A FARMER yesterday urged a public inquiry to keep horse riders off a path on his land.

Derek Bayles wants to stop a public right of way from being officially reclassified as a bridleway on land he owns at Osmond Flatt Farm, Lartington, near Barnard Castle, County Durham.

He appealed against a decision by Durham County Council to approve the change.

An objection was also lodged by Lartington Parish Council, which wants three lengths of track, a total of 1,580 metres, to be restricted to pedestrians.

Barney Grimshaw, the inspector who conducted the inquiry, pointed out that if the route had been used regularly by horses for at least 20 years it would have to be classed as a bridleway.

He said: "It is not up to me to consider if it is a nice idea, or whether it might cause problems for the landowners."

Leah Vigars, a county council rights-of-way officer, said 12 horse riders had given evidence about using the path during a 20-year period. It had been referred to as a bridleway in some historic documents, but a 1961 county map called it a footpath.

Mr Bayles, whose family has owned the land for more than 100 years, said that while he had sometimes seen riders on the path, he disputed that there had been as many on it as was now being claimed.

He said that horses could damage the land, and riders might cause problems by leaving gates open.

Although he had moved to another house, he still owned the land and felt it would be harmed if a bridleway was approved, he said.