Cycling past Hillend Reservoir today I was heartened and impressed by the columns of children being taken out on an organised ramble along the cycle path. Route 75 is a fantastic asset, especially since it has been upgraded, and it’s well used by people of all ages and abilities, including wheelchair users.
The kids appeared to be having a great time, waving at the trains as they passed and enjoying fresh air and for a change, a fine spell of weather. Routes such as the cycle path are ideal for school outings as they allow a fair clean and controlled method of accessing the countryside. Not completely wild, but not completely sanitised either, although it’s always a concern that by creating boundaries and limits that people become conditioned to stay within them. Over the fence becomes a mental no-go area.
On the other hand the great thing about these paths is that along the route there are no barriers: no fences to climb, no stiles to negotiate, no barbed wire obstacles to block their way. Yet go off route and take to the open land to which the law guarantees our access, and for children and those adults with even minor mobility problems, it’s a whole different story, with blocked paths, keep out signs and barbed or electrified wire.
This is the remit of the local authority access officer and to an extent the local access forum. I’ve applied to rejoin the forum as a representative of local walkers and cyclists interests and I hope the fresh start it is undergoing may signal a change in its workings. I’d love to see the barriers removed from our local countryside so that many more people can enjoy the right to roam not just on narrow pathways, but across woodlands, hills and moors as well.