Our Working Party of 17 June 2006 took the form of an inspection of a number of local paths:
1. paths in the woods each side of Long Toll;
2. paths between Woodcote and Cray's Pond;
3. paths in and adjacent to Hammond's Wood.
Footpath from Hammond's Wood to Bottom Lane
Our survey produced the following observations:
1. There were problems at the start of this walk near Green Lane, with a lack of signage and a lot of seasonal vegetation (nettles!), but once in the wood the rights of way were for the most part clearly indicated by arrows on the trees.
2. There were a number of problems in this area, where the paths are clearly often little-used. Inadequate or absent signage, and thick vegetation caused particular difficulties. The path from the end of Wood Lane to Lambourne's Wood, however, is fine.
3. This was a very mixed bag, with one serious problem, but otherwise well-maintained paths. The serious problem occurred at the beginning of this walk, where the path from Tidmore Lane to the bypass passes Massey's Pightle. For a start, there were no signs on either the front or back gates of Massey's Pightle indicating that the right-of-way passes through the garden. (In fact, the front gate has a sign warning 'Beware of dog'. ) Moreover, the back gate, which is tall and close-boarded (and was closed - though unbolted - when we used it) was obstructed by vegetation and a pile of earth, and metal and glass rubbish. This is a very daunting and confusing stretch for the walker. However, after that it was a delight to discover that the path alongside the paddock to the bypass had been recently mown, as had the path down through Hammond's Wood to Bottom Lane. (And the stile at the bottom of the wood had been recently repaired.) We returned up the bridleway that leaves Bottom Lane a little further to the east: this too was in excellent condition.
In the course of the early months of 2007, other paths around Woodcote were walked, and the general impression gained was that the magnificent network of rights of way that we enjoy in this area is intact and on the whole in reasonable order.
Public footpath leaving Massey's Pightle, April 2007
Update: December 2008
After an inspection at the end of 2008 it is good to be able to report that the 'Public Footpath' plaques on both the front and back gates of Massey's Pightle have been re-instated, the back gate has been left open, and the driveway to Field Cottage (which many walkers had mistakenly used when confronted with the confusing route through Massey's Pightle) is now closed with a new gate and a notice clearly advising that it it NOT the public footpath.
Another problem remains, though, and this concerns the path that runs through the grounds of the Oratory School and across the bypass to Exlade Street. There is no suggestion here of wilful obstruction, the problem being rather that the route is simply not marked. As was the case with Massey's Pightle, this is offputting for those who are not familiar with the terrain, as one is clearly passing here through what are otherwise private grounds. Further on, the steps down to, and up from, the bypass (which here runs through a cutting) are particularly hard to locate from the school grounds, and the handrails beside them are not in good condition.
This location, like the route through Massey's Pightle, involves one of the two immediate footpath routes from the village across the bypass to the network of paths around Checkendon and Ipsden (and, of course, to the many pubs in that area!) . That is some of the most delightful walking country in the Chilterns, and it is a shame that people going there from Woodcote should encounter difficulties just as they set off.
On a very positive note, it is heartening to be able to report that in the woodland to the south-east of the village along the paths continuing from the end of Green Lane there are signs actually welcoming walkers, and even a very helpful tree identification board at one point. So, thank you to the owners of that stretch of countryside for making walkers feel so much at home!