Trails for Wales: How you can help
In just a few weeks' time it will be the 100th Bike Week, and what better time to remind Welsh Government about its 2019 commitment to enable many more people to access the countryside by bike?
Our Trails for Wales campaign has been bubbling away in in the background with lots of conversations about how we can move things forward, but it's now time to reignite Welsh Government’s stated, documented and much welcome commitment to open up the nation’s stunning natural environments to more people.
That's exactly what we'll be doing on Wednesday 7 June - gathering 'Rough Stuff' riders, countryside bimblers, mountain bikers and nature lovers outside the Senedd to show the strength of public support for the Welsh Government's commitment to increase access to the countryside. We'll be speaking to Members of the Senedd (MSs) and asking how they will take action to ensure that the changes are progressed, so that our health, wellbeing and rural businesses can all benefit.
If you're near Cardiff, please do join us on the day and tell your MS about paths in your area that you would love to be able to ride on.
We can't afford to wait
Improving access to the countryside isn't a 'nice to have'. It's essential to tackle inactivity-related health problems, connect more people with nature, and reduce congestion in tourism hotspots while boosting rural businesses.
Cycling UK has produced a report bringing together the evidence, to remind politicians why change is so sorely needed. We also explain why all too many people currently find it difficult to explore the countryside actively, or even feel locked out of it, and how we believe this could be solved by tackling the complex nature of the existing legislation head-on, lifting restrictions on cycling and opening up Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) access land to additional activities, including cycling.
We'll be launching the report on 7 June, and getting it on MSs' desks.
The impact for individuals could be huge. One respondent to our Rides of Way survey of off-road cyclists told us:
“Living on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, using footpaths allows me to get to areas and enjoy the natural beauty that only walkers are able to. I have had both hips replaced and want to be able to get to these places and [off-road riding] allows me to do this.”
I find it heartbreaking that I have to run trips such as this in Scotland when the accommodation, cafés, restaurants and bike shops of my own local area could benefit
Kath Goodey, RideHigh MTB
The current disjointed rights of way network can also hinder Welsh businesses from realising their full potential. Kath Goodey runs a mountain bike guiding company near Betws-y-Coed and coaches women to build their confidence and skill level on technical descents. Sadly, she says, “some trips prove difficult to deliver in Wales due to the lack of suitable terrain which we can legally access, because there are few logical loops on challenging enough bridleways. So, I have a fully booked trip of 14 riders and we are using the MTB paradise of the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders instead of my home valley. I find it heartbreaking that I have to run trips such as this in Scotland when the accommodation, cafés, restaurants and bike shops of my own local area could benefit.”
Bringing it to life
Sticking to byways, bridleways and any permissive paths that allow cycling can make for a patchy, inconsistent and frustrating experience. As Hannah Blythyn MS, then Deputy Minister for Housing & Local Government said in 2019: “The complex nature of the existing legislation has been one of the triggers for reform”.
That's easy to say, but can seem quite abstract. The real impact comes from seeing examples on the ground of where current access legislation just doesn't make sense.
As Jack Thurston, author of the popular 'Lost Lanes' cycling guidebooks explains:
"During the covid lockdowns, my primary school age children and I made it a regular part of our day to get outside for an hour or two on foot and by bike and explore the paths, trails and byways near where we live, on the edge of the Black Mountains.
"Later, when I looked more closely at the official rights of way map, I was amazed to discover that the highlight of our favourite bike ride – a broad, 1.5 mile long trail with bike-friendly swing gates – arbitrarily alternated between highway, byway and footpath. Legally speaking, my children and I had been trespassing."
On the other side of the country, near Llanfairfechan, an ancient Roman Road curves around the hillside, with a stunning view towards the sea and Ynys Môn/Anglesey. Despite being a wide stony track which has been used for thousands of years, it is bizarrely not recorded as a public right of way.