In early 2022, walking boots and waterproofs were donned and CWW volunteers set off out with their four-legged friends to walk and rediscover the 33 footpaths noted as being in the Parish of Coleford.
Many were familiar, but there were quite a few new discoveries and gasps of, “well I did not realise you could see that from here” or “wow did not know that existed.” There were also several expletives best translated as “oh dear” when met with deliberately blocked footpaths, impassable footpaths from overgrown vegetation, broken stiles, litter, graffiti, missing Public Rights of Way (PRoW) finger posts and broken / missing way marker posts.
CWW’s I-cloud library soon filled up with photo’s recording all the above for each footpath and a long list of work required was compiled onto an excel spreadsheet, a bit overkill perhaps, but they thought a record of the starting point, work needing to be done and a description of each path and length would be helpful further down the road and make for a good record of achievements.
CWW contacted the Gloucestershire Public Rights of Way Officer for their patch, Jeff Wheeler who it has to be said has the patience of a saint in dealing with all their questions and queries on all things PRoW.
CWW realises it is very fortunate to have a PRoW officer who is passionate about their role in ensuring PRoW are accessible for all to use. CWW rightly take every opportunity to highlight the excellent support he gives CWW, and this is evident in the work that has been achieved together.
CWW is a small volunteer group, currently constrained by insurance on what the volunteers can actually do, going forwards CWW’s volunteers hope to be officially trained to use power tools but currently they can only use handheld tools, so there’s been lots of blisters and scratches in clearing footpaths and entrances to stiles etc.
During the year CWW has now cleared every footpath and stile, stiles have been repaired, way markers have been erected, finger posts have been repaired and kissing gates have replaced stiles, with the PRoW contractors coming in with the heavy machinery to clear paths beyond CWW’s volunteers’ capabilities.
An inordinate amount of litter has been picked by CWW volunteers with the never-ending blue bags they fill being collected by the Forest of Dean District Council (FODDC).
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been agreed with Forestry England to enable CWW to work with them on PRoWs that cover their land and a Licence has been signed with FODDC to enable CWW to work on land they own in Coleford.
CWW’s first big project has just been completed which saw the installation of four new kissing gates, switching out old rickety stiles on to a popular local golf course which has four PRoW’s running across it. Nine newly positioned way marker posts have been installed and vegetation cut back to clearly mark the routes .To educate people to take the correct route across the golf course, maps have been installed at each access point.
It is fair to say that the golf club owners are not keen on walkers crossing the golf course, however it is a right for members of the public to do so, and in working together it is now easier for the landowners to enforce the correct routes being followed. The golfers’ cards will next year show all the footpaths, so they too know where people will be crossing, making it much safer. This has been an excellent example of a local landowner, CWW as a local group and the PRoW Officer all working together to benefit all concerned.
County Councillor, Carole Allaway-Martin’s Highways Local Fund, assisted with the improvements to the Footpaths with CWW receiving funds from the Build Back better Scheme, both with the intention to make walking accessible for more people in a safe environment.
CWW still have a way to go in reminding landowners to clearly mark paths across fields where they plant crops, but Coleford now has a voice to ensure our PRoW are kept clear.
As volunteers, CWW finds that their work does have its frustrations but when members of the public stop them to say thank you, when elderly residents make reference that they can now access an old route they used to walk with ease because a kissing gate has been installed and when they can see the visible impact of their work it makes it all worthwhile.