Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Duke's Footway

I'm a few days late, but last Friday the dog and I explored another local walk. Today I've added it to the map. This one wasn't recorded by the Board of Health in their 1869 survey.

At the time it wasn't clear whether the path existed or not. The reason was this.

In the 1850's the Duke wanted to build a new wall around his park. He offered to build the wall 6 feet inside his own land, leaving the land outside as a footpath that anyone could use. Everyone thought this was a good idea, so it went ahead.

A decade went by before people seem to have realised that the new wall blocked an ancient footway, and the Duke hadn't offered to build a footpath: just to make the land available. People felt cheated: they had lost an ancient right of way, without gaining a footpath. There was a bit of argy-bargy, and the path wasn't included in the 1869 survey. Things must have got sorted eventually, because today this counts as a public footpath.

The path follows the wall that the Duke built in 1858. So it couldn't be easier to follow - just by staying close to the wall. The path itself isn't heavily used, or surfaced. But it is used, and fairly easy walking - though there are some muddy bits, and a couple of streams to cross. There are also a few stiles, but they have gaps in the fence that a labrador-sized labrador can get through. We know because we tested them.

As you climb the views east over town to the sea come and go with the roll of the land. There are less interesting views over the moor to the south. On reaching the top the views out to sea disappear, but there are fine views inland to the east and north.

There is also a radar dome which provides long-range early warning and control for the UK Air Surveillance And Control System (ASACS). Basically this warns of intruders into UK airspace. The enclosure, apparently, is home to rabbits, stoats, newts, frogs, birds and sometimes adders.

It's worth the climb. The top of the hill is called Cloudy Crags. I can't think why. We were particularly lucky with the way the sun was breaking through. The return journey was easier but less impressive. We came back on the road, and the rain started.  

Friday, 3 October 2014

1869 footway survey

I discovered a newspaper article from 1869 describing a survey of local footpaths.

In 1869 the town was expanding and increased traffic was damaging some footpaths. Farmers were starting to make agricultural improvements that involved ploughing up paths, or interrupting them with new drainage ditches and fences. Turnpike trusts, who had managed local roads for the previous century or so, were coming to the end of their life.

So it was an interesting time for footpaths.

There were nearly thirty footpaths in the survey, and the dog and I went to explore one of them. It ran for about 1.5 miles, is clearly described in the newspaper article, and clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps of the time. It doesn't really lead from anywhere, or to anywhere, but we made a round trip, resulting in a walk which took about three hours.

This is still a public footpath, which pre-dates the later field pattern - so it cuts across the middle of fields and their boundaries. It is not marked with signposts, except at the start and finish, but it runs in a fairly straight line, and large stiles have been installed at all the fences. So the route is mostly easy to follow. The stiles, unfortunately, are almost 100% dog-proof, so following this path with a labrador involves quite a few diversions to discover suitable gates.

The area has an interesting history. It went through two phases of enclosure and improvement. Early enclosures around 1700 increased the value of the land. Before that nobody seemed to care exactly who had what rights to the common land. With increased value there were a number of disagreements which led to court cases, and fences being pulled down. A second wave of improvement had to wait until the resulting disputes were resolved in the middle of the 19th century.

The ruined house above dates from the second phase of improvement: around 1870-1890. From a similar period, the path crosses the old track-bed of the Alnwick / Cornhill railway, which was built between 1884 and 1887, and closed in 1953.

Nearby is a farm that was owned in the 18th century by an eccentric mathematician, who divided his estate into highly regular square fields, fathered five sons and at least five daughters, but still found time to build an organ for a local church, design a threshing machine, and build a flying machine, from leather and feathers. After summoning friends and servants to witness his first flight, he jumped off his granary stairs, and landed (unhurt) in a gooseberry bush.

"Chapeau" to him.

The path wasn't traced on OSM, but I've added it now. It's a pleasant walk, with more than a bit of interest. The weather was fine, I enjoyed myself, and the dog seemed happy.

In 1869 most of the paths in the survey existed purely for utilitarian reasons. Only a few have been lost, most remain, and this isn't the only one that looks interesting.

So I think its fair to say that this theme can be continued....