The disused railway will now become a public bridleway. Photo: Emily Thorson CC-BY-2.0

The disused railway will now become a public bridleway. Photo: Emily Thorson [CC-2.0]

Walkers, cyclists and horseriders will be able to use a disused railway track near the North York Moors national park after the Ramblers won a long-running legal battle.

The six-year fight to get right-of-way status for the bridleway between Slapewath and Boosbeck, near Guisborough, to the north of the national park, was won earlier this month with the decision of an inspector to confirm the order granting it public status.

The case involved hidden documents, a High Court appeal and the campaign to reverse a ‘perverse’ inspector’s decision. Two public inquiries were also held.

Guisborough Bridleways Group first applied to establish a right of way along the 2½km (1½-mile) route in 2004. Cleveland and Redcar Council also took up the fight, backed by the Ramblers and local residents.

The campaigners contended that the route had been used for a long time by local residents. A landowner objected, claiming ditches dug at various times proved there was never any intention of dedicating the old railway as a right of way.

An inspector rejected the argument, but still rejected the bridleway group’s claim on the basis of a lost document lodged by a different, non-objecting landowner.

The Ramblers appealed this decision on the basis that the lost documentation was invalid and the inspector’s ruling was quashed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before the matter reached the High Court. A second public inquiry followed and the inspector accepted the Ramblers’ detailed legal arguments on statutory depositions by landowners. The route was then granted bridleway status on 15 January.

Local volunteer footpath officer, John Birtill, who represented the Ramblers at both inquiries, said: “I was bewildered by the perversity of the first judgement. The Ramblers stood alone in taking on the task of pursuing this case to the High Court and the associated risk of costs should we have failed.

“We presented detailed legal arguments to defend the rights of the public to use this way. Finally our efforts have been vindicated and we are very pleased that we have won this case for the public.

“We would like to thank all those who submitted evidence of past use of the way, including the Guisborough Bridleways Group and many individual members of the public. We are also grateful for the careful judgment of the second inspector. Now we look forward to the removal of the present obstructions so that the public can once again use the way freely.”

The Cleveland Way national trail crosses the railway route at the hamlet of Slapewath. The Cleveland Railway line formerly ran between Guisborough and Saltburn, but was closed to traffic in the 1950s.

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