On Saturday 25th May, Ian is leading The Thames Path Super Walk which is a seventeen and a half mile hike. It starts from Slade Green Railway Station, near the very end of the Thames Path, and goes along the Thames to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. As the walk 4 life web site describes it:
… you will receive the almost magical experience of seeing the great river flow from salt water estuary to the heart of urbanity. The contrast really is exceptional for we’ll begin by Dartford Creek, famed for its birdlife and with barely a building in sight. Then the pre-esturine river, fringed by salt-loving flora and onto the post-industrial landscape of Woolwich and Charlton. Very gradually the office blocks of central London come into view with an ever improving sunset behind them. We finish besides one of the most famed examples of the built environment on the planet, Wren’s magnificent work at Greenwich.
The Super Walk starts at 10.00am and is expcted to take about eight hours. Bring food to eat on the way as there may not be time for a fixed lunch break. If anyone wants to join the Thames walk today they can call Ian on 077 998 101 78 and he’ll tell you where they are up to.
The Sunday walk is much more local being from Belvedere to Shooters Hill along the Green Chain. There’ll be a little diversion at Cleanthus Road as we’ll walk down the hill to Eltham Common to regain the Green Chain at Eltham Common. This will give us a chance to see Severndroog Castle and the views on the way round to the Oxleas Wood Café where the walk will end.
On this walk hikers will pass through some stunningly beauriful ancient woodland – it includes Lesnes Abbey, Bostall and Oxleas woods. Perhaps there will still be some bluebells to see on the way. The walk starts at 1.00pm on Sunday 26th at Belvedere railway station.
The walks are part of Walk London‘s “Spring into Summer” event. Both are free and there is no need to book. The walk leader, Ian Bull, can be contacted by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone, 020 7223 3572 for more details.
The latest issue of Ramblers‘ South East Walker newspaper suggested that the dispute was continuing in the same vein as before. There is an article by Des Garahan, Campaigns Officer for Inner London Ramblers, thanking readers for responding in support of the campaign to reopen the path, and asking for further evidence of use of the path before 1992 to help get it established as a public right of way. However the paper also printed a letter from a Rambler suggesting a more flexible approach, and saying that she “would gladly walk an alternative route if it meant that the farm were to be preserved as it is now”.
I had also heard from the farm that they had attended the Inner London Ramblers AGM with the intention of putting their case, but they “experienced hostility and rudeness, and were, for the most part, prevented from saying anything to the meeting.” Well, as least they tried to have an open discussion about the issues. Later the farm e-mailed me stating their position:
We are writing to you to update the position with regard to the Green Chain route across Woodlands Farm. As you know, the present claimed path across the farm is neither a right of way nor a permissive path, legally it has no status. We fully accept that it is the widely advertised route of the South East London Green Chain Section 3 and Woodlands Farm has always been extremely anxious to resolve this problem as soon as possible. We feel that if we accept the current claimed route across Woodlands Farm it will result in serious damage to the character of the farm, a severe curtailment of our actives and threaten the viability of the whole project.
Since 1996 many hundreds of volunteers at Woodlands Farm have worked tirelessly a derelict urban wasteland into a very popular and successful city farm of high wildlife and biodiversity value. We are naturally saddened and very anxious that the current campaign by Inner London Ramblers and the Green Chain Working Party to establish a public right of way across Woodlands Farm with 24/7 access could kill the Woodlands Farm project stone dead. The reasons for saying this are set out in the attached documents and these have appeared in our newsletter.
Put briefly, if a right of way were established along the route of the present claimed Green Chain, two of our largest hay meadows would be open to all and sundry with no restriction. In the past, as you know, this has resulted in arson, burglary and attacks on our livestock and threats to our staff and volunteers. We’ve been able to reduce this anti-social behaviour by locking the gates at Dryden Road and Bellegrove Road. The Woodlands Farm Trust has a perfect legal right to do this.
In order to facilitate the Green Chain Walk we have offered a perfectly feasible and enjoyable diversion, along an existing public footpath at Hillview. The WFT would then provide a permissive footpath across a short section of the farm to the Dryden Road gate, which could then be unlocked and left open. See attached map. This strategy of a diverted footpath meets with the approval of Blackheath Ramblers and North West Kent Ramblers.
As you reported previously, the 2012 AGM of the Woodlands Farm Trust voted unanimously for the Board to resist the efforts of Inner London Ramblers and the Green Chain Working Party to impose a new footpath across our fields. If there is no settlement this can only result in prolonged and costly litigation and to what end? Our proposed diversion is only 100 yards east of the current claimed footpath. Woodlands Farm Trust will resist any attempt to impose a new footpath on us and for the reasons we have stated, we feel we are now fighting for our lives.
