Cyclists barred from riding through Longleat Estate as owners reportedly end Sustrans agreement

Sustainable transport charity says permission for two National Cycle Network Routes withdrawn without notice

by Simon_MacMichael   February 16, 2012  

Longleat House

Two Sustrans cycle routes through parts of the Longleat estate in Wiltshire have been declared off-limits to cyclists against the background of a row over restrictions being imposed generally on public access to the grounds of the country house that is seat of the Marquess of Bath and home to the UK’s oldest safari park.

According to the website This Is Bath, staff at the estate, which lies near the towns of Frome in Somerset and Warminster in Wiltshire, have removed blue signs that denoted certain private roads on the estate as parts of National Cycle Network (NCN) Routes 24 and 25. Security personnel have reportedly informed cyclists that they are no longer able to use the roads.

Alistair Millington, Sustrans area manager for Wiltshire, told This Is Bath that access had previously been provided under licence from Longleat, which it appeared had been terminated by the estate without informing the sustainable transport charity, which develops and maintains the NCN, of its intention.

“In theory Longleat is able to give a month’s notice to terminate the agreement but we have not had any notification from them,” he explained. “We are hoping to have discussions with Longleat to find an alternative route but it is an enormous shame that the routes have been closed.”

Mr Millington said that the routes have been used for 20 years and that the Marquess of Bath had been supportive at the outset. “People can remember how enthusiastic Lord Bath was at the time and he even had a go on a bike. He said he was keen to encourage people on to the estate.”

According to a report in The Daily Telegraph last year regarding an alleged altercation between two of the Marquess’s female companions, or ‘wifelets’ as he terms them, the 79-year-old peer passed on management of the estate to his son, the Viscount of Weymouth, in 2010.

One cyclist who uses the routes several times a week, Mike Darville from Frome, said: “It is a brilliant route from Frome right the way to Shearwater away from the traffic.”

However, he confirmed that in recent days he had been prevented from cycling there by security staff.

Dog walkers have also been told recently that they can no longer take their pets into the estate, while walkers too are required to buy a ticket, rather than enjoying free access as they have done in the past, leading to protests from locals.

The website adds that according to a spokesman for the estate, a public meeting will be held to discuss access although no date has been set for that as yet.

Separately, the website White Horse News has reported that according to a statement issue by the estate, the parts of the two NCN Routes affected are those immediately adjacent to the house, where they meet, rather than the sections on the wider estate, although the interactive map on the Sustrans website suggest that in effect it prevents cyclists from using them as a through route.

The statement issued by the estate following a review of public access says: “Longleat is a private estate, and as such it is the duty of the management and trustees to protect all aspects of the whole estate and buildings. Due to some recent serious security and health and safety issues including robbery, as well as other abuse and damage to the estate, we have reviewed the access policy at Longleat. This has also been done with input from both the police and insurers of the estate.

“The policy regarding access to the Longleat estate is as follows:

“The House and associated courtyards, formal grounds, landscaped gardens, Pleasure Walk and the Longleat Safari and Adventure Park are closed to the general public. During our open season people will be able to purchase tickets and have full access to the above areas. This policy is in line with many other leading UK attractions and estates. Unlimited access is permitted for walkers, their dogs and cyclists in other areas of the wider estate (over 8,000 acres), excluding the above-mentioned areas.

The statement continues: “We sympathise fully with anyone who feels they have been adversely affected by this review. However Longleat is, and always has been a private estate and has always endeavoured to allow as much access to the public as is practical. Nevertheless the general public needs to understand and respect that we are a major UK tourist attraction with over one million visitors a year during our open season. We have an obligation to ensure both the enjoyment and safety of all our visitors who pay for the facilities we offer at Longleat. This also includes the safety and welfare of our extensive world-leading animal collection. Recent events at Longleat have necessitated that we review and tighten our access procedures.”

In the meantime, bicycles will be allowed on the estate next month for one day only on Sunday 18 March when it hosts the start and finish of the second annual Endura Trek Lionheart sportive, whose website places great emphasis on the Longleat setting.

