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.
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