Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Tame and the Wild

Landslip!...No Problemo for this family of lawless anarchists!
In the UK we have a pretty muddled system with regard to access. In Scotland they have technically at least, an open access policy although some feudal landowning relics still attempt to keep the public off their sporting estates through threats, intimidation and obstruction.

An increasing problem which I’ve encountered several times in the past few months has been a situation where local authorities and agencies like Natural Resources Wales-formerly the Forestry Commission and National Trust- have imposed access restrictions or complete lock outs on traditional public paths and bridle ways. In this litigious age the old ‘Health & Safety’ guidelines are wheeled out with undue haste it seems, as soon as a potential problem is detected. Notably, when a pathway suffers damage through landslip erosion and/or subsidence. 

Port Mulgrave
My experience of these restrictions in recent months suggests an over zealous approach is inevitably adopted by the powers that be whereas ‘the problem’ where it exists, is often little more than a minor disturbance-a fallen tree,debris cover or a collapsed section of wall- which can usually be by-passed with very little effort.

A perfect example of this came last week when I was up on the North Yorkshire coast between Scarborough and Whitby. I was planning to lead a small group of younger family members on the short but spectacular walk from Port Mulgrave to Staithes. Taking advantage of the tide being out to pick a way under the tottering, friable cliffs to follow the shoreline and return via the Cleveland Way. I’d been down to Port Mulgrave before and found it a fantastic spot. A circular bay backed by verdant cliffs with an amazing collection of raggle-taggle fishing huts dotted around the shore resembling a Jamaican shanty town!

Reggae Reggae Yorkshire!

I’m not sure if planning permission applies hereabouts given its location! The shore is reached via a steep fisherman’s path which follows a serpentine route through the undergrowth before it escapes the greenery to spill out on to the wide bright bay. An old jetty slices the slaty shore just beyond the path. Sadly it was partially destroyed in WW2 when the paranoid authorities feared it might be used by a German landing force. The idea that the Nazi troops would choose Port Mulgrave to launch an invasion is pretty crazy given that any landing party would be totally trapped within the steep and crumbling cirque of 400' high cliffs with no prospect of escape.

History lessons and military strategy aside, what met us at the start of our descent  were several ‘Path Closed- Landslip’ signs. Erected by the local authority- although truth be told, it could have been the National Trust who own large expanses of the coastal environs.  Signs which would have deterred most casual walkers-my own party included-from venturing down. However, experience has taught me that when faced with these official looking edicts one should always adopt the Walt Whitman ‘Resist Much-Obey Little’  strategy!

Climbing passed the Keep Out signs we soon came upon two families with young children who like ourselves had chosen to investigate for themselves. They had reached the landslip and discovered that far from being impassable, fishermen-presumably?- had erected steps and ropes over the unstable section which several members were already descending. One couple even had toddlers in papooses which I thought showed great spirit.

Pretty soon we reached the slate strewn shore and carried on around the coast to Staithes. If you’ve never visited this beautiful little fishing village then rounding the cliffs to see the tumble of red roofed pantile houses and old sail lofts stacked up in front of you, sure is a great way to see it for the first time.

Partaking of a Cappuccino and bagel in Staithes we returned under swollen blue skies along the Cleveland Way from whence we came.So..the moral is, if the powers that be tell you not to proceed......proceed!


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