Last night had ended sometime early this morning. The great and the good of the village had assembled for the annual Safari Supper: a merry-go-round evening of food, fundraising and fine company, finished off with a gentle wobble home along frost-fringed pavements beneath clear, starlit skies. Dimly, at the back of my mind, I recall the village magazine editor reminding me that deadline day for the Winter edition was only a few days away: was my copy ready?
Here, in Northamptonshire, the council operates a volunteer system of footpath monitoring known as the Parish Path Warden scheme, and yours truly is the local incumbent. PPW duties involve walking all the paths in the parish a minimum of twice a year, reporting any problems, carrying out minor maintenance (for example replacing lost or damaged signage) and acting as local liaison on the ground.
In addition, though, I’ve found myself agreeing to write up a short, local walk for each quarterly edition of the magazine. Which meant Sunday was the only day to do a recce …..
Fortunately, the morning dawned bright and clear. The well-deserved hangover failed to materialise (something to do the sun always shining on the righteous, perhaps, given all the “fundraising” we’d been indulging in last night) so we were up, breakfasted and away by a reasonably acceptable 10.30am.
Today’s walk was an 8-mile circuit taking in the villages of Lamport, Hanging Houghton and Maidwell, along with sections of the Brampton Valley Way (a disused railway line originally connecting Northampton and Market Harborough). It was a beautiful late autumn morning, and the many stands of mature trees were glowing at their colourful best in the sunlight.
Unfortunately, I’d left my camera at home ….
I’d picked this route for two reasons: firstly because I reckon it would make a great circuit for walking off any seasonal excesses on Boxing Day (there’s nothing too strenuous to contend with for those who were overly refreshed the day before), and secondly because it keeps, by and large, to fairly clean, well-surfaced paths and tracks – always a bonus during the muddier winter months.
I say “by and large”: we encountered a three-quarter-mile section, designated as a Byway (or BOAT – Byway Open to All Traffic), which was quite wet and muddy underfoot. Routes with this kind of designation are, as the name indicates, open to access by a variety of different user groups, including motorised traffic. This particular section is subject to a Traffic Management Order (TMO) excluding all motorised traffic except motorcycles, and gated to restrict access by 4x4’s and other large off-road vehicles.
As we made our way we were twice passed by a group of four trail bike riders, all of who were careful and polite, giving us a wide berth and keeping within the law as far as we could see. However, the earth in these parts is quite heavy, and doesn’t drain too well at the best of times. Coupled with that, the wet summer we have experienced this year has left the ground even softer than it would usually be, so it’s not hard to imagine that, come spring, this stretch might be a complete quagmire and likely in need of expensive repairs (probably unaffordable on current ROW budgets).
Now, I don’t want to come across as a killjoy, and recognise that the riders had every right to be there, but to me four noisy trail bikes – churning up the track and shattering the peace and quiet of the countryside – somehow doesn’t seem right, especially one that brings motorised transport into contact with slower-moving walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists, no matter how legal it may be in the eyes of the law.
The Jeremy Clarkson’s of the world might be happy to ridicule the likes of me and have some smart-arsed put down at the ready, but I’m just as entitled to my opinion as anyone else, and I think off-roading is an inappropriate activity for the countryside.