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More miles without stiles – Bedwyn, a stile free parish

Wooden countryside stiles can have their own charm, often with a quirky or unique design but that can make them tricky to negotiate. They need frequent maintenance by landowners and often fall into disrepair. Even a standard design of stile in good condition can appear as an insurmountable barrier to the hips or knees of an otherwise competent walker.

This spawned an ambition for the Bedwyn Footpaths Group to replace as many stiles as they could in their parish. In the last two years the Footpaths Group has installed a total of 13 gates, 9 in Great Bedwyn and 4 in Crofton, and can now proudly say that Great Bedwyn’s footpaths are stile-free!

Great Bedwyn is the first parish in Wiltshire to achieve this, giving walkers about 20 miles of stile-free rights-of-way in and around the village.

This work has involved quite a number of people as you might imagine! Starting with Judy Haynes who manages the Bedwyn Footpaths Group. Judy and her team of volunteers give up their time freely, cheerfully and in fair weather and in foul. They have been aided by Stephen Leonard, a Wiltshire Council right-of-way Countryside Access Officer (CAO) for the area who guided the Group in the art of kissing gate installation.

In addition, permission from landowners was required before the stiles could be replaced and they were all extremely helpful and supportive of the work.

Funding for the gates and associated works came from the Pewsey Area Board, the North Wessex Downs AONB Access for All fund, a donation and Bedwyn Parish Council.

The specialist equipment needed to install a kissing gate was bought by Pewsey Community Area Partnership (PCAP) and is now available for any parish in the Pewsey Community Area to use.

Many of the gates that have been installed are hooped metal kissing gates, essential to keep livestock safely enclosed. Metal gates are preferred by landowners because they are practical, secure and long-lasting. In one location, by St Mary’s Church, where the silver-grey of the gates was a bit ‘too new’ looking, the gate was powder-coated black which makes it merge into the background and look ‘aged’.

The biggest piece of work was on Forest Hill on the north-west side of Bedwyn. The stile needed replacing but the footpath on the top of the bank leading up to the stile had become unusable. This meant that walkers had to walk along the edge of the lane, which is on a bend and a hill so can be quite dangerous. Contractors re-established the bank so that the footpath is now flat, sufficiently wide and usable, with the kissing gate at the top of the hill topping it off perfectly!

Congratulations to Judy, her team an everyone involved!

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