Robin Whitlock commented on CFP walk

Robin Whitlock: South Bristol Link Road ‘will cut our community in half’

By
Oct 12, 2011
“People are afraid the South Bristol Link Road will cut their community in half. Residents in Withywood and Hartcliffe are particularly worries because of the likelihood of huge amounts of traffic,” says Chris Bloor, who has led runners from The Town and Country Harriers through the area for 12 years.

The South Bristol Ring Road is undoubtedly a hot topic for residents in the area now. According to the West of England Partnership’s TravelPlus website, the planned road will link the A370 to the A4174 Hartcliffe Roundabout and will include rapid transit bus lanes, bus priority measures and facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

The website makes a point of stating that a major role of the road will be to provide a new route for the rapid transit system while the business case document stresses that at present South Bristol suffers from poor transport links and congestion. It also makes clear that a prime motive is to stimulate regeneration and growth in the area.

But the benefits are disputed by a number of Bristol residents and by interest groups such as Transport for Greater Bristol, Bristol Green Party and Friends of the Community Forest Path (CFP).

The CFP is a pathway that winds its way around Bristol using various footpaths, tracks and a number of rural lanes with particularly fine views across the Mendips and the Severn estuary. One of the areas threatened by the road scheme is the stretch of the path between Long Ashton and the A38.

With this in mind, on Saturday a group of local residents from affected areas along the route got together to walk the path as far as Highridge Common in order to draw attention to the threat presented by the road.

The road scheme is something that particularly irritates many residents living in the areas of the city likely to be affected it. Elizabeth Ellis, writing on the wall of Bristol Green Party’s Facebook group, points out that it will run through quiet suburban areas and over unspoilt countryside.

The area is actually part of the city’s Green Belt according to Pip Sheard writing on the Campaign For Better Transport website. She stresses in her article that “the public prefer improved public transport to new road building”.

This is a view echoed by George Monbiot who argues that the UK’s craze for new road schemes takes us back to the days of the old Tory government. The Campaign For Better Transport believe that such road schemes are an expensive waste of money.

Sian Berry said recently in an interview with BBC News: “Roads at £8,000 per metre are hugely expensive and unproven. This is a waste of money and there are better ways of sorting public transport – especially when council budgets are tight.”

Meanwhile, the Campaign Against the South Bristol Link advocate the opening of the Portishead rail line as an alternative to the road scheme. Although this idea has consistently been disregarded by those in power in the city.

Part of the route of the planned road runs across Highridge Common. This is where local resident Barry Lewis met the walkers on Saturday. He is really worried about what’s going to happen to this area as he’s lived in the area for the past 60 years, ever since his estate was first built. He told me that lots of people living nearby use the common to walk their dogs and enjoy its green space.

“It’s quite a chunk that’s going to be taken off it,” he said. “I can’t see why they want to take it, I want something left for my grandchildren.”

Quarterly Bulletin: 6

Better late than never?

Mapping up and running

The latest version of the mapping for the Community Forest Path showing connections to public transport is now on the Closer to the Countryside website (www.closertothecountryside.co.uk) This is nearly complete but there are still some wrinkles to straighten out. In particular the 517/518 buses no longer run so an early revision will be needed – but I would rather wait to see if there is anything else that needs correcting.

The following item makes use of the first part of the mapping.

South Bristol Link Road

The latest plans for the South Bristol Link Road threaten the route of the Community Forest Path between Long Ashton and the A38. The threat to the path is severe, but the threat to the people of South Bristol is greater.

It is proposed that we follow the route to Highridge Common next Saturday 8th October in order to inspect the route and distribute postcards produced by “Transport for Greater Bristol”, which campaigns for sustainable transport (see http://www.tfgb.org.uk/manifesto.htm)

