Meet the Iden Footpath Team

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‘Ah, young blood’, says Clive Gilbert when he sees me. I tell him ‘I’m not sure about that, I’m the wrong side of fifty’. He tells me he’s the wrong side of eighty. Laughs all around. Welcome to the Iden Footpath Team: Morris, John, Del, Vic, Bill and Clive. It is a gorgeously sunny early spring day. The team, with its branded tops, meets again after the winter break, this time to replace rotten stile steps and posts to a stile along Grove Lane, Iden.

The seven of us get to work quickly, dismantling the rotten stile, clipping back the vegetation, and digging out the holes for the new posts, then fixing, drilling and hammering the new steps and posts into place. A long, heavy metal tool with a small half-moon profile at the end is used for whacking the hardcore and earth around the base of the new posts. It is referred to as a ‘plonker’, but the chortles suggest this is not its technical name.

The whole job is done within an hour, and we take turns with the digging, which certainly gets the heart rate going. There is good banter, including reminiscing about a lost hearing aid on a previous job, or replacement knees and hips. Before we are finished, a car stops, and the elderly driver asks us what we are doing. We tell her, so she observes that stiles aren’t very disabled friendly. None of us are quite sure what to say to that!

I also have the time to check out another stile in a nearby field, as one of the steps there is wobbly. A proper repair will be needed sometime in the future, but I use the ‘plonker’ to try and reduce the wobble for now. I meet a gentleman and his dog, who have travelled by bus from Hastings. He tests my temporary repair, to his satisfaction. We walk together back to Grove Lane, where he is the first ‘customer’ for our new stile. “That’ll be two and six” quips one of the team, again laughs all around.

The footpath team was formed 12 years ago by Clive Gilbert and Bill Coleman. Having noted the poor state of repair of stiles along footpaths between Iden and Rye, they participated in meetings initiated by the county council to see what they could do themselves. All the equipment and material is provided by East Sussex County Council, with the footpath team providing the labour for free.

Signposting and way marking is the council’s responsibility, which has a duty to signpost public rights of way where they leave a metalled road, and also along paths, particularly where the route is not obvious. ESCC is also responsible for the maintenance and repair of foot and bridle bridges. However, it is the landowner’s responsibility to maintain stiles or gates on public rights of way on their land. The council usually assists landowners particularly if improvement to the path furniture results.

I ask Clive whether every parish has its footpath team. Far from it, it appears. Westfield have a team, but there are no others nearby, to his knowledge. Ditchling formed the Monday Group in 1961, it is an organisation of volunteer workers in the heart of Sussex who build and maintain stiles and other wooden structures on public rights-of-way. Their stiles are ‘no-dig’ steps made of oak, one imagines expensive in materials and time consuming to make.

All in all, this was an enjoyable and worthwhile hour spent in the countryside. If you are aware of any broken stiles within the Iden parish area, please contact: clivemgilbert@btinternet.com . If they are outside of that area – think of setting up your own footpath team. There’s no better way to stay young.

Image Credits: Dominic Manning .

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2 COMMENTS

  1. A great article Dominic and thanks for taking the trouble to put it all together. Lets hope others follow suit, this is just the type of article we have been asking for at Rye News, keep ’em coming!

  2. Hats off to the team!
    One of my favourite walks is Iden circular starting from Rye through Iden and to the Rother.
    The maintenance of stiles particularly with dog gates is very welcomed plus bridges and signage.

    Well done

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