Lune Valley Ramble

When, at the Parish Annual Assembly, Rachel Sumner raised the problems of soil erosion due to flooding of the Lune, which has made the footpath along the river bank quite hazardous, she couldn’t have imagined the extent that the solution could become imponderable.

A number of websites define something called The Lune Valley Ramble. This purports to start at Green Ayre, Lancaster and finish at Stanley Bridge on the A65 at Kirkby Lonsdale.

The ramble does indeed start at Green Ayre and arrives at Newton, via Loyn Bridge at Gressingham. Over this distance, it is a footpath and a public right of way.

When the path reaches the Newton Hall fishing hut the right of way, along our side of the Lune. finishes.

According to the Lune Valley Ramble PDF Document, a concessionary path continues along the river bank, permission having been granted by Newton Hall. Such concession path is not shown on either the local authorities Definitive Map or any Ordinance Survey Map.

The right of way route passes up the small lane to the B6254 towards Newton. There is however a bridlepath which fords the river and continues to Tunstall.

To continue to Kirkby the right of way is along the B6254 to the bridlepath at Low Hall corner, then down to the Whittington Hall fishing hut at which point the right of way continues along the river bank to Kirkby. The bridlepath also fords the river to end in Nether Burrow.

The path between the fishing hut, along the river bank to the end of Coneygarth is not actually a right of way. There is no publicright of way along the river bank between Coneygarth and Newton.

This is the stretch of the river bank that is giving course for concern.

So. Now the thorny question arises. Whose responsibility is it to maintain the footpath/public right of way? – Frankly, I haven’t a clue.

What appears to be a relatively simple question is actually a potential minefield because paths recorded as a result of public use over 20 years from the 1960s onwards are not maintainable by anyone.  And since there is no duty to maintain, there is no right to maintain if a working party of members of the public consider that the path should be opened up.

Yet the Highway Authority is liable for injuries and loss that the public suffers on footpaths, bridleways and byways, despite having no duty to maintain them.  Accordingly many will cut the paths as part of their general maintenance program and landowners frequently keep the paths clear as this can often be a good land management activity (ensuring the public keep to paths rather than wandering into fields, for example). Rarely will the rights and wrongs of this have to be analysed in any detail.

Natural England’s Web page says:

“The responsibility for recording and maintaining rights of way is shared between local authorities, landowners and occupiers.

Local authorities (national park authorities, county councils, some district councils, metropolitan boroughs or unitary authorities) must record the legal existence and location of rights of way on the definitive map, and ensure that they are open for public use.

Landowners and occupiers must ensure that rights of way are not blocked by crops or other vegetation or otherwise obstructed, that the route is identifiable and the surface is restored soon after cultivation.”

The landowner does not have a duty to maintain a public right of way.  They are not entitled to obstruct them and they must clear the vegetation that encroaches from either side.  If they plough or disturb the surface of a cross-field path they must reinstate and mark the line on the ground.  If they plant a crop on a cross-field path they must cut it or spray out the line of the path.  If they do none of these things, however, they have no duty to ensure the path is clear and available for public use.”

For those, including myself, who have not actually been down to the river to view the damage to the path, the following image has been kindly provided by Graham Williams

Photo courtesy of Graham Williams.

So there you have it M’lud – Clear as mud.

John Keegan