From Kent Area News, Spring 1997
Laughter in Court: But who laughs last?
There was astonished surprise at the outset of the Public
Inquiry into the proposed Public Footpath Creation Order which, if
confirmed, would allow walkers to traverse the "missing
link" of the Royal
Military Canal path between Warehorne and Aldington. When he
asked witnesses to identify themselves Mr Peter McMaster, the
inspector appointed by the DoE, realised that he and Peter
Whitestone, Chairman of Ashford Ramblers, had served together in
Hong Kong and Malaya in the 1950's, as Army colleagues. Everyone
in the hall agreed that this was no reason to prevent the Inquiry
Ruckinge Village Hall seemed a most unlikely setting for a
legal battleground. Somewhat decrepit and sadly in need of a lick
of paint; white plastic picnic chairs comprising the main seating;
an old school bell suspended high above one wall and a modern
clock placed in respect of a local worthy; it seemed to lack the
dignity necessary for the legal processes taking place. Mr
McMaster at the outset made it quite plain that he would not be
standing upon his dignity and he wished all who appeared before
him to be at ease as they gave evidence.
The hall was filled with supporters drawn from KCC Recreation
Paths and Highways Departments and from a number of walkers'
organisations. Members of Sevenoaks RA, Ashford RA, Tunbridge
Wells RA were strongly represented as was the Kent Area EC, the
Meopham FP Group and the East Kent FP Preservation Society.
Objectors consisted mainly of the local community among whom were
the landowners affected by the proposed Order.
One local farmer's wife brought her knitting and sat, busily
plying her needles, much as "les tricoteuses" had
witnessed the passage of "aristos" during the French
reign of terror.
There were a number of occasions when laughter brought light
relief to the atmosphere. Outlining the procedure the Inspector
said that mid-morning breaks would be taken "as
convenient"! Pat Wilson, who had been stressing the
benefit that walkers would bring to local shopkeepers and inn
keepers, was asked how much she spent whilst out walking and
replied "I always carry my own sandwiches!" Mr Mellor,
one of the farmers objecting to the path, when describing how
youngsters caused trouble said "…you can't clip 'em round
the ear else you'd be locked up!".
But, of course, serious argument took up most of the
time. While James Richardson, KCC solicitor, and then Mike
Moroney, RoW Manager, made out a strong case for the new path,
most of us were disappointed by the weak showing of [the witness]
who had been responsible for doing the Environmental Assessment.
Excellent statements were made by Michael
Stokes, Chairman of
Kent Area, by Paul Clark of Sevenoaks, by Peter Whitestone of
Ashford Ramblers and by Ray Allen, local County Councillor.
On the other hand the local objectors put their case strongly.
It quickly became evident that the lack of adequate car parking
near to access points was going to be a great disadvantage.
The possible danger to livestock on this narrow strip of land
edged on one side by the canal and on the other by a wide drainage
ditch was bound to weigh heavily in favour of the objectors.
Following the verbal presentations site inspections were
carried out to look at various problems. We await the outcome with
fear and trepidation as well as hope.
From Kent Area News, Autumn 1997
Royal Military Canal
The Spring issue of Kent Area News described the Public Inquiry
into the County Council's bid to create a footpath along the Royal
Military Canal between Warehorne and Aldington.
The article ended "We await the outcome with fear and
trepidation, as well as hope". Most happily, hope prevailed and
after ten weeks of suspense we learned that our campaign to open the
path to the public, begun by the Ashford Group in 1986, had
succeeded. The six and a half mile stretch became legally open to
the public on the 13th May; and Mike Temple and I traversed it,
triumphantly, three days later.
Twenty seven of us, from all over Kent, met at Court-at-Street to
walk the new stretch, westwards, on 17th August. It was one of the
hottest days of the year, but we had a splendid outing. We found
that most of the necessary fieldwork had been carried out. A long
stretch of fencing, put in to protect the public from a bull at
Ruckinge, presented the only real problem; the path at this point
was uncomfortably narrow, sloping and full of dangerous holes (our
subsequent complaints were promptly dealt with by KCC's Rights of
Way section; the stretch is now in far better condition). A lunch
stop at Ruckinge gave some a chance to relax under shady trees by
the canal; others enjoyed a visit to the Blue Anchor, the village
local. We reached Hamstreet car park after three and a half hours;
we had followed OUR new path for six of the total eight and a half
miles and we had enjoyed a memorable day's walking.
The fact that the public can now walk all twenty seven miles of
the canal from Hythe to Pett Level will be celebrated and publicised
by the KCC next spring; a guide book will be launched at the same
time. We ourselves will be arranging an Area Walk to introduce
newcomers to this beautiful stretch of quiet countryside some time
around Easter - Groups will be sent information.
Meanwhile, you can read an article about the Canal in the Winter
number of Rambling Today, which the Editor, Annabelle Birchall wrote
after a recent visit. Do take a look at the new section for yourself
- everything is well waymarked - and, in any case, it would be very
difficult to lose your way!