Constantine Cornwall

Footpath news from Goongillings

The last five months have been extraordinary viewed from almost every angle – and our footpath down the farm towards Scotts Quay and the river is no exception, though perhaps an unexpected one.

Always a popular walk as it is one of the few ways to access the creeks of the Helford from the land, the Covid lockdown has seen a massive increase in use as people need desperately to get some exercise and fresh air, walk the dog, feel the countryside around them. Hundreds more people than ever before were seen walking, running, exercising dogs, enjoying the space.

We didn’t mind this at all. We have always welcomed the public access to the River which runs across Goongillings, and indeed in the recent past (well for twenty years now!), we have extended the original path to allow access through part of Scotts Wood to make a number of circular routes. Most of the walkers have been local folk, and many have formed strong affection for the walk – and indeed I have had many delightful conversations with walkers who love the access we have given.

But the increase in numbers raises some wider questions. It poses the question about when public access to beautiful places threatens to harm the very beauty which is their principal feature.

The walk across Goongillings is not under that sort of threat, but there is no doubt the pressure of numbers brings some problems. Our normal number of about 10 people in a day is not the same when it becomes 100 – as it has recently. And with a similar increase in the number of dogs too.

Some folk – no doubt feeling that the main paths are too busy – abandon the well marked tracks and wander all over the fields to find other routes with fewer people. There are cattle, calves and a bull often grazing the pastures and though ours are quiet and non aggressive, every year there are cases across the country of people being harmed by cows. Dogs are usually involved.

There is always risk in the countryside, and sticking to the footpaths is the best way to minimise this.

Quite recently, we had a much nastier incident. A group of bikers decided to do some off-roading across the farm – without asking of course. They roared off down towards Scotts Quay, five of them, scattering pedestrians aside, with megaphone exhausts blaring. I found them parked up on Scotts Quay, and told them to leave, pointing out that the access was for pedestrians only.

I began to take phone photos to record details. At that point one of the youths became extremely aggressive and abusive. He threatened me with violence if I took any photos, and approached my landrover, kicking and punching it, and making more threats. I am not easily intimidated, but it was an unpleasant and rather alarming experience. I was alone, and there were five of them.

So being the owner of a beauty spot with public access has its ups and downs. We would never want to remove the access, and thoroughly enjoy meeting walkers and interacting with the public. Making our lovely place available to walkers is something we have always done and is good for us – and for the walkers. But it does bring the associated problems of occasional bad behaviour and even petty vandalism. Is there a level of public access which threatens to overwhelm the capacity of a place to deliver its purpose? It is a question which applies to Goongillings only in a minor way, but there are places where it is a far bigger problem.

Here’s another thing: 2020 sees the end of the small financial grant we have had for many years for creating public access under the Defra Countryside Stewardship schemes. The new post-Brexit versions of Stewardship now specifically exclude assistance to landowners for permissive access. They have also removed our quota of Educational Visits by which we welcomed groups from schools, Universities, and other organisations for study purposes.

We will continue to allow these, and the permissive access footpaths: but it seems like a pointer to the future when successful schemes such as we have been part of are cut back in the very areas where the public gains most.