The National Trust blocked access between Burwell and Wicken, along the route known locally as Maltings Path, with gates and cattle grids that are unsuitable for horses, when they bought the land.
Although, in theory, they would provide keys for horseriders, in practice nobody wants to ride a mare through an area where wild stallions have been introduced.
Members of the FBA and other local people are concerned by the loss of access to this key route, which links the villages of Burwell and Wicken by a pleasant ride of about 3 miles.
The National Trust have provided an alternative, permissive route, that crosses the grazed area with a 10 metre wide gap, which involves a detour for those travelling between Burwell and Wicken, or Soham, that takes the riders past the Wicken Fen Visitor Centre and Teashop! Also, it is a permissive route and can be withdrawn at any time. Also, there is a stock gate at the other end, adjacent to Harrisons Drove, which, if closed, causes horseriders to dismount.
Previously, for as long as anybody can remember, it was possible to ride straight through to Wicken village, coming out onto the village green by The Maids Head Public House. From here there is an onward route to Soham.
At the point where the path crosses the river, Cambridgeshire County Council replaced the old bridge with one that was wider and had a parapet on both sides, which was good for horseriders who used the route.
The National Trust then erected a locked gate, with a small kissing gate, unsuitable for horses, beside it. The result being that it was possible to ride, on horseback, from Wicken towards Burwell, across the bridge, but no further. The only option being to turn round and go back over the bridge!
The Fenland Bridleways Association are keen to hear from anyone who has used this route before the fences and gates were erected. The hope is that one day access will be restored for all users.
In April 2010, the National Trust announced that they will fence off the section of the path that runs alongside the Monks Lode, a waterway that connects Wicken New River to Wicken Lode, between the Maltings path bridge and the next bridge on the route, which carries National Cycle Network route 11.
This follows a campaign by Wicken residents to be able to take a circular walk from the village along the river, without needing to go through the grazing animals.
They also plan to replace the kissing gates, which are unsuitable for horses, tandems, or bicycles with trailers, with a new set of gates that will allow access for these users, between the river and Priory Farm, Burwell, at the top of Factory Road.
However, it would still be necessary to go through the grazed area for a distance of about 200 yards, although it would be possible to see one gate from the other (during daylight hours and provided it is not foggy ).
The FBA and many other local people do not think that this goes far enough, although it was an improvement on the existing situation.
This route had been used freely as a bridlepath between villages for many years, before the National Trust bought the land, fenced it off and begun grazing koniks, which are wild Polish ponies. More recently they have also added a herd of highland cattle.
The FBA believe that as the route had been used as a bridlepath for so long, it's status should be upgraded from Public Footpath to Public Bridleway, and that it should be free from grazing animals, as it provides an important link between Burwell and Wicken.
The alternative public route, by busy A and B roads, is about 8 miles and unsuitable for horses, because of the traffic volume.
Although the grazing animals are usually not a problem, there have been a number of incidents, including an elderly gentleman from Burwell being bitten by a a konik. He reports that the National Trust were initially reluctant to acknowledge the matter, but eventually offered to buy him a new shirt, to replace the one that was torn. Needless to say, he is no longer a fan of the scheme.
On another occasion, a young man from Wicken, who had been visiting Burwell, was unable to return home because animals were obsructing his route. For more on this, see: Sarah's story
The National Trust want to create as large an open grazing area as possible for their animals and do not want to fence the route off completely.
The FBA have suggested a solution would be to include a crossing pont for the animals, which could be a bridge, such as the traditional wooden Cock-up Bridge at Upware, or a culvert, similar to the ones currently being installed for floodwater on the approach ramps for the new bridge across Reach Lode.
The NT have agreed to look into the idea, and have even had some possible designs drawn up, but are proving reluctant to implement the scheme.
It is hoped that one day a solution that is acceptable to all will be found!
In January 2011 the National Trust started fencing off the Monk's Lode bank section of the path. Cycle cattle grids and new gates suitable for horses are being installed on the section from Monk's Lode through to Priory Farm, Burwell, which is part of NCN 11 between Ely and Cambridge.
This is a potential improvement, although it will still not be entirely free of grazing animals. Meanwhile the National Trust have come up with plans to put a Cock Up bridge on Harrison's Drove , rather than on this route, as has been suggested.
Instead of the solution of a cattle bridge or tunnel, over or under the path, preferred by local users of the Maltings path, the National Trust have pressed ahead with plans to install a series of gates along the route. For reasons that defy common sense, there are two gates and a fenced box at points where a single gate would have been enough.
The gates are self closing, which makes them tricky to operate from horseback. Combined with the fact that the boxes are very narrow, it is still difficult to negotiate on horseback- riders will probably need to dismount more than once, or walk half a mile.
Extensive consultation with local users of the route found the preferred solution was a bridge, such as a traditional Cock Up style wooden one. Otherwise a culvert under the route, such as those on the approach to the new Reach bridge, with the earth laid over, to carry the path, would have done.
The cost of each of those culverts was given as about £10 000. Compared with the £4000 quoted for each of the three double gated boxes, it could have been an economic solution, that would have entirely segregated the path from grazing animals and avoided the need to stop and dismount.
The boxes are narrower than the minimum three metres width that horse riders had specified and may have to be rebuilt to the correct specification. Meanwhile cattle grids have been laid on the surface of the path, for cyclists, apparently without permission to disturb the surface of a Right of Way.
Dog walkers may need to use the gates, to avoid the cattle grids, although there is enough space at the edge of the grids for a careful dog.
The main advantage is to cyclists, who will be able to ride this section of the Lodes Way without stopping and to people who are nervous of walking through the grazing animals. It is now useable by tandems and bicycle trailers, as well. There are two short sections where animals cross the path, rather than open grazing on all of it.
Following complaints that the double crossing points unduly inconvenienced users of the Public Right of Way and that cattle grids are illegal on the line of a footpath, the National Trust have revised the scheme again during 2012.
The two cattle crossing points have been removed and replaced with a single gap. Gates suitable for pedestrians and equestrian users have been erected on the Right of Way, with the cattle grids for cyclists now located to the side.
Mounting blocks have also been provided, for equestrian users who may need to dismount to operate the gates. There have been some concerns raised about the number of gates, four in total, still on the route. There are also some problems relating to flooding on the path, which was not an issue before the National Trust work began.
On the whole, the crossing point is probably the best compromise available for both Rights of Way users and the National Trust's extensive grazing policy. Hopefully the remaining teething problems will soon be sorted out and the path will be as accessible as possible to a wide range of users.
The National Trust have fenced off the crossing point to keep the Lodes Way free of grazing animals, for the summer of 2014 at least. Finally some effort is also being made to reduce the amount of the poisonous ragwort that grows in the area, although its yellow flowers can still be seen in some places.