Case Study: Sue Rogers

An ancient lane to the common leading from the turnpike road (now the A697), over the hills to Crookhouse in Kirknewton parish, where it was already recorded as a public bridleway.  It has recently been upgraded from a public footpath to a restricted byway, so it can now be used by all non-motorised users.  The upgrading was supported by the two estates affected, and by the parish council.

Not so long ago we were threatened by the government by what was known as the ‘2026 cap’.  Public rights of access which were well known in the past were at risk of extinguishment unless they were already recorded on the council’s ‘definitive map of rights of way’ or  evidence of their existence had been found on old maps and documents, and had been presented to the council before 1st January 2026.  An application to upgrade, say from footpath to bridleway or to add such rights, would protect them for future generations.

What a challenge!  As someone who has always enjoyed exploring the countryside, map in hand and preferably on horseback, it was the signal for merging my interest in local history with my desire to get to know the less well-known corners of the Northumbrian countryside.

It all started with Scots Pines! Did you know that clumps of these old trees were the blue motorway signs of past centuries? Placed close to fords or on high points where an ancient trackway passed through a gap in the hills, they guided drovers (the HGV drivers of the past) or other travellers on their way. They aided safe travel through remote and dangerous terrain and could indicate places for overnight shelter.

Of course, there were short local routes as well that had been forgotten. Once transport was powered by mechanical means rather than by horses, distance became less of a factor. So many direct routes between small settlements got ignored. 

But the legal maxim ‘once a highway, always a highway’ saved those public rights unless a document could be found in the Quarter Sessions, which are legal records from the past, which could indicate if they had been previously legally extinguished.

Many will have noticed old hedged or walled lanes with no finger post or the strange case where a public bridleway becomes a public footpath as it passes over a small stream – probably a parish or old township boundary. But what was the rider supposed to do with his horse in order to get to the next village?

Investigation on foot and in the local record office can often reveal the answer. Today we need a joined up network which is well maintained and clearly waymarked so that the public can enjoy our countryside without impacting on the work of those that make their living there.

I joined the Northumberland Joint Local Access Forum some time ago in the hope of meeting like-minded people so we could work together to improve the opportunities for everyone to enjoy our network of rights of way in safety away from motor traffic.

The government has recently withdrawn its threat but there is still the need for these ‘lost ways’ to be discovered and saved for future generations. Local history gives flavour to landscape – people lived and worked in the Northumbrian countryside but how did they travel?  Why not join us to help unravel the full picture?

Sue Rogers from Northumberland JLAF on horseback, wearing a riding helmet and high visibility jacket.