Last time I was guest editing on OutdoorsMagic, I opened a can of worms when I criticised a press release from the Yorkshire Dales Parks Authority. The gist of the release was praising a group of trail bikers who’d volunteered to repair a section of By-Way. The analogy I made was of an arsonist helping to rebuild a house he’d burnt down but with a box of matches in his back pocket ready to go again. I called for a blanket ban of recreational motorised vehicles in National Parks and, although most of the comments the piece received were in support of this idea, a surprising number weren’t.
Since then, Jon has re-opened the debate after a BBC documentary that told the story of a group of anti off-roading campaigners and their battle to save their lanes from destruction. He criticised the weakness of the documentary and how it ignored the crux of the issue, that trail bikes and 4x4’s are so utterly at odds with everyone else's right to quiet enjoyment of the outdoors.
Well, from my point of view, the good news is that one of my local trails, Chapel Gate has been temporarily closed to motorised vehicles and hopefully is a sign that the Peaks Park authority are starting to lean towards a complete ban. Sitting in the pub though recently and, debating this issue with a friend of mine who happens to enjoy a bit of 4x4‘ing, he was unsurprisingly incensed by the ban and my smug taunts certainly didn’t help. He finally reached breaking point and asked me where I’d been mountain biking the night before. He knew full well where I’d been and that a significant proportion of my ride had been on footpaths. Realising he had me on the ropes, he pushed home his advantage and sanctimoniously stated that he’d never driven illegally and was 100% entitled to be on the “roads” he drove. He certainly had a point and I’m sure there are many people who feel that, when I’m on two knobbly tyres and riding some “cheeky trails”, I’m as evil as the diesel fume spewing monsters.
I know that when I was riding the Three Peaks Cyclocross race one year my wife, who was supporting, was genuinely surprised by the venomous comments from walkers on the bridleway up to Pen-Y-Ghent who’s day I and the other racers were supposedly spoiling.
The real problem is that the current designations of Rights of Way are completely outdated and out of touch with modern leisure activities. This is why 4x4 enthusiasts are able to cling to their right to drive completely unsuitable “roads”. Pimped Landrovers hadn’t even be thought of when these packhorse trails were designated as BOATs and the idea of chugging around and purposely getting stuck as a fun leisure activity was completely unheard of. I was recently running on the Marlborough Downs and a long section of BOAT had been made almost impassable to walkers, bikers and horse riders by deeply gouged vehicle ruts.
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