Sustrans has told road.cc that sections of two routes on the National Cycle Network (NCN) running through the Longleat Estate in Wiltshire, the seat of the Marquess of Bath, are still open to cyclists, contrary to a recent report in the Bath Chronicle that a licence for cyclists to ride through parts of the estate had been rescinded.
As we reported on Thursday, the Bath Chronicle had revealed that one local cyclist had been turned away by security staff at the estate while riding a route that he followed several times a week, and that signage for National Cycle Routes 24 and 25, which pass through the estate, had been removed.
That article also reported that Alistair Millington, area manager for Wiltshire at Sustrans, which develops and maintains the NCN, had confirmed that the licence permitting cyclists to use the routes had been revoked by the Longleat Estate.
Speaking to road.cc yesterday, however, he said that the Bath Chronicle had misquoted him and that as far as Sustrans is concerned, the licences are still in force meaning that cyclists are free to ride through Longleat.
“There’s the legal position and then there’s the situation on the ground,” he explained. “The legal position is that we have a licence with Longleat Estate for cyclists to use National Cycle Route 24 and 25 in the estate, which converge in front of the house.
“We’ve not received any formal notification from Longleat that they wish to terminate that licence. They’d be perfectly entitled to do that, the licence is not a strong legal agreement and they can terminate it with a month’s notice. But you’d expect them to notify us of what was going on.
“Of course the situation on the ground is slightly different in that we found out this week that the signs for National Cycle Route 24 and 25 have been removed inside the estate and of course our agreement does permit us to sign,” he continued. “I’ve been trying to get hold of the estate to find out what is going on.
“As far as I know, I’ve only heard one story of a cyclist being turned around and told to go back but I’ve heard plenty of cyclists who have said that they cycled through the estate okay.”
The background to the current confusion follows restrictions placed recently placed on public access to the privately owned estate were introduced, according to its owners, “due to some recent serious security and health and safety issues including robbery, as well as other abuse and damage to the estate.”
But Mr Millington said that as far as Sustrans is aware, those restrictions do not extend to cyclists using National Cycle Routes 24 and 25.
“We know that they’ve been tightening up security since the end of last year and in some respects none of this is a surprise to me,” he revealed. “At the same time, we’re not being told that they want the National Cycle Network to no longer go through the estate.
“If anything cyclists currently are in a better position legally than anyone else because we know that walkers certainly have been just told to go round and come back the way they came,” he added.
He agreed that for now, however, there does remain some uncertainty regarding the issue. “It’s a bit unclear and the absence of signing right now is an immediate problem for us that we need to get either rectified at the estate or we need to be told clearly what the situation is with the NCN there.
“We will sign up an alternative route, there is one available, it’s just not nearly as direct or attractive as the one through the estate,” he added.
In the meantime, his advice to cyclists is to avoid confrontation should they be stopped by security staff, bearing in mind that the situation is a delicate one at the moment.
“I think they should just be mindful that there is a moving picture and for all I know a letter has been sent to us, but for the time being, they shouldn’t be stopped, and I think if they remind security politely of what the situation is they should be allowed to proceed,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.