Whilst the timing of this piece is coincidental, it is perhaps apt that it coincided with the anniversary of the Kinder Trespass. It is worth remembering how we got our rights to the countryside and who was responsible for this.
As relative newcomers, this is something we need to bear in mind, as are the timescales as we too look to changes in the access laws. We are fortunate to have the perspective on this from the chair of Sheffield Ramblers, Terry Howard below….
In 1968 it became legal to ride a bicycle on a bridleway. Since then there has been a steady increase in cycling, particularly “mountain biking”, to then extent that it is now a major industry.
Many Recreation, Management and Transport Plans exist along with environmental and health initiatives. There are also many organisations and bodies promoting cycling. With development in technology, mountain biking is now a major adventure sport.
We have known for a long time that there is not adequate provision for horse riding and cycling with the limited number of bridleways available and the opportunity to create new ones are limited. Downgrading a road or “byway open to all traffic” to bridleway status is never easy and to some would not be acceptable so the obvious or “soft” option would be to upgrade a footpath to a bridleway. This would not be popular with many, if not most, walker. Their experience of “illegal” and “reckless” behaviour by some cyclists on footpaths and “shared routes” doesn’t endear them to the shared route principal.
Cyclists need to be aware that walkers are very protective of the footpath and bridleway network. It was they, along with support from early cycling clubs, which campaigned long and hard for rights of way, public access to mountain, moorland and National Parks legislation. These campaigns started in the early 1900’s and with some successes on the way eventually culminated with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, giving everyone the “right to roam”. Even now we cannot be complacent, what took one hundred years to gain can be lost overnight.
There is a need of “coming together” again of walkers and cyclists (and not forgetting horse riders) to increase our rights of way, both footpath and bridleway. There are opportunities for researching “lost” paths and bridleways, which we know exist, but will take time. Perhaps cyclists would be imputation, which is understandable. Again this brings us back to the obvious or “soft” option that is to upgrade footpaths to bridleway status. If cyclists want to increased their opportunities it must be with the support and cooperation of other users, walkers and horse riders, and will only happen if cyclists prove are responsible and considerate users.
Cyclists must know of their legal rights and responsibilities and act accordingly. It is wrong to ride a cycle on a footpath, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways and they must not ride recklessly on bridleways. If cyclists act within the code of conduct of considering other users, there would be less conflict and possibly more willingness from walkers to cooperate on the shared route principal.
Lastly, while saying cyclists need to be aware and practice their rights and responsibilities I am also aware that on occasion they have come across “illegal” obstructions on bridleways. These cannot be condoned under any circumstance by whoever responsible. Walkers know and appreciate the difficulties and dangers continually facing cyclists on the roads, however they don’t want cyclists to “transfer” the similar difficulties and dangers onto footpaths, bridleways and shared routes.
What we must learn is to be more considerate of others, respect their rights and be prepared to cooperate working together for everyone’s benefit.
Chair of Sheffield Ramblers