Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Replacing Stiles with Kissing Gates... a good idea?

Terry Norris

This article is from Signpost 48, February 2015

The Chiltern Society shares with Peak and Northern the distinction of being a prescribed organisation who must be consulted about any proposal to divert or extinguish a public right of way in their area, this being in their case the counties of Bedfordshire, Bucks, Herts and Oxfordshire. Like ourselves, the Chiltern Society engages in a variety of activities to improve rights of way in their area. In particular they have set up a very successful ‘Donate-a-Gate’ scheme, which has led to the installation of over 400 gates by path maintenance volunteers to replace stiles. This scheme relies on co-operation with Bucks County Council rights of way staff, who identify particular locations for the gates and contact landowners to obtain their consent. Donated gates can be fitted with a plaque to include the name of the donor and date of installation. Short memorial or special event inscriptions can also be included.

Some volunteers at Taylor House have suggested the Society should also become involved in converting stiles to gates, either by using our own funds or seeking donations. As a walker in my late 60’s who finds increasing difficulties in climbing over stiles, I immediately felt sympathetic to this suggestion. I was therefore very surprised to see the following letter in the current edition of the Chiltern Society magazine:

Dear Chiltern Society
Is there anything I can do to stop the Society replacing any more stiles with kissing gates? It is of course a good thing that some routes should be made easy for disabled walkers, but by what brief is the Society ruining the pleasure of a country walk for the rest of us? I love stiles, in all their variety of design/difficulty/uncertainty. And if/when I am disabled (as could happen any day now) and I can no longer get over them, I will rejoice in the fact that they exist for others to enjoy - unless the Chiltern Society has by then destroyed the lot of them.
Hedda aged 66.5 (not her real name)

The facilitator of the scheme, Mr Fell, remains unrepentant. He states that, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, highway authorities were required to produce a Rights of Way Improvement Plan which had to take account of the accessibility of local public rights of way to blind and partially sighted people and others with disability problems. So, following this Government initiative, the Chiltern Councils are committed to making paths as accessible as possible whilst balancing the needs of land and stock management. They look towards the ‘least restrictive option for path users as authorised in the British Standard for Gaps, Gates and Stiles (BS 5709:2006), where a gap is the most accessible, followed by a simple gate, a kissing gate, with a stile being the least accessible. Mr Dell points out there are many people with slight disabilities who can walk perfectly well on the flat but for whom a stile might as well be a wall. Kent County Council have even gone so far as to issue a statement: ’No new stiles will be authorised by the County Council.’

This defence elicited the following response from Hedda:

Thank you but I am appalled. The acknowledged existence of some dodgy stiles is no reason to condemn the whole lot. Your kissing gate drive would appear to be a mission, bordering on the totalitarian, to sanitise the whole of the countryside, turning it into some vast municipal park.

From the Editor:

Since Terry has invited replies I don’t think that I will be abusing editorial privilege by starting the debate.

I have a great deal of sympathy with Hedda’s views. It is not that I relish clambering over precipitous and slippery stiles - the brooks of Kinder and Bleaklow offer me plenty of scope in that line - but rather that stiles, in all their eccentricity of forms, are a quintessential part of the character of the English countryside. I would as soon see them replaced by gates as see those equally quintessential village inns replaced by neon and chrome roadhouses. But if the law in its asinine glory demands the change, let me at least make a plea that it be done as tastefully as possible and in appropriate materials. Many of the kissing gates installed in the last few years are made of galvanised steel, a material which blends well with a grove of silver birch but elsewhere is an eyesore. If we must have kissing gates let them be constructed from stout English oak or, at least, from sustainable tropical hardwood.

Next: Chapel Gate - the controversy rumbles on.

Page title:Replacing Stiles with Kissing Gates... a good idea?
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