Dr Barry Gray (Chair)
Maggie Jones (Vice Chair)
Things seemed to be escalating yesterday (Saturday) morning when I saw this tweet:
Oh dear, I thought, that doesn’t sound like it will lead to an agreement between Ramblers and the Farm that will get the path reopened. However later in the day I received this update from Maggie Jones, Vice Chair at the farm:
A few farm Board members and volunteers met the 4 people from Ramblers this lunchtime at the Oxleas Café. After much discussion and explanation of the Farm’s position they agreed not to leaflet today and to take consideration of the Farm’s position.
And there was also this update on twitter:
Shooters Hill leafletting postponed following lengthy impromptu ultimately constructive open air meeting with woodlands farm representatives — walking class hero (@walkngclasshero) March 9, 2013
So some positive developments, and cautious optimism that the dispute can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but still a little way to go before the gate is reopened permanently, I guess.
I heard that the other footpath closure in the area, the MoD’s closure of the path between Shooters Hill and Academy Place is looking less optimistic. An attempt to ascertain whether the footpath was a right of way by contacting Greenwich Council, yielded this response:
As a Metropolitan Borough Council, Royal Greenwich is not required by law to hold definitive records or information pertaining to ‘Public Rights of Way, By ways, or Bridlepaths. However I can confirm to the best of my knowledge that the footpath you are referring to is private and is not a public right of way.
According to Ramblers’ Put London on the Map campaign there is an oddity in the law which means that footpaths in London do not have the same legal protection as footpaths in other parts of the country. London Boroughs do not have to maintain definitive maps of rights of way, and so nearly all of them don’t do so. This makes it difficult to find out if a path is a right of way. Justin Cooke, Senior Policy Officer at Ramblers told me in an e-mail:
But if it turns out it is MOD land and use of the path has always been by permission, i.e. they allowed it but never granted anyone a right to use the path in doing so, then they would have the right to close it as they have done.
I should stress that Ramblers haven’t given up on the issue and it has been passed on to their local volunteer for the area for further action.
There’s one other avenue to follow up: local MP Clive Efford is a keen supporter of Ramblers, as he said in an e-mail about the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass which included the photo below. I’m looking forward to his response to a request for support in getting the path reopened ….
Ian Bull, who led the Midnight Megawalk on the Green Chain last July, sent me details of another walk that he’s leading this Saturday, 26th January starting at 12 O’Clock. His e-mail said:
Thanks to renewed funding from TfL Walk London is able to resume its programme of free guided walks around the Capital’s footpath network.
On Saturday 26th I’ll be leading a walk on the Green Chain from Charlton to Plumstead via Maryon Park, Charlton House, Woolwich Common, Severndroog Castle, and Shooters Hill etc. All are welcome, no need to book. Meet 12.00 at Charlton railway station. Finish 17.00 at Plumstead railway station, seven miles long. Packed lunch essential.
Many mistakenly believe that London’s best landscapes and views are found on Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and, Epping Forest. This walk proves otherwise as it introduces you to the Capital’s remarkable South Eastern corner. It’s no surprise to participants that this is one of Walk London’s most popular walks. You won’t know you are in a City for much of this splendid course as we gently climb from Sea Level to almost the highest point in London. Through parkland, ancient woodland, and the principle location of the cult 60s film ‘Blow Up’, we’ll ascend Shooters Hill through wonderful scenery and one of the British Isles most important geological sites. On our descent to the hidden gem of Plumstead Common we’ll look down the Thames Estuary right out to the North Sea. Bring your binoculars! A packed lunch is essential. There’s no need to book but feel free to ask the Walk Leader, Ian Bull, for more details.
My copy of South East Walker, the Ramblers regional newspaper, has just arrived, and once again the Green Chain Walk through Woodlands Farm features in its pages. A letter from farm trustees Barry Gray and Maggie Jones on page 3 and another article by Inner London Ramblers Campaigns Officer Des Garrahan on page 5 represent the latest steps in an ongoing dispute about the (currently blocked) path through the farm. I’ve covered the background in earlier posts.
The stage was set for the latest developments at the start of October at the well-attended Woodlands Farm AGM where a motion was raised to authorise the trustees to negotiate with Ramblers on an alternative route for the Green Chain walk through the farm. This motion was carried almost unanimously, with just two abstentions. As I understand it, the farm’s proposal is that rather than going straight across the farm from the Keats Road/Dryden Road gate the path would turn sharp left along the edge of the farm and link up with Footpath 245. On the map, right, taken from the Green Chain Walk’s “Suggested route if the gates are locked” the farm’s proposed route would go from Gate B to the red alternative route. The farm would pay for this to be fenced, in the same way as Footpath 245, preventing access to the farm’s field.
