to manure the gate as he wishes; the walker can easily hop over the stile.
To date, for all parishes, we have been able to get 68 new stiles erected, 16 foot-plates fitted, two new foot-bridges constructed to cross streams and three iron kissing pates repaired. We made five Surveys for Timsbury and this covers every stile within the Parish of Camerton.
We have an Ordnance Survey map dated 1883 which shows the paths in existence at that date. The written descriptions show that quite a lot of paths have been lost; Camerton had 90 but is now reduced to about 70.
Footpaths are public rights of way and are as much the Queen’s Highway as any road. It is vested in the Highway Authority in our case Avon County Council, to maintain the surfaces on these rights of way. Hence it is not just a little track across a field, but a public highway and there should be no obstruction throughout the route. Should you meet an obstruction which you cannot remove, report the incident to either the Parish Clerk or the Footpath Officer in the Planning Department on Avon County
We recommend that people, when walking the paths, carry a forked stick and a pair of secateurs. You are then able to knock down a nettle or other weed or cut a twig growing in the wrong direction. Also with a forked stick one can hold down an electric fence whilst stepping over it.
We are fortunate, in this area, in that our industrial archaeology has bequeathed us a network of footpaths and nature has obliterated the scars. The paths were created by people going out to work, or making use of the services of the numerous mines, the canal, the railway or other trades. One farmer reckoned that a particular path was used by a postman to take the mail to the farm; eventually it seems to have been designated as a right of way.
Farmers, justifiably, get annoyed when people take their dogs for a walk but fail to keep them under close control and to the paths. A farmer, on one occasion, told us that he had one particular person who owned a dog and who entered it for dog shows. She had found that letting the dog scurry through long grass imparted a marvelous bloom to its coat and considerably enhanced its chances of winning at the dog show. This was not appreciated by the farmer when the long grass she was using had been set aside by the farmer for his silage or hay crop.
A farmer is liable to a fine if he ploughs up a path and does not reinstate it within 14 days; if he ploughs a path running beside a hedge it can be £200; he can be heavily fined for deliberately growing a crop, such as oil-seed rape, so as to cause an obstruction.
We are blessed with some lovely country and consequently our footpaths provide us with many delightful walks in the hills either side of the Cam Valley, the back of the Sleight, round routes to Priston. One of the nicest of our Village Walks was the one which included the path over ”Oozles’, the highest hill in the neighbourhood. On that occasion the farmer had said that as one of the paths ran through his corn field we were quite at liberty to use it. As it was likely to be a large party – it turned out to be 80 – we declined the invitation deeming discretion the better part of valour.
According to Howard, if a corpse is carried across a field tor a funeral the route taken becomes a right of was he claims it is the law.