The idea is to send the postcards to the Transport secretary. Proposed Schedule: 11-30am meet in front of Council House on College Green 11-39 catch No 8 bus to Clifton Village 11-47 arrive in Clifton 12-00 approx, cross Clifton Suspension Bridge 12-45 arrive Angel Long Aston for drink/lunch 1-30 leave Angel to follow CFP and proposed line of South Bristol Link Road 3-00pm arrive Highridge Common From here the possibilities are either take the 75 bus back to Bristol from the Common, continue along the proposed route via the Queen’s Head to the Gatehouse centre to take the 76 bus back to the centre or carry on to the Dundry Inn and loop round to catch the 75 off Sherrin Way. You will need: A day rider bus ticket (from driver etc.), which will cost £4 if you are an adult. Children £2-20 on Saturday. Family ticket for 5 people (up to 2 adults) – £8. Money for a drink in the pub (or possibly a picnic. (Not sure where you would eat it – possibly at Ashton Court?) Suitable footwear and clothing appropriate for the conditions. It would be helpful if you could let me (chris_bloor@tiscali.co.uk) know if you can come. (This walk is also a try out for more regular Saturday walks on the Community Forest Path.)

Saturday Walks

For a long time, I have intended to lead some walks and/or runs on the Community Forest Path. Now that I have worked out the connections to Public Transport, this is now a live prospect. I have walked several sections with Libby and would be happy to lead larger groups. Most of them work by getting a bus out and back with a pub visit in the middle, rather on the model of the South Bristol Link protest walk. I propose to lead a walk on 29th October using the 75 bus from the Gloucester Road to Patchway and then taking the CFP to Henbury via Easter Compton, where a visit to the Fox would be a good idea. We would then take the 76 back to the Gloucester Road, possibly stopping at the Wellie or maybe somewhere further into town. Any takers? Please email me chris_bloor@tiscali.co.uk for details as to timing etc.

Path Clearing

The local Public Rights of Way officers do a good job keeping paths clear if they know where the problems are and the new Outdoorswest website makes it easier to report problems to the right officer. But North Somerset are not signed up to this scheme and all the PROW teams have suffered severe cuts. Consequently, volunteer labour is often necessary to keep the CFP open. The preferred option seems to be walking with secateurs (for brambles) and gardening gloves (for nettles) in most areas. If you are interested in more active walking of this type, please contact Chris Bloor. (Actually carrying such items is always a good idea when out for a walk.)

Outdoorswest

The Outdoorswest website is up and running (although not quite up to speed). It is not really suitable to carry the whole of the Community Forest Path, but it can show short sections of the route linked to public transport. It is, however, very suitable for showing the routes used by Walking For Health Groups. Consequently, Nic Ferris of Bristol Walking for Health group has arranged training to train people up to enter routes onto the Outdoorswest website. I have been to two events; the Walk4Health walk on 26th September and the Partnership Walk on 30th September to promote the website. I was also able to promote the Community Forest Path at the same time. The site is particularly valuable for checking out the presence of stiles etc on the rute and reporting problems to PROW officers.

Green Man Challenge

There has been quite a flurry of activity on the Green Man Challenge since the last Bulletin. Alex Prince got round in 8 hours 8mins on 9th April, a great time that was beaten by Clive Marston on Easter Sunday (7hrs 55mins 13secs). Three walkers, John Carr, Kevin Rafter and Karl Suchy hot round in 17 hours 20 mins on 11th June and a group of businessmen (and women) did it as a relay event the following day in 16hrs. Mark Beveridge got round in just under 12 hours the following weekend. He had to make a tremendous effort to finish in the time due some navigation errors earlier. Matthew Hall and Tracy Darch walked around in 16 hours 45 mins in July, starting and finishing in Patchway. Neil Banwell got round in around 12 hours on 7th August and then Rin’dzin Pamo was the first person to finish as a “barefoot” runner in Vibram 5-fingers supported by a trio of Woodwoses and her brother Lawrence in a time of 11hrs 25mins on 7th September. Our 50th Woodwose was Andrew Beckett, who completed on Sunday 25th.

Ultrarunning

The outfit which puts on the Malborough Challenge and is planning the Severn Way Challenge has expressed a wish to organise a race on the Community Forest Path. Mixed feelings have been expressed about this move. The general feeling seems to be that some such move is inevitable, but we would like to preserve the mystical element that has been woven into the Green Man Challenge. Rin’dzin Pamo, for example did the whole thing as part of her Buddhist practice to raise money for the Aro Ling Buddhist Centre on the Gloucester Road.

