AN historic path dating back more than 250 years has been formally recognised by council as a public bridleway.

Watergate Lane, near Crook, was described as a ‘private carriage way’ as early 1761, but according to official maps was only labelled as a footway.

Now however, following lobbying by the British Horse Society and backed by the Ramblers, it is set to have its upgraded status as a bridleway confirmed, following a probe by Durham County Council.

The Northern Echo:

Well made track leaves Rumby Hill Lane Pictures: DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL

The right of way, which runs south east from the A689 at Crook to Rumby Hill Lane, once ‘provided access to the Town of Crook, Woodifield and Thistle Flat Collieries and common land’, according to a report for councillors.

Investigations have revealed evidence of ‘metalled surface’ and gateways along the route, which is flanked along its 750m-length by mature trees and hedgerows.

Several documents attest the public’s right to use it, including: The 1761 Hunwick Edge Enclosure Award, which affirmed travellers’ ‘ancient right’ to use the path, including ‘sack and seam’, generally accepted to mean cart horses.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway Plan of 1836, described as ‘compelling evidence’ of public bridleway rights An 1850 Greenwoods Map showing the path, which experts suggested would be ‘unlikely to show routes that the public could not use’ Objections were submitted by a landowner expected to be affected by the change, named in reports as Mr F Wilson, who questioned the accuracy and ‘legitimacy’ of the evidence.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

Some of the maps and photographs used to establish the route's status

However, this was rejected yesterday morning (Monday, March 29) by the county council’s Highways Committee, which voted unanimously to approve proposed change to the county’s ‘definitive map’, converting the footpath to a bridleway.

The decision will now be referred to the Government for final approval.

“This is a comprehensive application with an awful lot of historic evidence to back it up and justify the path’s use,” said Councillor Stuart Dunn.

“I’m totally convinced of the evidence.”

Last year (November 2020) the Ramblers launched their Don’t Lose Your Way campaign to preserve more than 49,000 miles of paths across the country, including more than 2,000 in the North East, at risk of being lost if they are not added to the ‘definitive maps’ maintained by local authorities.