I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post, doesn’t time fly when you’re busy? And what a month it’s been . With exciting new trails to explore, rights of way issues to investigate and a steady stream of customers coming through the door its been hectic to say the least. I’ve had a couple of larger rider groups on the rides, instead of the usual two and three man groups there’s been a few seven and eight man teams to take out . Under normal circumstances large groups are a no- no for me because keeping large numbers of riders under control can sometimes be akin to herding cats. However I knew the guys coming out were experienced, sensible riders and so relaxed the rules a bit. I’m glad I did because we had some memorable days out .
One of the group rides was booked by Ian, a returning customer who asked me to organise a stag weekend for him. Now I know what you’re thinking and no, the weekend didn’t involve pole dancers, hookers,alcohol and recreational drugs. For a start, it’s very difficult to source reliable pole dancers in South Shropshire. Instead I suggested to Ian we could do a sort of bastardised biathlon. As you probably know the biathlon is one of the more unusual Olympic disciplines involving cross country skiing and rifle shooting. I suggested to Ian we could put on our own version and organise a semi competitive weekend of trail/ trial riding and clay pigeon shooting . Riders start the weekend with fifty points and had points deducted for ‘footing’ on a one of the trials sections or failing to shoot the required number of clay pigeons. Motorcycles and firearms- what could possibly go wrong?
We had a great couple of days riding and shooting, it helps when you have a great group of guys who are up for a good laugh . I have a feeling we’ll be running a few more of these events in the future.
After the excitement of the biathlon it was back to the interesting , but somewhat less dynamic task of researching routes. Due to the slighter higher group numbers and frequency of rides in October I tried to vary the routes as much as possible. The reason being I try to respect the people who farm and live along the routes , not to mention the other lane users such as walkers, cyclists and equestrians. I wouldn’t like to see groups of motorcyclists frequently riding past my front door and I don’t see why others should. I try to keep the disturbances to a minimum , preferably once a fortnight and certainly no more than once a week. The policy seems to be working because I invariably get a cheery thumbs up when I take a group through some of the many farmyards the trails pass through. I intend to keep it that way and I believe sympathetic useage is the key to keeping everyone happy.
To provide variety means constantly researching alternative routes and a few weeks ago I went to investigate a lane which is clearly indicated on the Ordnance Survey map as an ‘ORPA‘ [Other Route with Public Access … the UK rights of way network is littered with these confusing acronyms] There was a gate across the lane with two laminated posters attached, one declaring the route closed to motor vehicles and the other displaying a map showing a disputed right of way. The posters had been placed on the gate by a lady with a property adjacent to the lane who clearly wanted to deny access to it. She had triumphantly displayed an email from Shropshire County Council who had responded to an email sent by her asking for clarification of the lanes status regarding vehicular access. The council officer had stated the county records for a short section of this long lane were missing and therefore it was not possible to confirm whether the right of way was continuous for the whole length of the lane. Of course not being able to confirm the existence of a right of way doesn’t necessarily mean there is no right of way, it simply confirms there is no existing record currently on file.
The lady in the adjacent house has rather mischievously interpreted the council officer’s comments as confirmation that vehicles are banned and subsequently posted the misleading and inaccurate notices. Yesterday I called into Shirehall [Shropshire County Council headquarters] and asked to see the ‘Definitive Map’, a series of ancient maps which clearly show the right of way network. I mentioned the lane in question and the very helpful lady from the council gave me a knowing look and said ” Oh yes, we’ve had numerous discussions about that one” She was far too polite and professional to comment on the individual who had posted the notices but when I asked her if the route was a right of way she replied “Well it’s pretty obvious it is a right of way but for some reason the records have gone astray” . When I asked if I was within my rights to use the lane she shrugged her shoulders and said ” I don’t see why not”.
She then gave me an interesting tip that her department only deals with lanes up to BOAT classification [see what I mean by confusing acronyms- Byway Open to All Traffic] and that the county highways department might very well have confirmation of the lane status as the lane may well be a UCR. Just in case you were wondering – Unclassified Country Road.
The lane will now be included in my routes, it’s a lovely old lane and by the look of the bordering hedgerow is hundreds of years old .When I first started AdventureRide I made a mental note not to be come militant about these abuses but, having seen some very unjust lane closures perpetrated by selfish landowners manipulating the system to suit themselves I feel we must make a stand on this sort of thing. Trail enthusiasts were shamefully short changed by the NERC laws passed in 2006 [Natural Environment and Rural Communities act] The NERC act was a piece of legislation shoehorned into UK law by a group of people with a very specific agenda. It was sold to Parliament on the basis of preserving green lanes but in reality it was a toff’s charter, facilitating the closure of ancient rights of way . A lot of powerful landowners seized the golden opportunity gifted to them by the NERC Act to ban the oiks from their land once and for all. If you look at the areas surrounding a lot of the large shooting estates you will see a suspicious absence of green lanes. The NERC act effectively allowed these powerful landowners to ring fence themselves from the general public. Not since the infamous enclosure acts of the 17th century has there been a more unjust denial of public access to open spaces.
Much work is being done behind the scenes to try and unravel the damage done by the NERC act. To reinstate a BOAT [many of which have been downgraded post- NERC to bridleways] is notoriously difficult and gets harder with each passing year. To apply for a lane to be upgraded [ie returned to the status quo which existed happily for hundreds of years] requires a lot of evidence of past useage and this is becoming increasing difficult to obtain. I’m going to have a crack at getting one or two reopened around here and will post occasional updates on the blog.
To give an idea of the sort of prevalent attitude we’re dealing with here’s the current government spin put on the aforementioned enclosures act. I lifted the following comment off http://www.parliament.uk. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
“There is little doubt that enclosure greatly improved the agricultural productivity of farms from the late 18th century by bringing more land into effective agricultural use. It also brought considerable change to the local landscape.”
What a strange reflection on a period of British history which saw many poor rural communities bullied into near starvation by unscrupulous land
owners grabbers denying them access to land they had farmed for generations.
Enough of the quasi political ranting, let’s end the blog on a lighter note. Here’s a few images of Adventureriders enjoying themselves during the past few weeks..