SORTING DARTMOOR

The Horrabridge Times had a look at the Dartmoor National Park Authority’s consultation pages for its new long-term strategy plan. And left fairly quickly. It looked like a bad example of the worst kind of bureaucratic communication, inviting you to rank a hundred concerns in order of couldn’t care less, so that somebody can extract a statistic showing approval for whatever it was they wanted to do in the first place.

So in case of a slow news week, here is what we wanted to say, after five years getting to know it a bit round yer and watching local politics in action.

A lot of the best of the River Walkham, between Magpie and Huckworthy, has become pretty well inaccessible over the years. It is a river village which now has access to the river only through Weir Park and wonderful asset though that is, it does not make up for the fact that you cannot walk the Walkham Valley from it and see or get down to the water.

This is down to factors including landowner paranoia about poachers; housing development with river bank thrown in; excessive fencing on health and safety grounds; farmers discouraging dog walkers; and other things which are not easily disentangled. However, reversing the encroachment where possible should be a long-term strategic aim, for all Dartmoor rivers.

The Tavy is just as bad, and, for different reasons, the Meavy.

There is a for-example discussion on at the moment, which a clear policy on river access would have a bearing on. The proposed development of the Magpie holiday site into low-cost housing would meet some needs. But apart from the highway implications there is a low-way path to consider. Cut through behind the back of the village hairdresser’s and there is still a rough path which will take you out through the gates at Magpie, although the last bit of it is probably not nailed down as a public right. The official trail delivers you onto the A386 at a good spot for a game of chicken and then leads down a kind of one-foot-wide Suicide Gulch to the bridge.

It is not a path which gives access to the river, but it might do one day if it can be kept alive.

Here in The Shed, we spend more time preparing to go fishing than actually fishing but it is a special interest of ours. The more popular cause nowadays is walking and good walks are good for a community and its visitors. But a bit of angling with the kids should be easier than it is, all over Dartmoor. The Duchy licences for all waters down to Dartmeet are cheap, but that is because the rivers are so hard to fish. A bit of bracken rolling and bridging here and there would make a world of difference to a holiday round here.

On the subject of fishing, the Environment Agency could help more. The wild swimming movement has been a great success. It is time for wild fishing to get a similar revival. The EA imposes a lot of restrictions, designed to stop netting gangs on the Tamar, which are simply not necessary on the East Dart above Postbridge, say. And the agency is torn between a commitment to promoting fishing as a sport – to keep the angling vote in line – and pressure to do something for the fish. It ends up organising endless promotion days on stocked lakes. They have their place in the scheme of things but the argument for fishing starts with the idea that is both a common right and a common good that a man should be able to take a tough walk along his local rivers, estuaries and coast, and take something home for the pot from natural resources. A lot of children have become good country folk that way – and they help to keep footpaths open.

Finally for now, we would be willing to lose a visitor centre here and there in return for some investment in the old industrial infrastructure of Dartmoor. All those leats and sluice gates, cartways and loading bays, were economically important before the fossil fuel age and could be again. It would be good employment to keep them ready to come back into use for low-impact quarrying. Maybe some housing development could be allowed on the basis of using local materials transported by horse and water and man power and servicing its own needs without mains services. Maybe that could be a future for the Princetown prison site. There must be a grant somewhere for saving on concrete production. And imagine the tourist interest in Dartmoor rebuilding itself the old way.

All for now. If we can find a box to put it in at DNPA, we will. Try it yourself at

www.dartmoor.gov.uk/localplanreview

A public meeting on the subject will be held at Yelverton War Memorial Hall on Tuesday December 11, 3-6.

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.

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