Folkard: Lucky Horseshoe

Posted by Henry Folkard on 03/09/2007

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And as far as the decision to acquire Horseshoe is concerned, we are now blessed with it - so were we right?

It all began in 1982 when climbers began to creep quietly into an abandoned quarry. There was no right of access - Tarmac had responsibility for overall site security and owned some parcels of land within it. Others owned the rest. All took steps to prohibit climbing. Generally speaking climbers left when asked, but returned as soon as it was quiet. There was little point in seeking any access agreement since the answer would have just been no - a response it can be better not to elicit. But persistence has its place in establishing rights of access - agreements can emerge as landowners’ legitimate concerns are allayed over time. These may transpire to be less about climbers (who in a litigious world mercifully still regard themselves as responsible for their own actions) than the consequences of more general unauthorised access.

In 1998 BMC Patron Chris Bonington created and seized an opportunity when he met quarry owners in his then capacity as Chair of the Council for National Parks. This led to an offer to the BMC in respect of Horseshoe, but it was soon withdrawn in favour of another to the National Park Authority which safeguarded access for climbing. A way forward was eventually agreed between the BMC and the Acting National Park Officer in 2003, but was rescinded a few weeks later. Back to square one. Local climbers reckoned that the only reason informal access had been tolerated was because negotiations were ongoing. They also reckoned that this was a prime site, likely to be acquired for some other purpose - industrial units, a lorry park, some other form of recreation. So BMC Area Representatives lost no time in contacting Tarmac and neighbouring landowners to make an offer of our own. We got some green lights.

The next problem was to convince the BMC that the Area’s initiative should be endorsed. Rather than grasp the opportunity with open arms there was marked reluctance from the Management Committee. Policy was that any such acquisitions could only be as a last resort. The BMC was not about land ownership we were told, and land owning carried risks and costs. Aghast we asked how on earth we could expect others to facilitate our sport for us if we were not prepared to do it for ourselves? This was a prime sport climbing site for all grades - sheltered, quick drying and of easy access. There was no way we could guarantee access if we didn’t confirm our offer - and before anyone else had time to make a more lucrative one. Moreover there were powerful arguments in favour of the BMC being able to demonstrate it could manage a SSSI for both recreation and conservation together, as well as for the benefit of the local and visitor communities.

At a crucial BMC Management Committee meeting in 2004 - with strong support from the then President Mark Vallance, Executive Member Graham Richmond and Peak Area Representatives Mike Hunt, Mike Pinder and Phil Robins - our arguments prevailed. No more than three weeks later I was in conversation with the neighbouring landowner. He’d been approached by a shooting club. They wanted exclusive rights to the place. You’re too late he told them. But only just.

Foresight had been a better guide than hindsight.



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