It's unusual to re-discover a Green Road these days. Trail Riders are more used to preventing them from being closed. In the north of England a team of TRF pioneers have dedicated years to finding, mapping and conserving the trails in their area. If anyone was going to be able to get the local authority to work with land owners to re-open a route that had been planted over, it was going to be Ken Lord and pals...

TRF:

Hi Ken. Your name often pops up when ROR issues in the north of England are on the table. Could you give us a bit of info about your background?

Ken:

I first became aware of the TRF in a newspaper article around 1978 and in 1980 aged 40, newly divorced and having never ridden a bike since my teens I bought a new KL250, made contact with the local NTRF rep, Dave Young who died recently, who introduced me to trail riding and route researching. My introduction was a weekend in the Yorkshire Dales on road oriented tyres which was purgatory but totally addictive.

For about 4 years I lived in North Yorks and joined the local TRF group run then by John Bloomfield. I have ridden a trail bike on and off since then, the offs corresponding to a snapped bicep tendon, back problems and recently a torn rotator cuff. I currently run a faithful old Suzuki DR250RS 1994.

I must emphasise that my interest in maintaining Byways and Bridleways mainly in Northumberland and Durham is shared by a group of longstanding ex and current TRF members including Alan K, Ken C, Norman C, Andrew S. who all play a part in holding the Local Authorities to account. Ken Canham, ex NTRF group rep, in particular deserves credit for his continuous trail patrols and reporting of infringements.

TRF:

So it’s fair to say that you’ve seen a lot of the changes in the club and the situation with Green Roads over the years?

Ken:

The availability of legal unsealed routes changed dramatically in 2006 when the NERCA Bill was passed which effectively extinguished the right to claim BOAT status for old historic routes. The battle to retain unsealed routes has been fought relentlessly by Alan Kind at LARA who we foot soldiers rely on as ROW head honcho in the North.

Prior to 2006 a visit to the Records office to study Enclosure Awards, 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Maps, Fryer, Carey, Armstrong etc could reveal exciting old undiscovered routes which could be ridden in the knowledge that “once a Highway always a Highway” - Lord Denning, and if a challenge ended up in court you had an arguable defence.

Today the fight, particularly in Northumberland is to ensure that in NCC’s programme of converting ORPA’s and UCR’s to BOATS no routes are downgraded to Restricted Byways or lower status. That fight is ongoing and whenever it results in a local Public Enquiry NTRF members can all play a part by attending to support our advocates who will inevitably include Alan Kind.

Spot the green road...? Nope we can't either!

Ah, that's better!
Regarding NTRF and the Club itself even though I haven’t attended club meetings for several years, the last was at the Swan in Heddon, when it appeared to be in terminal decline. However over the last several years with fresh blood and new management I am hugely impressed by the evident enthusiasm, activity and creativity. I was hugely impressed by Greg’s money raising running video stunt to re open Hexham Lane near Wolsingham. This was particularly pleasing as I played a small part with Alan K in persuading Durham CC to install the gate at Salters Gate several years ago.

TRF:

So, Plantation House, what is the background to this lane? What was the problem?

Ken:

The UCR past Plantation House has probably been little ridden over the years, it is somewhat off the beaten track and half can be easily found and ridden with access on a hard track bypassing the legal line across three fields. In 2015 on a mountain bike ride I struggled to follow the legal route as indicated on my excellent Satmap. Fields had been planted over, wheat fields waist high deterred a passage on foot or bike, and where gates should exist none were evident. No doubt the farmers have gained financially from the cropping of the highway across three fields for many years.

TRF:

How did you get involved? Who else was ‘on the team’?

Ken:

I initially emailed the Northumberland Highways Dept in 2015 complaining about the obstructions and sending relevant photos. The matter has been handled throughout by Mitch Young in Highways who has dealt with the complaint in exemplary fashion. Mitch has dealt with UCR complaints previously and he can be relied on to act and confront the Landowners. The obstructions were located in the first three fields traveling south from the tarmac, and a fence and stile west of Plantation House, two owners being involved.

The route across the first three fields had been planted out for years and gates were missing on two field boundaries. The solution was to provide three new gates and reinstate the route across the three planted fields. Ken Canham and I met MitchYoung on site in March 2017 and we agreed the line of the route, where new gates should be installed and reinstatement across the three fields. We met one of the farmers that day who very amicably agreed to fit a new gate in place of the stile. His promise of completion in 28 days passed and it required a recce from Ken C and another letter from Mitch Y to produce a gate, albeit an awkward slip gate but a legal access nevertheless.

I was out of action following shoulder surgery and Ken Canham drove me up in his car and did a couple of inspections on his Beta Alp to monitor progress.

TRF:

It’s often thought that the councils are not really up to scratch when dealing with situations like this. Was this the case here?

Ken:

Essentially the Rights of Way dept in Northumberland County council deal with ORPA’S, Byway, Footpath, Bridleway and Restricted Byway matters, the Highways Dept deals with Roads and UCR’s.

My experience with the ROW dept has been painful, my overriding impression is that they are biased against trail riding and expend every effort to extinguish motorised rights. In the past I have had several meeting with senior Highways officials particularly regarding UCR’s in the Wooler and Rothbury areas but they were not fruitful. By contrast my experience with Mitch Young, Maintenance Engineer, North, has been very positive.

TRF:

Plantation House is now open to all users, what do you think were the key ingredients to success?

Ken:

Open for business

Well done Team TRF!

Success in opening the route was down to the Satmap, the efforts of a committed group, myself, Ken Canham, Mitch Young and my old Dad’s mantra “never give up, never give in”. In retrospect we could have taken a more dogmatic approach in establishing the line of the route. Even with the benefit of a Satmap indicating the route line on the OS map we were deceived by the total absence of telltale indications on the ground, no evidence of previous gate openings and over planted fields.

TRF:

Some people might be a bit concerned that adding a new Green Road to the network, or at least bringing one back from the dead, might attract too much traffic to the lane. What do you think?

Ken:

I am ambivalent I must admit about publicising this old road. Countless times I have agonized over newly opened routes being trashed and ‘YouTubed’ by illegal bikes and 4x4’s followed by the inevitable TRO.

This route will be particularly susceptible to damage across the three newly accessible fields which have lacked traffic compaction for many years. This I know from painful experience, I rode the route on July 17th in sweltering heat on my BMW F650GS twin with another trail riding old timer Barry H. The third field riding south had been mown and like warm plasticine covered in straw was to soft for grip. I went down smashing the windscreen with the bridge of my nose. However we went on to find and explore some excellent UCR’s around Coldstream one of which will require a complaint to Highways because of over planted grain on the route line. Familiar story.

TRF:

Thanks Ken! I hope you enjoy riding Plantation House!


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