Riders Fight Suffolk Bridleway Scheme

Bridleway experts say that plans to tarmac a route in Suffolk to make it more accessible for cyclists will put riders at risk and could have wide repercussions.

Suffolk County Council has announced a scheme to tarmac a two and a half mile bridleway from West Row village to Mildenhall. The announcement came as a surprise to riders and neither they nor the British Horse Society was consulted.

Riders, who plan an awareness ride along the bridleway next Saturday organised by West Row horse owner Trudy Lovatt, have been backed by the  BHS and by Elizabeth Barrett, who has spent 30 years trying to establish new bridleways and protect existing ones.

“This plan is appalling,” said Mrs Barrett, who is a BHS activist and leader of the Camino Riders bridleway route. “It will encourage the ‘head down, flat out’ cyclists and there are going to be accidents. Horses don’t hear them coming.

“What worries me is if they get this through here, we could lose every bridleway in the county. It would be unstoppable.”

Trudy Lovatt agrees and said she had been involved in an incident where one of her horses kicked a cyclist. She said she had warned him to keep back where it was too narrow for him to pass safely, but he kept on and frightened her horse.

Cyclists can legally use the bridleway now, but Trudy and other riders are worried that a tarmac surface would  allow them to go faster and more quietly. Another rider said she was worried that tarmac would not only encourage racing cyclists and those doing time trials, but also illegal motor bike and vehicle users.

“We already suffer from motor cyclists who treat drove roads and bridlepaths – where they shouldn’t be – as unofficial racetracks,” she said. “The police try to help, but this scheme is a fatal accident waiting to happen.”

Village residents are supporting the campaign to keep the bridleway as it is. Bill Phillips, who lives next to the start at the West Row end, said that though the council called the plan an upgrade, it would destroy the bridleway’s character and attraction.

“I take my grandson for walks down there and he loves it. Children need this chance – if they put tarmac down, you might as well walk down the road,” he said.

County councillor Colin Noble said people had been asking for a cycleway between West Row village and Mildenhall for many years, so the county obtained a £150,000 government grant to make this possible.

“The opportunity was there, the funding was there and it was what the community had asked for – though I fully accept, not these members of the community,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and talk this through with people.”

Article by Carolyn Henderson.