A RAMBLER fears west Dorset has lost access to a key part of its history after the council decided to extinguish a footpath.

Mark Oppe originally raised concerns back in December that one of Beaminster's 'prettiest walks' would be lost if an application was successful.

The application was submitted to Dorset Council to extinguish part of Footpath 79 and divert part of Bridleway 80 at Chantry Farm in the north of the town.

It was debated at a strategic and technical planning committee on Wednesday, July 26, where councillors voted unanimously to approve it.

The diversion is said to 'improve privacy and security for the landowners' by moving the bridleway away from a working farmyard.

Mr Oppe, who spoke at the meeting, had initially raised fears that the decision would stop the public enjoying a brookside section of the path which is home to bluebells and wild garlic in the spring. 

Although this section has not been affected by the application, he has lamented the decision to divert the bridleway which he claimed is a 'sunken lane' and a key part of Beaminster's history.

Mr Oppe also said that the route has been left to overgrow and not been maintained by the landowner or council - with walkers now diverted on to a 'muddy' bridleway which they must share with horse riders.

"We saved the little path that goes through the wood but the main bridleway is what they call a 'holloway' [sunken lane]," he said.

"These sunken lanes are quite important in west Dorset - they are not unique to this part of the world but are how people used to move around before they had cars.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: The southern section of the routeThe southern section of the route (Image: Mark Oppe)

"This old route they would have used to go from Beaminster towards Mosterton. 

"It has been overgrown for so long - if you do not keep using these paths then they become obstructed. 

"It is rather alarming that you can close something because you have not done your statutory duty of maintaining it."

Mr Oppe, who said he 'cannot afford' to take the decision to the Secretary of State, also hit out at the council for accepting comments on the application four months after a consultation period ended.

A report sent to the council said there 'is no evidence' that the proposed new route 'would become unsafe and unusable for walkers'. 

"The proposed diversion would give bridleway users access to open fields with extensive views to the south as well as a pleasant path through woodland, along a safer and more accessible route," it added. 

A Dorset Council spokesperson said: "As explained at the meeting, the pre-order consultation was not a statutory process so late responses can be considered if they are received prior to the committee meeting.

"Dorset has approximately 3,000 miles of rights of way, with the maintenance of these being the responsibility of the landowner and the council.

"Where a right of way is obstructed, and the council are made aware, we take measures in liaison with the landowner to open the path up to restore the public right. 

"The referenced bridleway obstructions in Beaminster were not brought to our attention until recently owing to the long-term use of the alternative route, and by this time there was an application by the landowner to alter the alignment of the path."

The council added that it is 'incorrect' to say that the sunken lane had been extinguished and that its ranger team will be 'considering other options relating to costly works along this route' in future.