Save Our Stiles!
Are we seeing the end of stiles, those iconic symbols of the British countryside? So many stiles seem to have been removed on some of my favourite walks, replaced by gates –usually hideous metallic structures more suited to an urban park than the countryside.
Now I know the arguments.
We have to make the countryside more accessible, they say. I know too that some ramblers have trouble clambering over stiles. But do we really want to see the end of these lovely and often picturesque creations for ever, often at the decision of council zealots who probably don’t walk themselves?
Stiles feature regularly in books about walking and English literature generally. Think of the writings of Richard Jefferies, W. H. Hudson, Edward Thomas and John Clare just for starters. Even Shakespeare has:
Jog on, jog on, the footpath way
And merrily hent the stile-a
Your merry heart goes all the way
Your sad tires in a mile-a.
(Very true, incidentally).
And what a variety of stiles we have; not just the classic wooden field stile, but stone stiles, squeeze stiles and so many more.
I appreciate the disability argument.
But I think we have to recognise that we can never have a countryside that can be accessed by all – at least not without destroying the very things people come to see. In any case, few disabled people could ever manage to get through these modern metal gates
One day, the time will come when I cannot access much of the countryside.
I will be happy to live with my memories.
But when that day comes I don’t want paved paths, funiculars, cable cars, to enable me to go on. I will be happy to leave the less accessible countryside to those who can still enjoy it.
This is not to say there shouldn’t be easy access paths. But they should be in appropriate places. We cannot destroy the wilder places to make easy access to the whole countryside.
But what to do about stiles?
I would like to think that future generations will be able to experience the pleasure of crossing stiles – even if there does have to be a handy gate nearby for those who cannot climb them.
Perhaps the time has come to launch a stile preservation society? Bearing in mind all of the arguments, let us hold on to Britain’s remaining stiles.