What do you think?

CUSTODIANS WALK TO DRIVE OFF A ROAD

What does it mean to be a custodian? It means having my eyes opened and my hackles raised enough to act. A small group – 10 of us by the time we left the Angel at Long Ashton walked the land last Saturday between Long Ashton and Highridge Common across which a new road is threatened.

Being a custodian means walking the land and letting the land walk into my imagination-and heart. After a footbridge over the A38, along which blinkered (literally – not noticing what’s to either side) goal-set car drivers sped, we passed a cow in great distress in the middle of calving or so it seemed to us. We were able to alert the farmer who came promptly.

In a field by a business park near Parsonage farm we passed a man sawing up branches of an oak tree burnt out by vandals, for his winter fuel. I saw how we need ‘greenbelt’ to be a belt which protects nature from boredom’s fruits.

I’d never heard of Colliter’s Brook and when I saw it hiding and glinting amongst mature oak trees I could see how a new road could devastate. As if to prove the point a JCB sat alone and potent at the end of the Long Ashton Landfill entrance drive.

I’d never seen the Long Ashton landfill from the vantage point of a walker along its edge. Densely planted saplings and reedbeds showed what, over time, can be done to regenerate damaged land. Time and the leaving of nature to do its work. What hope does nature have when restless development pushes her back repeatedly? The road will degenerate land and allow housing and business development up to its edge.

On a field’s sloping edge we stopped to allow my 18 month old daughter Zoe to stretch her legs. Aptly named Hanging Wood burnished its early autumn shaggy tree crowns from the valley side opposite as one of the party insisted we do an impromptu play reading. This was a natural ampitheatre. It was about the fight between a clergyman and people of the parish over ownership of a church hall. It was a fitting theme as we contemplated the theft of the land we were walking through. Because, though technically some land is private and some public and maps can be drawn demarcating what is what, in the human soul it is all common land to which we belong. (And, as Ecoshow walkers, the reading of a play in nature reminded me how the arts can enhance custodianship.)

That is ultimately what we are as custodians, creatures of nature acknowledging our dependence on her and reminding others of the respect she is due. It is from that respect that we derive our real wealth, not as creatures who, like the car drivers we passed rarely step out of their mental tin boxes. We delude ourselves that we’reoutside nature. And from that place we endlessly screw her to extract the last drip of imagined wealth we call ‘development opportunity’.

The opportunity is to stop expansion, to stop the South Bristol Link Road. Picking over more carefully what we humans have already turfed over, within existing urban settings, should be our focus. And work with nature, like the landfill planters, the dairy farmer, the winter fuel gatherer and the thespian walkers, to take care of the urban edge.

Friends of CFP: Bulletin 5

The Way Forward?

I attended a very instructive meeting of the South Gloucestershire Public Rights of Way Liaison Group (PROWLG) last week. The heart of the meeting was the question of how volunteers could and should be used to help keep footpaths clear.

The general feeling was that there were a number of potential volunteers in the area, who would like to clear paths, but it was difficult to actually get a group together to do the job.

One difficulty was there are three sets of people involved who need to be co-ordinated: the volunteers, the landowner and the local authority.

Rennie Dickins (the South Glos PROW team leader) had recently been to a conference that produced a useful summary of the approaches used in different councils.

Firstly, there is the view that the easiest and most cost effective method is to use contractors with power tools and to use no volunteers at all. Rennie suggested that this method also gave the authority power over the process because they could withhold payment if the job was not done properly. (Model 1)

It does not always work: this bridge was taken out by drainage contractors.

Secondly, the authority could operate volunteers through an intermediary with their own third party insurance such as the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. There was a representative of the Cotswold Wardens at the meeting, who work in this manner. (Model 2)

(See http://www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/?page=cotswoldswardens ) I should imagine that the Bristol Trails group (http://www.bristoltrailsgroup.com/), which builds mountain bike trails works in a similar manner. Friends of the Community Forest Path is affiliated to BTCV and thus has insurance and would fit in with the second model.

