Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Stile Council

No, I haven't spelt it wrong and no, this post is not a tribute to eighties pop. In light of recent reports on the plans of Dartmoor National Park Authority to remove all stiles from Dartmoor in order to ease the access of 'the elderly' and 'larger people', I have been thinking about countryside access.

Most of my forays into England's (and Wales' and Scotalnd's come to think of it) green parts involve stiles. The fields we visit most often are actually used for cattle through the spring and summer months and the public footpath routes are scattered with all sorts of stiles and gates. I don't really mind them, despite being no sort of athlete myself, I manage to get up and over with only slight loss of dignity and since it's usually only cows and dogs watching I don't see the harm. My only real grumble comes when there is no way for a dog to squeeze underneath - Monty is too big to lift at around 40kg and he refuses to clamber or jump unless there is guaranteed bunny on the other side! Ted isn't a problem since he sees any boundary as merely an interesting challenge to be tackled; over, under or through, he will find a way.

Since the advent of the small person in our lives, walking has had an added challenge as I've said before. We quickly realised how limiting a push chair could be and so moved on to a baby carrier - first a front mounted BabyBjorn and now a Bushbaby backpack. These make the outdoors much more accessible, even when stiles cross our path. A lot of extra caution is needed to climb over a stile with a baby on your back and you have to be very aware of overhanging trees and brambles (in fact He recently went out round our favourite route with a pair of secateurs and cleared the way!) but it is manageable, especially with two adults, one acting as a 'spotter'.

This long grass will soon be feeding the cows
For 'the elderly' and less able bodied people I am sure stiles are a real problem and a barrier to their enjoyment of the great outdoors. On a group dog walk in the Forest of Dean a few years ago we were accompanied by a lady in a wheelchair who had been assured by the organiser that the route was all gravel paths. What the organiser had forgotten was the part of the route where we had to cut across a ditch and then a stream! However, since we were a large group with three or four strong blokes (Him included) we managed and it was in fact a lot of fun for all involved! Stiles certainly do avoid having lots of gates for thoughtless people to leave open, causing hassle and angst to farmers and danger to livestock. I guess the debate will continue.

I do know that I love being out in the countryside and would hate to be barred from it completely. For everyone's safety, we avoid close contact with farm animals - when they move in to 'our' fields for the summer, we move out to pastures new. The main reason being that Monty is scared stiff of cows, not too sure about sheep and terrified of horses while Ted sees all other creatures as potential food and/or a challenge to his personal dominion, regardless of size. He once got into a barking/mooing stand off with a cow through a fence! As a result, the fields above will soon be off limits to us until October when the cows go to their new homes...probably in someone's freezer! So, I guess it depends which side of the stile you are on and what role the countryside plays in your own everyday life. I quite like the countryside the way it is, stiles and all. I hope to eventually have my own bit of it and may have to deal with the general public walking across it. And one day, I will be elderly and I hope to still be enjoying those green fields and parks with the Montys and Teds of the future.


  1. I do and don't agree with stiles. I quite understand about elderly and disabled people not being able to access some places and when they are public spaces I'm all for better acces. However when it is private land, farm land etc. then it is more important that the livestock is safe. Too many people leave gates open and destroy fences, not to mention not keeping their dogs under control. It's a shame, but you do have to respect others property. I wouldn't like it if people just came in my garden and left the gate open, way too dangerous.

  2. Mmm...I guess in public spaces, access should be more free and easy (as long as dogs are under control). On private land, including farm land and even where there is a public right of way, I do think stiles are a good option to avoid the problems of people leaving gates open.