Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Stile or Obstruction

Ken Brockway, Footpath Inspector

This article is from Signpost 68, Summer 2021

It must be an age thing or perhaps I'm considering others, folk less able than me or young children keen to be independent but legs still too short. I refer to tall difficult stiles which I have reported to Derbyshire County Council and had the following reply: Thank you for your reports of stiles that are too high. Although the height of the stiles from the top of the footboards to the top bars is not ideal these stiles have been in situ for a number of years. We have contacted both landowners and asked them to consider replacing the stiles with wicket gates, but because the stiles are in a safe and good condition of repair our powers are limited. If gates are requested we will provide them but if not we will not be pursuing these further.

It appears it's not the convenience of the path user but the age of the stile that determines it's suitability as a boundary crossing. I'm not against a bit of tradition and variety but I find it unacceptable that while Health and Safety governs so much in our lives, when we go out walking we are expected to put our safety at risk climbing unsuitable structures. If a stile fails to offer a convenient means of boundary crossing, it's an obstruction. What we should do before using any stile or gate is the question. Is it fit for purpose? Unfortunately our walk would soon be curtailed if we carried out the rigorous test that would apply in the work place.

Imagine your reaction if an employer expected you to use a step ladder as decrepit as most stiles we are expected to climb. Activities have become far more safety conscious. I'm old enough to recall jumping on or off a moving bus from the open back deck or riding a motor cycle without a helmet. I did draw the line at standing on the top of a trestle to install factory lighting long before working platforms with safety rails were the norm.

Farming is third in the table of most dangerous industries which tells us a lot. It's time we complained more about that heavy gate that nearly landed on our foot, the rocking stile step, the barbed wire along the top rail which perhaps had a plastic bag around it, long ago. The fence that pretends to be a stile, the kissing gate with no room to stand and swing the gate. Or perhaps that squeeze stile so narrow that a size nine has to be lifted over. Times have changed we should not be seeing faults from our own point of view. We need to consider the man, woman or child on the Clapham omnibus. Do we want the old high step of the open platform or the low level pushchair friendly entrance of modern buses? If they can improve access to buses, let's see the same improvements on footpaths.

Next: Memorial Footbridge at the Toddbrook Weir

Page title:Stile or Obstruction
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