The third method, and the least popular with public rights of way departments, is direct supervision of groups of volunteers. This requires a heavy commitment from officers and there is a problem in that volunteers and officers tend to be at work at the same time and it would be unfair for officers to supervise volunteers at the weekend. Rennie asked whether we could have a volunteer volunteer-co-ordinator. (Model 3)

The last model was referred to as light touch volunteering. In this model, the volunteer acted more or less as an ordinary walker, who might carry a pair of secateurs and a folding saw to ensure that he was not prevented from exercising his right to walk along a blocked footpath. This was Rennie’s preference, but this view was not shared by Robin Winfield, an ex-NFU representative, who preferred the third model, because of a bad experience with an over enthusiastic snipper, who created havoc by making holes in hedges, through which cattle escaped. (Model 4)

So far, most of the work done by the Friends of The Community Forest Path has followed Model 4 and has been done by one or two people. However, the group is set up to operate under Model 2, although, on the whole, this has not been the way that things have worked out. The only exception was the tree planting along footpath 306 on Dundry Slopes, which was carried out using trees obtained from BTCV, volunteers from Hartcliffe and Withywood Partnership, children from Fairfurlong School and volunteers from CSV (Community Service Volunteers.) We also had the benefit of acquiescence from the parks department.

 

Heather Williams with residents of Hartcliffe and Withywood  and children from Fairfurlong School planting some of the 100 trees received from BTCV by the Friends of the Community Forest Path. It is hoped that the trees, 20 oak, 20 beech, 20 birch, 20 rowan and 20 wild cherry will shade out the brambles that threaten to close the path from time to time. It will be some years before the trees, planted as whips, will be big enough to do this. In the meantime, they will need some TLC, which will also help to keep the path open and in the public eye.

Ideally, we should do more Model 2 work, because that is the sort of work that will keep the group together.

One good example of a Model 2 group similar to ours in action is provided by “A Coventry Way”, http://www.acoventryway.org.uk . Here we have a group set up to look after a circular path around a major city (40 miles long as opposed to the 45 around Bristol) with 21 circular routes off the route and a group of about 10 volunteers, which puts in kissing gates and bridges and clears scrub.

The volunteer group must consist mainly of retired people, because they meet once a month on a Wednesday at 9-30 am. They are clearly prepared to work all day because it was considered worth remarking that one particular job was finished by one o’clock.

The Coventry group is financed through events on “A Coventry Way”, by the sale of route descriptions of the main path but also of the 21 smaller circular routes. They also seem to make money from the sale of T-shirts and other memorabilia connected with the path.

The elements of the Coventry Way set up are present in Bristol, but they need to be integrated in some way.

The ideal focus would be an event. At present, most people take on the Community Forest Path as individuals or small groups trying to beat the Green Man Challenge to become Woodwoses. Giles Heeks of Moti came up with a sponsored model in which groups were led around by pacemakers as in the London Marathon. In May, a group from Oasis Academy Brightstowe (formerly Portway School) are going to do the route as a relay.

The Coventry model could incorporate all these approaches. It is open to runners and walkers as individuals or as relay teams, with each category setting off individually at different times with times being  recorded at check points along the route. The elapsed times are computed at the end – a little like the Cotswold Way Relay or perhaps more like the Julian House Circuit of Bath Walk (20 miles).

Such an event would require checkpoints to be manned for a considerable amount of time. How could we do this? Perhaps relay teams might be able to do some of this? We should also seek help from walking groups, such as the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) or the Ramblers.

However, I think the way forward may lie through parishes and neighbourhood partnerships. Parish Councils in particular have close relations with landowners and many are already involved in looking after and promoting their own footpaths. Perhaps they would also support an event such as we are suggesting, especially if we promoted a charity at the same time.

The Greenman Challenge Ultra per Giles

The biggest Green Man Challenge attempt so far was organised by Giles Heeks of Moti, seen here with Martin Beale and others approaching the check point on Shortwood Hill. This event was supported by Salomon and Gore  sportswear manufacturers and Moti the sports shop on Whiteladies’ Road. 22 runners set off from the Green Man at 8am on 19th February. 9 brave souls finished the whole 45 miles including Angie Sadler who is the new women’s champion with a time of 9 hours 46 mins.

