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.
TRF:So, Plantation House, what is the background to this lane? What was the problem?
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?
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!