 

10 user comments

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I've emailed the organisers of the Lionheart to ask them to put gentle pressure to reverse this decision, hardly positive promotion of cycling, so why should a cycle event promote the wonders of Longleat!? Suggest a friendly email to hello@spineventsltd.co.uk. to show strength of feeling.

posted by tomascjenkins [33 posts]
16th February 2012 - 14:59

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Thanks - have another report including quotes from Longleat saying that it is not the whole estate, so just looking at that now and what implications are.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7832 posts]
16th February 2012 - 15:16

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There was a report on STW Forum of staff lifting a riders bike in to a vehicle and he was given a lift off the estate. Seems a little OTT surely.

posted by 1961BikiE [80 posts]
16th February 2012 - 17:45

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"Get orff my land."

A lot of country houses have been targeted by criminals for theft, which may explain the thinking behind this move I suppose. But then the thieves usually turn up with cars or vans and it'd be hard to ride off with a valuable sculpture strapped with bungee cords to the carrier of a bicycle.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2107 posts]
17th February 2012 - 10:27

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Given that cyclists have been using that route continuously for 20 years, is this evidence to take to the local transport authority to establish it as a bridleway right of way?

posted by Scottsparkrider [9 posts]
17th February 2012 - 11:23

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Scottsparkrider wrote:
Given that cyclists have been using that route continuously for 20 years, is this evidence to take to the local transport authority to establish it as a bridleway right of way?

possibly, if it *has* been continuous. what often happens is that access is limited on specific days precisely so there is no continuous access. not sure if that's the case with longleat

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7230 posts]
17th February 2012 - 11:40

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Re Dave's comment, when I lived next door to Blenheim (and as a local got a pass giving free access to the park), I found side gate locked one day for precisely that reason, they do it on a random day each year to re-assert private property rights.

The dog was looked miffed at her routine being upset.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7832 posts]
17th February 2012 - 12:54

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Some good ideas, Daddylonglegs, but before doing any of that it is worth knowing that following a conversation with Sustrans earlier it transpires they were misreported by the Bath Chronicle/This Is Bath and the NCN routes through Longleat ARE still open. It appears that some security staff may have incorrectly told at least one cyclist they can't ride through.

Story will be updated shortly.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7832 posts]
17th February 2012 - 21:40

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If you're a roadie around the Frome area, this is likely to be a very big deal indeed. The Longleat Estate covers all the land between the B3092 and the A362 and its lanes and roads offer the only route South of Frome that keeps cyclists off these two busy main roads.

The Sustrans route may have been around for twenty years, but cycling members of the public have been peacefully and respectfully using these roads for generations! On his website, Lord Bath, whose family seat Longleat is, helpfully and proudly describes the long history of public access to the estate. It's incredibly ironic because public access to the grounds dates back to the early 19th Century and as Lord Bath himself states his ancestor gave the public this access as an acknowledgement of the hardship the enclosure of common land had caused in the the local community at that time and the great wealth it had generated for his family. Two hundred years later and as far as land-access is concerned we're actually worse off!

May I suggest some local cycle clubs (this affects Bath too don't forget) organize some Sunday runs through the estate? Maybe two or three clubs get together and meet up in front of the house. Call the local paper, get some pics and then disperse peacefully. Or better still, all pile into the cafe to remind the idiot management what they're losing.

Incidentally there's a Facebook page on this:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Local-Access-to-Longleat/343020002396211?

posted by Daddylonglegs [10 posts]
20th February 2012 - 14:23

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I think there is some deliberate misinformation being put about, possibly as part of a wider strategy by Longleat. I live very close to the park and ride through regularly. If you look at the situation in the context of what we have already seen, banning bikes is the logical next step. Regular visitors will know that Longleat have recently installed large automatic security barriers at all the entrances. These are solid steel and rise up about 2 feet from a trench across the road. Most cyclists, as they clamber over or squeeze themselves around them, are likely to consider these as a clear message that cyclists are no longer welcome.

Assuming the reports are correct, the occasional cyclist who has so far been told to leave the Park mirrors precisely what began happening to the walkers a couple of months ago before comments were finally forced out of Longleat Management regarding the new anti-public regime.

It's clever, because as the rumours and news spreads, the public start to exclude themselves and the policy becomes a fait accompli with the Longleat management barely lifting a finger except to take down a few signs and make the occasional statement to the media.

I think that cyclists and others who care about this sort of thing need to watch how this develops very carefully.

There are alternatives to the outright banning of cylists from crossing the estate and it's only Longleat's new-found obsession with their balance sheet and their indifference to the needs of the local community and to cyclists that prevents them from considering them. If they get enough pressure, hassle and bad publicity they will have to think again.

posted by Daddylonglegs [10 posts]
20th February 2012 - 14:27

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