Previously, Jonathan Gledson of TACH became the third fastest Woodwose with a time of 8 hours 12 mins on 29th January. The following week, Luke Taylor, also of TACH, produced an excellent run of 8 hours 31 mins in conditions that Jonathan said were much more difficult than when he did it. This was on 27th February.

Details of these attempts can be found on http://gaveller.wordpress.com

 On the Community Forest Path

 

Jonathan Gledson reported that these steps were blocked by stones from the wall on the left, which had fallen across them. I went to inspect them with Giles Heeks, who is organising the Moti Green Man Challenge and the site was a dangerous mess, so I reported it to Rennie Dickins of the South Gloucestershire Public Rights of Way team. There was a bit of a problem, because the footpath is not on the definitive map. Nevertheless, the problem has been well sorted as this picture shows.

 There is another problem where the CFP follows the Frome Valley Walkway from the Dingle to a footbridge over the river. Here the path has been closed due to building up above. To avoid the problem, you have to turn left near the quarry in the picture on the left and descend to the river. This path is not without its problems, but it is possible to use it.

 

The M5 Bridge

Spud Murphy, ex-Tory Councillor from Avonmouth provided an opportunity to get the Friends of the Community Forest Path into the papers when he complained about the expense of replacing a bridge over the motorway that had had to be removed because it had been damaged by collisions. Of course, by the time he complained the money had already been spent so his remarks were ineffective. But his intervention meant that I had the opportunity to reply. His response gave another opportunity for local opposition to his views to come out and I got another crack at promoting the Friends of the Community Forest Path and the Moorland Multiterrain 10K race from the Avon Riding Cente for the disabled.

 Now that the bridge is back in place, there is work to do on the footpaths that I mentioned in a letter to the Post.

Bristol Footpath 4, which starts on the other side of the M5 is easy enough to follow if you are fit enough to jump a ditch, but two footbridges have been removed, one at either end of the path, which was diverted to enable the building of an unoccupied distribution centre. This has been attributed to carelessness on the part of drainage contractors, but I suspect it may have more to do with the perceived threat of the area being taken over by off-road motorbike enthusiasts and owners of the kind of horses that are associated with the traditional Romany gipsy way of life.

Quarterly Bulletin: 1

As the Friends of the Community Forest Path have been in existence for four months, a quarterly Bulletin is overdue – so here goes!

During its first months, the Friends of the Community Forest Path have already achieved results within the unitary authorities around Bristol by virtue of our very existence. I had envisaged work parties out clearing scrub by now, and that is likely to happen soon, but so far the very fact that such a group as ours exists  seems to have stimulated the authorities to clear the scrub for us.

 We are helped by the fact that we are not alone in trying to promote access to the countryside from the urban area – Ron Phelps of the Ramblers recently attended a Bristol Walking Strategy meeting in the Colston Hall, where he found that an audience of local government officers and others was enthusiastic about his proposal to create routes out of the city into the countryside. It is an idea whose time has come.

Another by-product of the formation of the Friends of the Community Forest Path has been a resurgence of interest in the Green Man Challenge – the standing challenge to complete a circuit of the Community Forest Path between dawn and dusk. There are three solo efforts due to take place in March and a group attempt by members of Bristol and District Triathlon Club (BAD Tri). The solo runners are connected to Town and Country Harriers and Mendip Hash House Harriers. BAD Tri have got some hilarious ideas up their sleeves that ought to increase the appeal of the challenge.

The Friends do best when working with others. Our chief partner in mapping the Community Forest Path and the essential loops off it is JLAF (the Joint Local Access Forum). Here we are involved with a sub-committee charged with developing templates for mapping and other publicity materials to promote use of paths, bridleways and cycle tracks. This is likely to bear fruit in the next financial year.

We are also involved with the Public Rights of Way Liaison Groups for Bristol and South Gloucestershire, and with other groups in developing access to the Community Forest Path.

Forest Gateways have proved to be our most powerful tools for putting this into practice. As you may recall, this idea was first promoted locally by the Forest of Avon Partnership under the influence of the national Forests for the Community scheme. We have been able to simplify the idea, because we are concerned with access and are not burdened by the other aims of the Forest of Avon. For us a Forest Gateway is simply a way out of the city into the countryside.

