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Thread: Transfer of craft between a PRN and adjacent PRW

  1. #1
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    Default Transfer of craft between a PRN and adjacent PRW

    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?!


  2. #2
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    As I understand it and I'm no expert.

    A right of way exists only on the line of the path as shown on the definitive map. The width over which the right exists allows two walkers to pass each other (Two horses for a bridleway). There is I believe some latitude for a walker (Rider) to rest at the side of a path but only as far away as leaves the pathway clear. The right of way connects two points that are not restricted to the terms of the ROW. Hence the only access places are at these points and other ROWs that intersect, any other point would require crossing private land on which no right existed.

    The PRN grants users of boats the right of passage on the water and the right to land on the bank as a matter of emergency or other such legitimate need. Generally the bank is defined as the highest point at which water would flood over onto adjoining land.

    So if width of the path is such that the limit of the width of the right of passage on the ROW coincides with the top of the bank, ie there is no separating land between the extent of the two rights, then moving from one to the other should not raise a problem. However if this does not apply then however close the two rights of way are crossing private land is involved.

    So technically it looks like the Henley folk are right though it seems ridiculous to the average reasonable person.

    I wonder if the Henley folk charge walkers who stray from the limits of the ROW to stand on the bank? Guess not.

  3. #3
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    I'm in agreement with quercus on this really. As I recall the 'width' of a footpath is normally a minimum of 3ft. but of course it may be more. If the banks are owned, in this case by the toffs at Henley regatta then they were probably correct - if a little officious.

    Footpaths do not normally go right to the edge of the water.

    I suppose you could have simply crossed to the footpath and told him to get sQ£$%^ed as he couldn't do anything to stop you. But it's not good PR for either for canoeists and certainly not good PR for the toffs at Henley either!
    http://www.davidwperry.blogspot.co.uk/

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    These strips of land arise in the building industry occasionally, they are referred to as "Ransom Strips", the most common being a narrow strip of land between a development site and a highway, sometimes only a few cm's wide. They have been challenged in the courts many times and are normally upheld, forcing those needing access £1000's to cross them. So unless the high water level touches the path they may be legally correct, unless it can be show that people have crossed this strip without permission for 20+ years, if they have it could be argued that it is now a right of way. It may be that they need to be harsh to prove that no right of way is being established.
    "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men"
    Grp Cpt Sir Douglas Bader CBE,DSO,DFC,FRAeS.

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    Thanks for those comments folks. Interestingly, the point at which we finally removed our boats from the water was where the footpath ran over a small footbridge running parallel to the river bank. This footbridge passed over a small but 'canoeable' steam, so at that point the two rights of way were actually superimposed. It would therefore have been possible to pass directly from one to the other without contacting any intervening land!

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    Personally. Legality or not aside, I would have entirely ignored him as soon as he appeared to be behaving unreasonably. I presume at the point he approached you, you were standing on a public footpath so what, exactly, was he proposing to do about it if you didn't put your boat back in the water? Beat you up?
    "I'm not getting in a boat which is DESIGNED to go upside down."

  7. #7

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    Your response (to get back in the boat and go downstream) showed a great deal of tolerance, and restraint which I wouldn't have a hope of duplicating. Then again, I am a bloody colonial.

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    Quote Originally Posted by stinkwheel View Post
    Personally. Legality or not aside, I would have entirely ignored him as soon as he appeared to be behaving unreasonably. I presume at the point he approached you, you were standing on a public footpath so what, exactly, was he proposing to do about it if you didn't put your boat back in the water? Beat you up?
    This is quite a reasonable response, as we know trespass on land is not in it's self a criminal offence as long as no damage is caused. The land owner can request you leave but can not dictate in which direction, as long as you leave in an orderly manner they are powerless to take any further action. If you landed onto a landing stage they would be able to charge you as they are supplying a service by building the structure, but assuming you were using a normal natural river bank then I can't see how they can charge you unless there were signs stating that there would be a landing charge clearly visible.
    "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men"
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  9. #9
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    There are many things to consider here. Firstly considering the path.

    There is no general defined widths for any public right of way. The only widths provided by statutes arise in the tight circumstances where occupiers have cropped a path. The Rights of Way Act 1990 obliges them to reinstate the path to minimum widths and if they fail to fulfill this obligation the highway authority can reinstate to a maximum width. In the case of footpaths the minimum for a cross field path is 1m and 1.5m for a field edge path. The maximum is 1.8m in both instances. Other than that there are no defined widths. So, width usually has to be determined according to the facts of the case. The width may be recorded on the Statement accompanying the Definitive Map, if so that is legally binding. Alternatively it could be stated in an historical document such as an enclosure award, equally legally binding. In the absence of that it could be the width between boundaries such as hedges or walls or lastly the width that the public have customarily used, all are matters of evidence. Considering the latter, if the path runs alongside a river across an open field I would be very surprised if the public would have limited themselves such that they have not walked to the river's edge. Thus the regatta people would have had a considerable burden to prove the riverside path did not extend to the river edge. Without getting too far into the complexities of highway law, Definitive Maps and Statements are only a minimum legal record so even if the path was recorded as running a meter or so away from the river's edge if people have customarily extended their use to the river's edge and have dome so without the landowner objecting for a period of in excess of 20 years then they would acquire the additional width as public right of way.

