“Oh The Farmer and the Walker Should be Friends …”
I have moaned.
I have cursed.
I’ve been heard to say a rude word or two.
I’ve even had a paddy.
‘Why?’ you ask.
‘You always look so calm and patient.’
I added that last bit to make me feel better about myself.
“Please tell us why!’
Well, I’ll tell you why …
As a rule of thumb we’d normally plan our wheelchair walks using bridleways, as by their nature there should not be any inaccessible gates and the paths are generally wide enough for an all-terrain wheelchair.
But today I’ve had the pleasure of going for a walk with a sheep farmer, who, like so many farmers, have public rights of way running through their land. The routes often cross over fields that are split up by dry stone walls or fences and the only way to cross over is via the stile.
Incidentally, did you know that the use of stiles as a means of crossing over a wall was first recorded in 1564 by a gentleman who struggled to carry his dog over one?
As the walk followed footpaths through their own land, I was assured that I’d be able to do the trek as there were gates next to the stiles which I could pass through.
‘Great!’ I thought.
But my heart sank at the first stile/gate/ piece of furniture.
The gate was padlocked.
But as I was with the farmer who had the key to the padlock, in the flick of a key, the gate was open and I passed through.
It was then we spoke about the issues I have with padlocked gates, even ones on bridleways.
I used words and phrases like ‘frustrating’, ‘irritating’, ‘pain in the arse’ and ‘bloody annoying’.
But funny enough, he had his own plethora of words and phrases in response to my comments such as:
The last one was just too bad to say!
Today the farmer showed me another side to why gates are locked. He related that too many times walkers have passed through the fields and have left the gates open. Live stock has got out, sometimes onto the road or into fields and have become mixed up with the sheep from another farmer, which I am told is a nightmare to sort out. He described one incident when another farmer’s Tup got into their field of ewes and… well what happened next was a cross breed of lambs were born that were neither good for meat or wool! And a big insurance claim had to be made.
We continued our walk and on the way we came onto a bridleway that was gated but had been left open and there, right on cue, was a stray lamb. If ever I needed an example of what I had been told, I had it right here. Bless the elderly couple who were trying desperately hard to catch the lamb. I know which of the parties would tire first.
If only people would think about the consequence of leaving a gate open, farmers wouldn’t need to padlock or wire gates shut. In the ideal world, if this was to happen, it could be open up a whole new countryside to explore, especially in the context of accessibility.
In researching for this piece, I came across a great blog site by Hannah Binns called ‘The Adventures of a Farmer’s Daughter.” She has written a piece called ‘9 things farmers want countryside walkers to remember…’. It’s worth a read.
It’s a shame that, in the words of Jim Jefferies,
“We have to play to the 1% who are such idiots they ruin it for the rest of us.”
One day let’s hope that we can overcome or difference and work more closely together.
PS. Mother and lamb were reunited and the gate is now shut.