Each of our Gateways leads to the Community Forest Path and at least two circular paths, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise off the Path, which are designed to be accessible to general walkers and runners. There are dozens of potential Gateways, but we have given priority to those Gateways where there is some threat and /or opportunity or other.

St Andrew’s Gateway  This one is really opening up. I attended a meeting of the Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, which was also attended by Julian Cox of Parks. As a result, a footpath on council owned land that has been blocked by brambles for years has now been marked out and is due to be cleared by contractors during this financial year.  Once this is opened up, it will be possible to create a link from the centre of Bristol via the Malago Green way to Chew Magna and on to the path that is being developed around Chew Lake.

There remain a number of improvements that need to be made to the path between Dundry Slopes and Chew Magna, and there is one field where the path tends to be ploughed.

Lawrence Weston Gateway Acting through Town and Country Harriers in association with the Avon Riding Centre for the disabled, 200 people have been introduced to this neglected piece of countryside within the city boundary and two PROWs have been cleared of brambles. In a separate development, the PROW team has come up with a scheme to improve the FP around Bankleaze School.

There is scope for claiming three additional paths if we play our cards right.

Ashton Gateway Here the threat brought about by the proposed new football stadium is balanced by the opportunity to secure a connecting stream side walk alongside Colliter’s Brook through the site of the old stadium. I doubt that we can succeed in holding up the stadium for long, even if it were in our interests to do so, as there seems to be a political consensus in favour of the stadium and Mr Lansdowne seems to have liquidated enough assets to see the project through. Our role here is mainly to support those in the authority who share our aim of improving off-road access alongside the Brook and out into the countryside.

However, we continue to support the Ashton Vale Heritage Group in their struggle.

Our next target here is the tunnel under the railway, which we hope will become a shrine of some sort – possibly Buddhist – we are looking into permissions.

Orpen Gateway  Here a locked gate blocked a long distance green route across Bristol. The gate is still locked to protect a building site from drug dealers and fly-tippers, but it now carries a prominent sign describing an alternative route and acknowledging a public right of way. The path will be restored after the houses are built (start date is supposed to be June.)

This is potentially part of a Victory Path between Horfield Church and Stockwood open space and on to meet the Community Forest Path in Dundry.

Charlton Gateway This is an official Forest of Avon Gateway threatened by an office development associated with the new Concorde Museum. A relationship has been established with Patchway Town Council to sort this one. Paradoxically, a planned housing development on part of the airfield may prove helpful.

There is an opportunity for bramble clearing in association with the Patchway Conservation Group.

If you can offer help or know of any other opportunities to develop Gateways to the Community Forest Path, please get in touch through Chairman Chris Bloor Telephone: 0117 9624088 or E-mail chris_bloor@tiscali.co.uk

4th March 2010

Gateway Updates

Orpen Gateway

Bristol City Council have put up a notice on the locked gate, acknowledgeing right of way and indicating temporary diversion until the site can be developed.  When houses are built the footpath will be restored, hopefully by the end of the year.

St Andrew’s Gateway

Bristol City Council have got their act together following a meeting of the Hartcliffe and Withywood Partnership, where I promoted the idea of the St Andrew’s Gateway as a means of opening up the Dundry Slopes. Representatives of the PROW team and the Parks department are going out to the site of the footpath to mark out the route for the contractors to clear.

In a sense this has shot our fox, but there is still work to do to open up the path between the city boundary and Chew Magna. The track at East Dundry is an obvious target.

Lawrence Weston Gateway

200 runners were introduced to this site during the running of the Moorland Multi-terrain Race from the Avon Riding Centre on January 24th. Brambles received a severe bashing along the path under the railway. ARC are proving to be friendly towards the idea of improving access.

Bristol PROW team have come up with a scheme to take care of the problem caused by the diversion of the footpath around Bankleaze School playing fields on a permanent basis.

We need to get the path from the City Farm to Lawrence Weston Road officially recognised next. It would also be helpful if we could establish a link between the railway bridge and the Nature Reserve. Perhaps the Riding Centre can do something about this?