The Farm Trustees’ letter explains the farm’s position, their contribution to the local community and their reason for locking the gates: “because when the gates are left open they are used not only by friendly ramblers and walkers, but also by arsonists, thieves, drug users and those who have, in the past, set dogs on our livestock, often killing or maiming.” The letter concludes by suggesting talks between Ramblers and the Farm:
Much is at stake here and cool heads are needed. We are reasonable people and not ogres. We suggest that Mr Garrahan calms down a little, gets his facts right and, would it be too much to ask; that he comes to talk to us at Woodlands Farm, particularly as he now has the added responsibility of being a trustee on the Ramblers’ board.
We are not depriving people of the ability to walk in our fields. Subject to the movement of stock they can visit and see what a volunteer-run trust can do to preserve and improve wildlife and biodiversity so near to the centre of London. What they cannot do at present is walk through as if it were a public route.
In a week when we were reminded of the burglary and vandalism at the farm earlier in the year by @MPSGreenwich’s tweet: “3 teenagers who damaged and burgled #Woodlands Farm have received suspended sentences, curfew orders & electronic tagging”, it’s clear that Woodlands Farm are right to be concerned about their security.
Des Garrahan’s article, Blocked Green Chain Walk at Woodlands Farm, is an update on “the campaign to to remove the obstructions blocking the Green Chain Walk at Woodlands Farm and get this part of the route established as a public right of way.” The current phase of the campaign is the collation of witness evidence, and he asks for people who have walked the path through the farm, particularly if it was before 1992, to get in touch with Des at Ramblers’ Central Office.
Des concludes by thanking “all the people at the Green Chain Walk” for their continued support and advice. I assume this is referring to the Green Chain Walking Party which the farm trustees mention in their letter as having rejected their proposal for rerouting the path. According to the Green Chain web site this group is made up of representatives of five boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark:
This officer level working party was set up in 1975, comprising Planning Officers from the authorities, and has been in existence ever since. Shortly after this a Joint Committee of Members was set up. This is for the main part composed of the Chairmen or Vice-Chairmen of the constituent authorities Development Control and Recreation Committees. In the case of both the Working Party and the Joint Committee, the Greater London and South East Regional Sports Council are represented. It should be noted that prior to its demise, the GLC was also involved and in fact at officer level provided considerable input. The officer level Working Party meets at two monthly intervals and the Joint Committee twice a year.
The Green Chain Joint Committee is formed of councillors from the five boroughs; unfortunately the Greenwich Council web page link to give further information about the committee and access to agendas and minutes just leads to a blank page, and the committee has no meetings shown in the council on-line calendar for the last year or the next six months.
I’m very surprised that these bodies which are responsible for the running of the Green Chain Walk haven’t taken a more active role in mediating in the dispute. In the meantime the gates are still locked and walkers are being inconvenienced when they try to walk the Green Chain.
I still believe the various parties to the dispute should get together to talk about possible resolutions rather than waste charities’ money on a legal process. Woodlands Farm have clearly communicated what they are trying to achieve, made a proposal for resolving the problem and issued an invitation to talk. The ball now seems to be in Ramblers’ court.
As a fully-paid-up member of both the Woodlands Farm Trust and Ramblers, the dispute about the blocked section of the Green Chain Walk through the farm fills me with dismay. I can understand the concerns on both sides, but get really worried that they don’t seem to be talking constructively and collaboratively about the problem, and that positions are becoming more entrenched.
I learnt about the latest development when my copy of the Autumn 2012 edition of the Ramblers’ magazine Walk arrived, with the latest South East Walker newspaper. In an article titled Mind the gap, Des Garahan (twitter @ramblerdes), a member of The Ramblers’ Board of Trustees and Campaigns Officer for Inner London Ramblers, presents the Ramblers’ point of view. It appears a classic case of the kind of situation that Ramblers exists to fight – an unsympathetic landowner preventing access to a public path ….. and that path is now the weakest link in a significant walking route that is seen as one of the enduring achievements of the 1970s.
The article recognises the complexities of the impasse – the disputed path is not a public right of way, but a permissive path, albeit one that Woodlands agreed could be part of the Green Chain Walk when the route was first established. It continues:
Inner London Ramblers feels it now has no option but to begin the ponderous process of claiming the path as a public right of way and get this stretch of the route included on Bexley’s Definitive map. Despite a reputation to the contrary it is rare that we resort to the legal process. Contact has been made with the borough and the Green Chain Walk users group and both are very supportive of this action.
