We began in South Somerset as a local community project aiming to develop a multi-user path between Wincanton and Bruton. The path would use the pre-existing infrastructure of the disused Somerset and Dorset railway line, which was decommissioned in the Sixties.
Following a surge of public enthusiasm for the project, we realised the need to extend our ambition and started to investigate the possibility of transforming the whole of the disused line that lies in Somerset. To achieve this, we joined forces with other similar projects in Somerset who have already transformed sections of disused railway elsewhere in the county, as well as with other networks which promote active travel, such as the local ramblers, and bridleways groups, as well as Somerset Climate Action Network. We did this because, not only does having a dedicated Active Transport route with good disabled access across Somerset benefit all of us, , but also because forming a unified voice is clearly what’s required to push this forward. We invite YOU, the communities of Somerset, to join with us. It is your support that will see this project to fruition.
To really get this going on the scale demanded by residents across Somerset, we need the backing of the County Council. Even better, we need the support of central government. To have these two bodies behind us would overcome many of the hurdles that are common in these types of projects, and would help us avoid unnecessary delays and extra costs. By showing your support, government bodies will really understand how important this project is to communities across Somerset, and what a difference it will make to our lives.
We also need your support to spread the word, not just about our project, but about how to treat our countryside trails with respect. Remembering to close gates, picking up litter, keeping dogs on leads at appropriate times etc. We are working with numerous landowners along the route to get permission and making sure that visitors to these trails are respectful is, understandably, a high priority. Your voice can really make a difference.
Is it safe to have a shared use path?
There are many very successful shared use paths around the country. Just have a look at the Camel Trail in Cornwall; paths like this work really well simply because everyone on the trail shows respect for everyone else.
The Somerset Rail to Trail Project started with a small seed fund from Bruton Town Council (thank you, Bruton!) . Since then we have received a few more small grants which will allow us to start the next phase of our project, that is, to undertake environmental impact assessment reports and to assess the individual needs and requirements of every landowner along the route, to hear and address any concerns which they might have and, where appropriate, agree on any solutions necessary. We will also be able to discuss all the options available and the potential benefits that this project could bring. We will be working with local land agents and everyone involved will receive thorough training in all matters regarding access from The Trails Trust. This process will, amongst other things, help us to work out the total cost required to install the route.
We will continue to apply for any grants for which we are eligible. The more you make it known that you want safe rural active travel routes, the more the government will show interest in providing funding. Nevertheless, we will also be relying heavily on local donations, both of time and money.
One great advantage, is that the route follows the disused railway line and for the most part a level track of hardstanding still remains. This means that the building costs are far lower than they would have been if we had to create an entirely new path from scratch. Being able to utilise the incredible infrastructure of cuttings, embankments and viaducts that the Victorian engineers put in place gives us a level route which would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive. That said, the trailway will still take some serious resources to install, and we’ll need all the help we can get.
We will conduct a full environmental impact assessment. This must happen for each and every section of the project. The environment is of paramount importance to us – it is one of the main motivations for building the trailway in the first place – and we will at all times avoid unacceptable ecological damage, such as cutting down important hedgerows, or building during the nesting season.
Under consultation with Natural England, the Environment Agency as well as Heritage England, we will try very hard to keep all of our infrastructure as unobtrusive as possible. We’ll use local materials wherever we can. Where we do use tarmac, we will choose a variety that will fade in colour over time. Signage will be sympathetically coloured and kept to an absolute minimum.
Most importantly, it is paramount that all users of the trail are respectful, not just of other users but also of the environment through which the trail passes. The recently updated Countryside Code is a must for everyone’s reading list!