Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

A Broken Stile

David Jones, Member

This article is from Signpost 68, Summer 2021

It’s February 2021 and, in accordance with Covid-19 regulations, I’m only doing local walks starting from my home, which fortunately for me is in Hayfield in the High Peak. My plan is to walk up to Matley Moor and then Cown Edge returning via Rowarth; one of my favourite walks. (A website describes a nice shorter walk from Hayfield car park up to Blackshaw Farm using part of this route.) I usually take Hayfield FP20 up to the Five Lane Ends junction above Blackshaw Farm. But, for a change, and hopefully less mud, I leave this near Hallot Hey Farm to take FP30 to Lane Head Road where I turn left to go up to, and around Blackshaw Farm. Below the farm I find the DCC signed footpath diversion around the farm which will take me up to the Five Finger post (see cover photo of Signpost no. 66).

But there’s a problem: the bottom plank of the stile is detached from it, lying on the ground. It’s going to be difficult to get over. I consider the options: one is to retrace my steps back to the last junction, adding a kilometre to the length of the walk; another is to try to walk through Blackshaw Farm; and the other is to somehow clamber over the top rail of the stile. Having had a very unpleasant experience last year during the first lockdown, I dismiss the farmyard option. (An altercation with a farmer who had put up an unauthorised footpath closed sign, which we had ignored, led to my reporting the incident to the police.)

Getting over the stile is going to be tricky. In my favour is my inner leg length of 34 inches. Against is the fact of my age of 75 with somewhat reduced agility. But is this going to be enough to clear the rail (higher than it appears in the photo) without damage to a delicate part of my anatomy? Now, I pride myself on being well equipped for emergencies when walking in winter: first aid kit, survival bag, head torch etc. What I don’t have with me is a tape measure to check the height of the stile rail. Anyway, I decide to tackle it by placing my leading foot over the rail onto the wire netting. It’s clear from the state of the netting that I’m not the first person to do this.

Now that I’m over it, I take a photo of the stile for reporting purposes. While I’m doing this, I hear the sound of a car on the lane. The driver of the Range Rover stops and asks me what I’m doing. He is the owner of the property. I point out to him the deficiencies of the stile. He might have apologised about this and said he would remedy the problem. But his response is to complain about the invasion of his land by 4WD vehicles, off-road trail motor bikes, and mountain bikers during the lock-downs. I agree with him that this is reprehensible behaviour, which I do not condone, but I am exercising my legal right to walk the short distance over his field, and in doing so I am not creating a nuisance. All that he would grudgingly concede was that I had not walked through his yard. Doubtless he will have been driving along this road ignoring the state of the stile for quite some time.

Incidentally, Blackshaw Farm is not actually a farm. It is now a substantial country house. A Google search finds an advert for it in Country Life in 2011 with an advertised price of £1.5 million. The same search finds a planning application for a swimming pool and orangery. Clearly the owner is a man of considerable means. Sadly, those means have not enabled him to repair his stile.

Same old story; landowners versus walkers. Of course, we’ll continue to fight for access to, and maintenance of, rights of way. Onward and upward, as the saying goes.

Next: Short Walks Programme

Page title:A Broken Stile
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