Melissa Kite Melissa Kite

I enjoy making a nuisance of myself for a good cause

Hurry, hurry: we have only until 2026 to make sure some footpaths and bridleways are not shut for ever

Walkway to heaven: the familiar and much-loved sign. [Sam Mellish/In Pictures/Getty Images]

The scaffolding pole across the public footpath led to a farcical conversation with the local council. I had been walking the dogs down this well-used path close to where we keep the horses when I discovered that the pole, which is attached to a post on either side of the path and which has been there for some years, was now padlocked to one of the posts so that I could no longer move it to go through.

I rang it in, thinking I was being a good citizen. But no. This act of public service opened up the seventh circle of administrative hell. The staff at the rights of way department at Surrey County Council left me in no doubt that I was being a nuisance for mentioning it. At first, they refused to answer my emails. Only when I sent one to the press team did I get a response.

They asked me to explain why I wanted to write about such a thing. Oh, I don’t know. I just thought it was a matter of public interest that townies who have built big modern houses in the countryside are slinging scaffolding poles across public footpaths on their land to block walkers.

I then got the old ‘Well, no one else has complained’. No, I’m sure they haven’t. People would rather clamber over and under metal bars than spend hours on the phone and sending emails to the local council and being tortured by bureaucrats. I only do it because I write about it. And yes, perhaps I do enjoy making a nuisance of myself while I’m at it. So, what about this locked bar across the footpath?

We all have only until 1 January 2026 to safeguard the footpaths and bridleways we love

A few days later, the lady in charge emailed to say that as luck would have it, one of their operatives happened to be passing by that rather remote spot just after I contacted them, and he had told the landowner to cut back a rhododendron hedge so that I could squeeze round the side of the bar.

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