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On Blakeney Point

September 19, 2014

A lovely clear September morning with a huge blue Norfolk sky as we set out from Morstan Quay for a boat trip to Blakeney Point. We were first out on the morning boat, down the creek, with a good view of an egret.

Seals at Blakeney Point. (C) John Bainbridge 2014

Seals at Blakeney Point. (C) John Bainbridge 2014

Much of the water between Morstan and Blakeney Point is only six feet deep and very often, looking down into the water, you can see the yellow sand. At low tide much of this is dry. The sea and the creek were a deep blue, many of the boats moored in the creek house boats.

Seals at Blakeney (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Seals at Blakeney (c) John Bainbridge 2014

The whole of Blakeney Point has been created by longshore drift, utilising materials washed up from nearby eroding cliffs.

Even before we reached the end of the point, the first seals had started to bob up, with that wonderful curious look at these strangers coming to their world.

There were at least a hundred seals – both common and grey -lying on their sanctuary beach, though some dipped into the water to follow our boat for a closer look.

Afterwards we landed near to the old lifeboat station, once near to the end of the point but now only halfway along. We walked across the point to the North Sea side.

It all feels like a scene from The Riddle of the Sands, a land much more of water than earth. A place of mystery and

Old Blakeney Point. Lifeboat Station. (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Old Blakeney Point. Lifeboat Station. (c) John Bainbridge 2014

close nature.

A place to visit.

On Blakeney Point (c) John Bainbridge 2014

On Blakeney Point (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Ramblers’ Chief speaks out on woodland access

September 19, 2014

Benedict Southworth, director of the Ramblers Association has published the following on increased woodland access:


The Ramblers turns 80 next year, and in that time we’ve achieved a lot for walkers in Britain. We’ve organised millions of walks and protected thousands of paths. This month marks the 10 year anniversary of one of our biggest achievements – winning the right to roam – when the first pieces of open country in the northwest and southeast of England were opened up for walkers.

80 years ago, people wanting to escape the city and climb mountains, or explore wild moorland risked threats, harassment, and even arrest. Now, all open country (mountains, moor, heath, down and common land) in England and Wales is open for us to roam freely. In Scotland, you can walk (and camp) almost anywhere.

I feel incredibly proud to be at the helm of an organisation that has delivered so much. Access to nature should be a fundamental human right available to all citizens.

Kinder Scout - access land sign
The Peak District National Park

That freedom and access was hard won. It started during the Industrial Revolution when workers, who had toiled all week, found their weekend trips to the countryside being restricted by gamekeepers and landowners. Right to roam proposals were defeated over 10 times from the 1800s onwards, until success was finally achieved in England and Wales with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and in Scotland with the Land Reform Act 2003.

Now open up any Ordnance Survey map in England and Wales and you will see this achievement reflected in the large tracts of land which are shaded in yellow. It was a magnificent effort by the then staff and the large numbers of members who lobbied so hard and effectively to help this legislation through Parliament.

Thousands of our volunteers played a key role in working with government agencies to ensure that all open country was recorded on maps showing where the right to roam is in force. One of the first areas opened in the Peak District in September 2004, ten years ago. Since then, over a million hectares have been opened up for walkers to explore freely.

I was in the Peak District just last week talking to members about the importance of access to green spaces for the public in Sheffield. I was reminded of their huge effort helping to ensure the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was implemented in a way that benefitted the whole community. On the way home I was reflecting on what we still need to do.

Today, across the world, the majority of people spend their lives in towns and cities. Too many are in poor health, through lack of physical exercise or the mental stress of modern life. It is vital that we all have the opportunity to go for a walk, wherever we live or work, enjoy fresh air and green spaces. The Ramblers is at the forefront of a massive effort to ensure that all of us, as well as our children, can enjoy these benefits for all time.

The recent announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the England Coast Path will now be completed by 2020 was very welcome. We’ve been the driving force behind the campaign to open up the coast for everyone to enjoy and our volunteers are again helping to define the route with other stakeholders.

