Can anyone please provide advice on the legal position regarding transfer of a canoe between a PRN and an adjacent PRW (footpath)?
The background to the question is as follows:
My brotherand I were undertaking a three day canoe trip down the Thames a couple of weeks ago and one night was to be spent at the Swiss Farm camp-site just north of Henley-on-Thames. We established that the river (a public right of navigation) ran immediately adjacent to a public footpath (PRW) that ran directly up to the camp-site, so took out our boats near to this point. A man then appeared (apparently from a barge) drove over to us, and demanded £8 for landing. It subsequently turned out that he was a mooring bailiff working for Henley Royal Regatta. He insisted that as we had stepped onto private land owned by Henley Royal Regatta, we would have to pay or go back down to Henley bridge and walk from there (a substantial distance). He attempted to mislead us regarding the position of the footpath but I was able to correct him as I had studied the Ordnance Survey map. He was unable to provide any paperwork to support his assertion and offered to provide a receipt that referred only to a 'mooring fee' - clearly inappropriate. After some debate he insisted that, if we did not wish to pay him a fee, we should at least move two fields further downstream before getting out. We re-launched, moved to a point where I knew the river and footpath to be immediately adjacent, and again landed. This chap followed us in his vehicle in a rather intimidating fashion and was clearly expecting us to go further. This pathetic process merely had the effect of making us carry our boats for a further quarter of a mile each way - not welcomed at the end of a 28 mile day.
I have discussed this matter with a Public Rights of Way Officer (25272527) and he is of the opinion that it is unreasonable to attempt to charge a fee for transferring directly between two public rights of way. Surely canoe touring throughout the country is predicated on the ability to transfer from a footpath into the water, and almost always the banks are privately owned. Navigation rights permit landing on the banks if necessary, and footpaths allow deviation a reasonable distance to either side. What do people think – is the law clear on this point?
Of course we did not pay, but the episode slightly soured a great day on the river. It is not that we couldn’t afford to pay, but it just seems absurd to charge for taking one or two steps over private land between two public rights of way. I wrote to Henley Royal Regatta about the matter and whilst the initial response was reasonably courteous (they agreed that the bailiff could have acted more sympathetically and would do so in future), they were of the opinion that:
‘….our bailiff acted legitimately in requesting a fee from you. ……… There is no right to portage across Regatta land to access the public footpath even where the river and a footpath run in parallel. A right to land exists on a towpath but not to put a craft in or out of the water, or moor, without the landowner's consent.’ I requested the legal origin of this last statement but received a slightly more brusque response suggesting that they ‘regard the matter as closed.’
Henley Royal Regatta is an apparently wealthy organisation with a charitable aim of promoting sporting activity, so how can this behaviour be justified? Nevertheless, are they legally correct, should we have paid? I will be interested in your thoughts and can’t help but wonder why these things always seem to happen to me?!