Aims of the NRWS

We are a voluntary group who share a common interest in railway heritage, the natural environment and walking in the countryside.

We organise monthly guided walks and act as an environmental pressure group/resource archive within our sphere of interest.

The tourist and leisure potential of old railway lines and waggonways is enormous. We just need to look at what has been done already in County Durham and North Tyneside to see what can be done.

The NRWS were aware of this potential as far back as 1986 and it is part of our remit to establish this principle and make it known to a wider public.

We do this through our regular newsletter and guided monthly walks. These walks are not restricted 100% to old railway tracks and can be either linear or circular in nature.

We must at this point however acknowledge the debt we owe to sympathetic private landowners who allow us access to their land to walk lines not normally open to the public. Without them and their co-operation our society would probably find its programme severely curtailed.

The truth is that not all disused railway tracks are public rights of way, even though they may be walked regularly by members of the public and not be fenced off or indicated private.

We do not believe that it is essential or even in some cases desirable that they should all become rights of way.

We would recognise three classes of footpath in this respect-

    1. Right of way / publicly owned or registered footpath.
    2. Permissive / still in private ownership but walkable with permission from or by the landowners.
    3. Seasonal or limited access / where the landowner has agreed access on the understanding that the footpath may be closed by him/her at certain times of the year where access at that time could prejudice his/her reasonable use of the land and surrounding area for agricultural, military etc. use.

Our Work So Far

We have an evolving directory or former railways and waggonways in our area and their current status as footpaths etc.

We have built up a lot of experience in the process of contacting and dealing sympathetically with landowners.

We appear with our publicity stand at various public events, form time to time.

We publish a quarterly newsletter giving full details of future walks and events, and regular updates on the conservation scene in our region.

What More Can We Do

We can continue to offer our service of guided walks and assist others with factual information based on our experience and information contained in our society papers.

We can also continue to act as an independent pressure group on this subject.

We can offer suggestions and informed advice on what we consider to be some of the best areas to tackle first.

The Future

Some possible area to look at with a view of creating rail trails might well be places like Allendale, Rothbury, Bellingham to Kielder and the waggonways like the one at Haltwhistle Burn and the coalfield lines of South East Northumberland.

Other Considerations

It is important to always bear in mind that other people earn their living from the land over which these old railway tracks pass. It is up to us to see that we carry them along willingly with us in this endeavour and that we try not to do anything which will destroy their livelihood.

One way we might try to do this would be to try to show them how properly signposted and delineated pathways could be of benefit to them in an age of increasing leisure and mobility, especially at a time when the government is actively encouraging greater leisure use of, and access to the countryside.

It needs to be emphasised that giving public access does not remove the rights of ownership to the land.

Conservationists worried about the disturbance to wildlife might like to balance this off against the retention of wildlife corridors in urban areas coupled with the possibility of limited access in some very sensitive areas.

Money

Yes it does cost money to do the job properly, maintenance of bridges, provision of safe points of access, footpaths where trackbeds have been incorporated into busy main roads, signposts and information boards, car parking, toilets, publicity, wardens, vandalism, the list seems endless. But there are many ways in which funds and assistance can be obtained even in these days of tight public spending.

Printed walking and information guides produced for sale could provide a cost effective and vandal proof alternative to permanent signs in the short term. These could be distributed through the normal retail, tourist information, and other outlets.

Some other organisation may already provide all or part of these services in at least part of the areas concerned.

It is possible that various government funds, EEC and private sponsorship might be available for particular schemes.

Not Everything Needs to Be Done At Once

What is important is that both long and short-term plans are prepared. These should set out agreed priorities, achievable goals and financial forecasts.

We feel that however small it may be more progress could be made along these lines within the near future.