On Saturday I’m going to the opening of a seat. How can you open a seat you may ask? I’m not entirely sure. Presumably someone will sit on it at some point, and declare it forever open for bottoms in the future?
The seats – there are two of them side by side – are situated on the new Cycle Route 18 between the villages of Godmersham and Chilham, facing Chilham Castle, and are named Catha’s Seat after a cycling campaigner, Catha Keegan, who surveyed the route for the cycling charity Sustrans and began negotiations with landowners in 1997, before her death a year later.
They are sturdy beasts, made with grand oak planks which interlock in such a way as to make the occupant appear suitably insignificant in such a magnificent landscape: a morsel, about to be crushed between sets of giant teeth. Cyclists from the Ashford direction, travelling uphill, will be more grateful for the rest than those from Canterbury who will likely have shot off downhill 100 yards before they realise they were there.
“What was that?”
“A monster consuming a bicyclist!”
“No! Wait! Two monsters! Three bicyclists!”
“Oh! Never mind! Are we nearly there yet?”
The seats look terrific and will hopefully be a big success – a destination as well as a resting place en route – but there are nevertheless some issues with this part of Cycle Route 18. There are sections which pass beneath huge beech trees, for example, which carpet the path in beech mast in the autumn, the roots of which will no doubt cause havoc with the camber over time.
Not much one can do about that of course, but an added difficulty is that it is not a dedicated cycle/pedestrian path. Cyclists must share the way with farm vehicles and horses which is understandable in the countryside. Bits of the route are popular with flytippers (less so).
And now there’s even an appeal before the planning inspectorate from the Trail Riders Fellowship.
This organisation purports on its website to be “conserving our heritage of green roads”, “preserving historic rights of way for the benefit of all user groups”, and “lobbying government against the exercise of prejudice in respect of countryside access issues”.
What they actually mean is that they want the freedom to ride trail motorbikes on country paths. With respect to the appeal before the planning inspectorate regarding Cycle Route 18, they would like to overturn a restriction preventing use by motor vehicles.
I’m not completely anti trail riders. I understand that this is a way that people can and do enjoy the countryside. While the sudden appearance of a motorcycle in the woods can be alarming and momentarily the noise is deafening, I have nevertheless personally found the riders to be civil and considerate.
However, it simply makes no sense to have trail motorbiking on an off-road cycle path. The route, already at the mercy of horses and beech tree roots, will be churned to rutted mud. Tranquillity will be dispensed with. Investment in one direction will be put at risk by a lurch towards another.
The onus at the planning inspectorate will be on the trail riders to prove that the route has been used regularly by public motor vehicles (not those of the landowners or farm workers) in the past 20-25 years – but the planning inspectorate would also no doubt be interested in the memories of locals who might know if it wasn’t. Judgement will be made on historical record rather than likes or dislikes of motor vehicles/trail riders.
If you have comments, please submit them to the Planning Inspectorate before May 9: 3/25 Hawk Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Bristol BS1 6NP Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. KCC ref: KCC REF PROW/MMC242 INSPECTORATE REF FPS/W2275/14A/10
Back to the opening of the seats… this day at least will be without trail motor bikes. I hear there’s going to be a band and some speeches, and some food provided by local suppliers – hopefully not lamb because they should be jumping around in the foreground, undoubtedly the most exciting day of their lives. Congratulations to Catha’s son Nick for orchestrating it all. (See his blog here.)
Better to think of the seats as a couple of smiles than sets of monster’s teeth. Whose will be the first bottom I wonder?