    As well as the Definitive Map the path will be recorded on the Definitive Statement, (the map's little brother which is often overlooked but carries similar legal weight). The contents of statements vary from authority to authority, some are very detailed whilst others simply say the path runs from A to B. If it says something like, " the path runs alongside" or "the paths runs next to" then you could read that to mean exactly what it says in a literal sense, immediately next to the river. If however it said "the path runs in the field adjacent to" then it could be interpreted as being close to but not next to the river.

    So, can you get into or out of your boat from a public path to a river without falling foul of becoming a trespasser? Others have commented about this on this string and by and large they're right. In strict legal terms you would need to get from the public soil of the path in to the boat on the water without stepping on the soil of private land. In performing that movement you would need to consider the circumstances you find yourself in and consider them in the context of the information in the paragraph above. so in short the answer is both yes and no!

    Peter's regatta correspondent referred to "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." This sounds so specific that it may be part of legislation created as part of the Thames Navigation Acts or by-laws created by the Thames Conservators and if such existed then obviously they would take precedence and would be binding.

    Other questions that also arise could include, are you entitled to carry a canoe on a public path? This has never been considered by the courts but as you can walk on a path carrying anything you want provided you do not create an obstruction then put simply the canoe becomes luggage in the same sense as a box. If however the path were so narrow that you caused an obstruction to other users you may be guilty of obstruction under the Highways Act or of causing a public nuisance at Common Law, but most unlikely.

    We all use public paths to access water and I for one am content that in most circumstances a riverside path provides adequate public access to prevent me from becoming a trespasser. Importantly it shows that I've exercised reasonable judgement and consideration in establishing how I can get to the water to enjoy my public right of navigation without trespassing on private land and I believe that of itself goes a long way to defeat any challenge that might arise.
    Mike

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    Very informative Mike, Thanks, it is a interesting point about the legality of transporting a canoe on a footpath and the possibility of being accused of causing an obstruction. If that were the case would it be the landowners or the local authorities responsibility to enforce it and the person triggering a complaint would need to be a genuine footpath user, not a landowner trying to misuse the law. If as I suspect it is the Local Authority then the chance of them ever taking action for casual occurrences is zero. It takes them at least a month to respond to an email or phone message, by then the blockage would have cleared. I would have thought they could only practically take action if it was a regular occurrence by the same person or group.
    "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men"
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    Many thanks for clarifying your definitive view Mike. During our brief period of observation, walkers were deviating freely from the footpath and using the edge of the river bank. No-one challenged them for doing so and, after we reached the footpath, no-one challenged us for carrying canoes on it!

    I'm pleased that our response to the situation was perceived as showing tolerance and restraint - not something I have always been able to claim but something to aspire to!

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    Don't forget "why" the path is there. One reason was to facilitate the towing of boats either by men or horses - it's part of the navigation of the river. If the course of the river changes for natural reasons so does the position of the towing path. It's by definition immediately next to the river. The notion of a "ransom strip" inherent within the common law that created the tow-path next to the river seems to me to be absurd and I don't believe that any landowner would be willing to take the matter to court to demonstrate their absurdity.

    Since no physical harm is being done (or claimed to be undone by putting the boat back in the water) I believe a totally reasonable response would be to to provide your identity and contact details (in return for the same from your challenger) to enable them to seek whatever redress they feel they can justify and peacefully go on your way.
    Keith

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    Thanks for that Keith - always the voice of calm reason! Should it be required again, I'll try that approach.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KeithD View Post
    The notion of a "ransom strip" inherent within the common law that created the tow-path next to the river seems to me to be absurd and I don't believe that any landowner would be willing to take the matter to court to demonstrate their absurdity.
    I agree Keith, ransom strips are absurd but they are quite often enforced, when they are used it always gets nasty. The bailiff was using the same principal to try and charge £8 to walk across a few metres of grass. Clearly for the reasons listed above he was wrong to try, he probably finds it a good little earner as most people would just pay up.
    "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men"
    Grp Cpt Sir Douglas Bader CBE,DSO,DFC,FRAeS.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KeithD View Post
    Don't forget "why" the path is there. One reason was to facilitate the towing of boats either by men or horses - it's part of the navigation of the river.
    It would appear in this case that the path is not a towing path, its start and finish places are away from the river. The towing path on this stretch of the river is on the opposite bank.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
    It would appear in this case that the path is not a towing path, its start and finish places are away from the river. The towing path on this stretch of the river is on the opposite bank.
    I'd still argue that the position of the path is defined by the river. It's not a path from A to B that, by coincidence, runs close to the river. It's a path that may have been used in the past for towing or to a public wharf or simply to or from the river but not to or from a point a foot short of the river.
    Keith

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