Orpen Gateway

The Orpen Gateway links Orpen Gardens to the Lockleaze playing fields on Purdown. It is part of a mainly off road route linking Horfield Parish Church and the parish church in Stapleton. This route is, in turn, part of a 23-mile, long-distance path called Green Victory in Book 3 of the Crossing Boundaries Series, which is an extended version of Bristol Ramblers’ South Bristol Circular.

For the general walker, the 8.7-mile section between Southmead Road and Stockwood is probably the most useful, because the end points are linked by the relatively frequent 54 bus. This part of the route uses mainly traffic free paths to link Horfield Common, Muller Road Recreation Ground, Lockleaze Playing Fields, Purdown, part of the Frome Valley Walkway, Eastville Park, Royate Hill Local Nature Reserve, St George’s Park, St Anne’s Wood/Well/Nature’s Garden, Nightingale Valley, Victory Park and Stockwood Open Space Nature Reserve.

This is an excellent example of that connectivity between parks and open spaces, which Jennifer Mackley (Parks and Green Spaces Strategy Co-ordinator) agreed was important at the PROWLG meeting on 10th Sept 2009. It also presents an opportunity to “enhance the use of PRoW…including Promoting Routes, Increased usage and Maintenance,” as mentioned in her presentation.

Orpen Gardens, like most of the streets in Lockleaze is named after a painter, namely the Irish painter Sir William Orpen (1878-1931). Orpen made his reputation as a portrait painter, much influenced by Manet and regarded by John Singer Sargent as his (Sargent’s) natural successor. However, his work as a war artist during the First World War is probably more important, both for his standing as a painter and for the relevance of Orpen Gardens to a route called “Green Victory.”

The importance of Orpen Gardens as a gateway was brought to my attention on Thursday 26th November 2009, when I was prevented from using it while out running with Town and Country Harriers by a locked gate armed with spikes along the top. We were able to get round the obstruction by retracing our steps to Romney Avenue and descending the road to an alternative entrance to Lockleaze playing fields, where there used to be a children’s play ground. However, this is not a satisfactory diversion as it is not advertised on the gate for the benefit of strangers.

I have discovered that the gate was put in place by the Garage Strategy Team, who are dedicated to knocking down garages owned by the council and building houses on the cleared sites. The gate is said to be a temporary expedient to keep fly tippers and drug dealers off the site, and indeed, the way from Orpen Gardens will be needed to access the proposed houses, if they are built.

In the meantime, it is possible to access Lockleaze playing fields from the garage site through a kissing gate by using a path from a neighbouring square called Haydon Gardens (named after an English romantic painter).

The kissing gate provides evidence that Bristol City Council meant to dedicate a public right of way onto the playing fields. It is the understanding of Mr Stephen Rice of 12 Orpen Gardens, that the dedicated way goes from Haydon Gardens through the garage site to the kissing gate, and that the way between 12 and 13 Orpen Gardens was just meant to be an access road to the garages. However, he admits that before being prevented by heart disease, he himself used the way to access the playing fields.

I started to use the route from Dovercourt Road over the pedestrian bridge across the railway to Brangwyn Road, across Romney Avenue into Orpen Gardens and thence onto Lockleaze playing fields some time in the early 1980s, both on my own and leading groups of children from Ashley Down Junior School to see the anti-aircraft gun site among other things. It is difficult to be precise about when this started, but it cannot have been later than 1984.

Since then I have used the route regularly, particularly during the 1990s, when I was using it at least twice or three times a month. Latterly, I have used it less frequently, perhaps six or seven times a year, either on my own or with groups of runners.

I do not think there is any reason why the building of a few houses on the garage site should interfere with the public footpath from Haydon Gardens onto the playing field, and, once that path is acknowledged, there is no reason why the route from Orpen Gardens should not also be acknowledged as a public right of way.  However, if it is true that the playing fields are owned by builders and not by the council, it will be necessary to claim the path across the field to join FP145 on Sir John’s Lane as well.

If you have used these paths at any time during the past twenty years, please get in touch with me chris_bloor@tiscali.co.uk .