However when the locked gate that blocks the path was left open it caused a lot of problems for the farm. The gate is at the furthest reaches of the farm, out of site of the farm buildings where most of the volunteers work. Consequently there is no-one nearby to prevent the acts of petty vandalism that have happened, such as starting fires. More seriously farm animals have been attacked on a number of occasions by dogs who were allowed to run free by their owners – again originating from the same gate. The farm has been willing to open the gate for walking groups who contact them in advance on 0208 319 8900, though this doesn’t help the casual walker. The farm has started a petition in support of their position that the path should be closed, which visitors to the farm’s recent Summer Show were asked to sign.
It’s the casual walker following the Green Chain Walk sign posts who suffers most from this dispute; the sign posts all point towards the locked gate. On the farm side this could mean that a rambler walks a mile across the farm only to find their way blocked and have to re-trace their steps. On the Dryden Road side it’s a walk of a couple of hundred yards along a narrow track, impeded by brambles, nettles and fallen trees to the locked farm gate. There is an alternative route via Footpath 245 near the Green Man pub – linked to on the previous e-shootershill post on this topic – but there’s nothing on the Green Chain Walk to indicate this. On both sides of the gate the path is becoming overgrown and impassable through lack of use and maintenance.
I wonder what ideas the Farm and Ramblers have investigated that would resolve the dispute to everyone’s satisfaction? One suggestion was that there should be a notice board at the locked gate with a phone number to call to ask for the gate to be unlocked. I guess that means that the farm would need to have someone to answer the phone and walk down to the gate, though that’s surely possible. Maybe a local householder would agree to be a key holder? Could the gate be unlocked when farm volunteers are working nearby? And could the signposts and Green Chain Walk publicity material show the alternative, Footpath 245, route for times when the gate is unavoidably locked. (I found Footpath 245 itself a very enjoyable walk, almost as good as the beautiful track through the farm’s meadows).
As someone who donates to both Ramblers and the Farm I would rather they got together to talk about possible ways to resolve the dispute than waste the two charities’ money on the legal process.
Keen walkers among you will jump at the chance of a 22 mile night hike along the length of the Green Chain Walk from Crystal Palace to Erith, arriving at Shooters Hill in time for sunrise. Ian Bull who’s organising the “Midnight Megawalk” sent me the following details:
* Friday 20th July – The ‘Midnight Megawalk’.
A very leisurely 22 mile stroll over the most popular sections of the Green Chain Walk from Crystal Palace to Erith, but with a difference, the walk is nocturnal!
Meet outside Crystal Palace railway station at 22.30pm. After the first five miles we enter woodland for a pitch black stroll. Quite amazing! By the time we get to Eltham we’ll see wonderful views of London at first-light. This was so good last year that we spent about 20 minutes watching. At 05.00, after much more dark woodland we arrive at Shooters Hill for sunrise, and there’s no where better to see it as the view extends right over Essex and the estuary. The rest of the walk is almost entirely in woodland and I assure you, it does look lovely at that time of the morning. We arrive at Erith and the Thames at about 07.30 for plenty of trains home.
The walk was very successful last year but I must stress that the event is wholly unofficial and just for fun. If you take part you do so entirely at your own risk. For further information please contact Ian Bull – ianbull at btinternet dot com
Ian is also organising the seventh daylight version of the walk for Saturday 29th September and will send more details when they are available.
The aperture Woolwich Photographic Society, which meets in Shrewsbury House, will be celebrating its 120th anniversary next year – it was founded in 1892. To celebrate they have an exhibition of photography in the Elixir Gallery at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. To get to the Elixir Gallery you turn left after going in the main entrance of the hospital, along the corridor then up the slope.
The Elixir Gallery is looked after by Verve Arts, which runs arts programmes in South London Healthcare Trust hospitals. They are holding a photographic competition entitled “GREEN CHAIN CAPTURED 2012” and have invited photographers to enter photographs taken along the Green Chain Walk in Greenwich. Details of how to enter are on their website. The best 30 photographs will be exhibited in the Elixir Gallery.
They are also running three free photographic workshops next February:
FREE photographic workshops
Need some advice on what makes a really great nature photograph? There will be three FREE photographic workshops led by professional photographers on walks along the route as follows:
14th February 3-5pm with Mike Curry, 15th February 2-4pm with Mike Curry; 21st February 3-5pm with Ian Cook.
I’ll add these workshops, and the aperture meeting programme to the blog calendar which automagically shows events’ reminders over to the right.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every now and then a web search leading to the site, or a grumble on twitter indicates that all is not entirely well on the Green Chain Walk through the local area at present, specifically on the section that runs through Woodlands Farm. This may be a temporary difficulty, and it’s not entirely clear at what times the route is being affected.
If by any chance you are planning on walking the Green Chain, please note that a 15 minute diversion is available if necessary. During farm hours, it may be possible to confirm in advance if the path is clear: 0208 319 8900.