Walking in woodlands
Enjoying an autumnal stroll

But there is still much to do. My predecessor Tom Franklin sat on the independent panel on forestry that recommended better access to woodland as only 38% of England woodlands are open to fully explore. The government has pledged that everyone should have a wood close to them that they can walk in, but they’ve yet to do anything to make it happen.

Next year, elections will be held for the Westminster parliament. Our Manifesto for a Walking Britain asks for a new approach to provide more and better access in England and Wales. Included is a call for all party leaders to increase the amount of woodland available for walkers, so that everyone can enjoy a walk in the woods.

Hanging up in the Ramblers office is the letter that Tony Blair (then leader of the opposition) sent to the Ramblers, promising that a new Labour government would introduce the right to roam. With the election a year away, this framed letter acts as a reminder for how important it is to influence political parties in the run up to general elections.

Securing rights of access to a nation’s land is not simply about public enjoyment of our natural environment. It is at the heart of our economy and prosperity. Increasing public access, creating and managing paths, encouraging everyone to get outdoors all helps to stimulate economic activity in the countryside, attracting public and private investment alongside the promotion of healthy and rewarding lifestyles.

I urge you, whilst out walking this weekend to get off the beaten track and explore a piece of access land close to where you live and think back to all those before you that worked so hard to improve your right to access nature. You can choose from 8 of my favourite open landscapes.

It is a fundamental human right that everyone in Britain should be entitled to and I am determined to lead the Ramblers efforts to achieve this.

Benedict Southworth is chief executive of the Ramblers – follow him on twitter @BenedictSouthWO.

Photos: (top) Vertigogen; (bottom) Kevin Millican

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Wally’s centenary

September 14, 2014


The present day RA has need of campaigners such as Wally. I met him a couple of times. A grand chap.

Originally posted on CampaignerKate:

Today Wally Smith, who died in 2001, would have been 100, a special friend of the Ramblers and of mine.   Here’s what I said at his memorial event in May 2001.

Tribute to Wally Smith, 13 September 1914 – 29 April 2001
Founder member of the Ramblers’ Association, treasurer 1961-87 and vice-president 1987-2001.

They called him Tiger Smith in Liverpool and North Wales Area in the 1930s because he used to lead such energetic and challenging walks.  And I suspect it was also because he was a leading light in organising the path surveys in the 1950s, when we first got the official, definitive, maps of rights of way under the National Parks Act 1949.

All the paths had to be claimed by volunteers, and Liverpool and North Wales Ramblers covered two million acres.  Wally was the organiser, he went with the volunteers—by bus, train and bike—out into the wilds and…

View original 699 more words

The forbidden landscapes of Holkham Hall

September 12, 2014

Under a day of glowering skies we paid a visit to Holkham Hall, one of the few stately homes of Norfolk that I have missed in my many travels in the county.

Holkham Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Holkham Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2014

I would like to say I was impressed, but really I wasn’t.

I think it’s a ghastly pile, more like a barracks or a workhouse than anything homely.  The most interesting building on the estate is the Ice House, a rather beautiful semi-thatched building of a most unusual design. The interior of Holkham Hall – or at least the bits you are permitted to see – is, in my opinion, like some awful municipal art gallery, full of not particularly impressive paintings.

However, I was interested in the current Great War exhibition, which has a lot of information on estate workers who served in the trenches. And the Bygones Museum is well worth a look, with many artefacts from rural history and some quite splendid motor vehicles.

Ice House at Holkham Hall, (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Ice House at Holkham Hall, (c) John Bainbridge 2014

The cafe is best avoided if you are a tea drinker. They dunk a teabag in a cardboard cup and leave it floating there for you to try and retrieve without making a mess.

And, of course, the greater estate is very attractive, particularly in the vicinity of the vast Holkham Beach, which I use in the final scenes of my thriller “The Shadow of William Quest”.

It is interesting that the coastal section of the estate is one of the few bits of the whole kit and caboodle that offers anything in the way of public rights of way.

The rest of this vast chunk of Norfolk is verboden unless you pay an fee.

