Route access: Newbold Comyn to Offchurch via Offchurch Bury
I had a bit of a run in with the land owner at Offchurch Bury whilst out on a ride with my wife at the weekend (13/11/11). We took the oft used path from the back of Newbold Comyn across to the river Leam, White Bridge / Floodgate Spinney then across to the private drive (where we met the land owner) with the intention of carrying on up the drive to Offchurch.
I greeted the land owner (not knowing who he was at this stage) as he was working on the fence next to the drive. He was amiable enough in response but did stop us to ask if we knew we were cycling on a footpath and whether or not this was something we would do again. In response I explained that I knew we were on a footpath and that yes, I would do it again. I went on to say that I respected the path, considered it big enough to allow for cycling as well as walkers but would always defer passing to legitimate users. He reminded us that equestrian events are held on that land which could be dangerous for all parties and also pointed out that there have been problems with mountain bikers riding through but off the designated foot path. I apologised on behalf of the mountain bike community and we agreed there are some inconsiderate people in all outdoor groups that spoil things for other users. With a slightly reticent acceptance he then allowed to continue on our way.
Quite a few years back I had a similar encounter (with a different person) on that driveway and was asked to take the driveway all the way up to Offchurch as opposed to continuing on the footpath across to Welsh Road. I’ve done that ever since and told other people to do the same. So we slowly pedalled up the drive but as we got closer I could see there is now a locked gate across the drive with a small pedestrian gate to the side. Before I could make my mind about using the pedestrian gate or going back down the drive to the foot path the land owner had arrived, jumped out of his Range Rover and started shouting at us. “What part of Private do you not understand?!”. He was clearly as mad as hell, shaking with adrenalin and not in any state to have a reasoned discussion with us “f****** mountain bikers”.
As I am sure you can imagine this was not a very nice encounter, and particularly a raging and abusive male was very intimidating to my wife. Despite the threat of being photographed and prosecuted he did actually allow us to roll back down the drive and take the footpath. The message is very clear though – use the footpath, do not stray from the footpath and absolutely do not use the driveway as an exit route!
Despite the unfortunate outcome it does appear he is still willing to accept and allow responsible cyclists passing through on the footpath. This is good news because it is a really useful link that would be a shame to lose. Please make sure you respect the land and the access and if you know of anyone who might be one of those he mentioned riding where ever they please... Have a strong word with them! You should also take extra care at the White Bridge / Floodgate Spinney section if there appears to be an event on. Stopping to ask a marshall when it is safe to go through will go a long way towards ensuring everyone’s safety and hopefully some harmony.
Please also bear in mind the right of access on a public footpath only extends to walking, so there is no right to cycle or ride a horse on a public footpath. However, it is not a criminal offence to do so, unless there is a traffic order or bylaw in place specifically - instead it is a civil wrong to ride a bicycle or a horse on a public footpath, and action could be taken by the landowner for trespass or nuisance by the user.
Cyclists need to continue working towards making friends with other outdoor user groups and landowners. Whether you walk, cycle or ride a horse, we all need to stand together to protect rights of way and fighting causes like the HS2. Behaving irresponsibly and aggravating landowners will only cause unnecessary friction, tarring by the same brush for all of us and the resulting loss of freedom.
I have subsequently worked out who it was we spoke to and intend to write to him apologizing for the perceived antagonistic behavior by riding up his private driveway. Also to let him know I am posting this on the local Facebook cross county page and wider STW Forum thereby hopefully getting the attention of as many of the local riders as possible. If you are a local cyclist please help by relaying this information to your riding buddies.
Note: This post is not intended to start any kind of RoW debate or discussion as to me being in the right/wrong etc., but simply to inform the local riders who know this route of my encounter and of the situation as it stands with regards to the land owner.