The University of East Anglia’s recent Pathways to History survey clearly showed that rights of way were fewer in the vicinity of the landed estates.

Says it all really!

Landowners in past centuries, mostly themselves magistrates, would invite a fellow magistrate (landowner) over and between them they would close a public highway, quicker than you could say “Man Trap”.

Man Trap at Holkham Hall, Norfolk (c) John Bainbridge 2014

Man Trap at Holkham Hall, Norfolk (c) John Bainbridge 2014

And talking of man traps there was a very good example in the Bygones Museum. Worth looking at – I’ve put a lot about man traps and the way the great estates closed rights of way in my little book “The Compleat Trespasser” (See above, you can get one in paperback or on your Kindle).

As for Holkham the museum is well worth looking at, as is the Ice House. Personally, I would give the rest of it a miss.


September 12, 2014

EVERYONE is invited to join the Friends and West Essex Ramblers
on our annual walk through Epping Forest from South to North
based on the Centenary walk established in 1978 to celebrate the 100th anniversary
of the passing of the Epping Forest Act.

It was that legislation, promoted by the Corporation of the City of London,
that restored lost lands to the Forest (it had dwindled to less than half its present size!)
and secured its future as a Public Open Space.

Mike Whitely (FoEF and Ramblers Assoc.)

The Walk starts at the junction of Capel Road and Forest Drive near Manor Park Station at 9.00am SHARP!
Thereafter, approximate timing will be:
9:50 am Depart Green Man roundabout, Leytonstone
11:00 am Arrive at County Hotel, Oak Hill, Woodford
– who will be providing us with a welcome cup of coffee
11:20 am Depart from the County Hotel
12:30 pm Arrive at Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge, Chingford for lunch stop
1:30 pm Depart from the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge
2.15 pm Depart from Earl’s Path Car Park, Earl’s Path Road, Loughton
4.30 – 5:00 pm Arrive Bell Common, Epping.

After Lunch the Walk will continue in an entertaining way through Forest/Buffer lands before arriving at Bell Common, Epping about 5.00pm.

The Walk is around 15 miles long but is of easy pace
and is OPEN TO ALL!!
You don’t HAVE to belong to anything!

We hope (and expect) that local MPs, Conservators and officers of the Forest will participate in the event,
as will representatives of the Council for the Protection of Rural Essex,
the RSPB, Essex Wildlife Trust and the British Naturalists Association.

There will be ample stops and pauses when short explanatory talks will be given on
the Forest and its management and history in furtherance of the Walk’s objective to promote
the appreciation and knowledge of this priceless Open Public Space!

The walk can be joined – and left – anywhere along the way.
Any Queries call Mike Whitely on 0208 524 2737 or Judy Adams 020 8418 0730.

Under a Norfolk Sky

September 10, 2014

Itteringham – Arriving in Norfolk we were surprised at how much more autumnal the county feels than Westmorland.

(c) John Bainbridge 2014

(c) John Bainbridge 2014

The trees already have the lovely colours of the fall.

And how delightful to hear the birds singing again, after the silence of the quiet months.

In the little wood at the back of the cottage we glimpsed a tree sparrow. I don’t recall seeing one of these for many years, though Westmorland is blessed with many of the other kind.

More on Norfolk to come. It is always a joy to be back in the county, where I spent three very contented years doing a degree, and exploring on foot and bike.


Pathways to history

September 8, 2014

I was interested to see that the landscape history department at my old university – the University of East Anglia – has organised  a project investigating the archaeology and history of public rights of way.

As you will know from previous blogs I am very keen on protecting the original lines of rights of way, fighting their closure and resisting most diversions.

This project is fascinating to everyone interested in our old paths.

UEA’s project shows that, in Norfolk, there are very few rights of way in the vicinity of the great estates.  Not surprising as big landowners in the district generally succeeded in getting paths shut down.

The UEA project is well worth looking at, and should promote you to try and do something similar in your own areas.

You can read more about the Pathways to History project at its website at


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