Not to bring politics into mountain biking but we are in a time of austerity. Councils are strapped for cash, and services they offer are under pressure, and this can be seen every time we head out for a ride (especially in summer). Lets face it, bridleway maintenance is not high on the priority list of work to be done for our councils, especially when they only employ a handful of people to look after all the rights of way.
This summer it was pretty evident that rights of way were not being well managed – I can’t count the times I got home covered in nettle stings and bramble cuts from overgrown vegetation, or couldn’t find the actual trail under the sea of bracken. Then when the rains came – the amount of standing water, or rivers flowing along the tracks was immense.
These two bridleways were photographed at the height of summer. The first is possibly one of the most popular trails in Kirklees – The Wessenden Bridleway, a great fast flowing ride, with great views and a load of bracken covering most of the actual trail. The second photo is one of the lakes on Dunnock Road (Meltham Cop), which is almost rotor deep all year round.
Generally speaking the issues don’t really effect mountain bikers in the short term – we regularly ride through puddles and slop, and blast past bracken and brambles without any real issues. In the longer term standing water leads to increased erosion and degradation of the trail, hence greater future repair costs. Also these problems can cause issues to other users.
The main issue is erosion which causes the majority of damage to a bridleway. A lot of user groups will try and avoid puddles if possible, and this generally means walking or riding around the water. If enough people do this, a new ‘desire line’ is created, causing damage to the surrounding landscape and widening the trail. Water is most definitely the main cause of damage to bridleways, either directly to the path surface through erosion or by forcing users to avoid it. You can see in the picture how the trail has been widened by people avoiding the puddle.
To some people, this may not seem like an issue, but fast forward a few years and the powers that be will have to resurface this fun, challenging trail. Are they going to think about it from a mountain bikers perspective, or look for an easy, low maintenance and durable fix? Chances are a load of crushed stone spread along the bridleway and compacted down (as has already been seen by other councils).
A prime example of where this has happened is the Packhorse Trail in Marsden, where parts of the bottom section have been resurfaced (using flags and stone pitching), but from a mountain bikers point of view, there was nothing wrong with it!!!
As an advocacy group, we want to help put something back, and look after our trails so we can continue riding them, and preserve the character of them for future riders. We have started looking at the condition of some of our local trails, and how we can help protect them. So far we have surveyed and written proposals for 5 sites in the West of Kirklees, and are looking for other members of the group to submit trails from their local areas so we can generate a definitive list.
The bridleways we know about so far are:
- Wessenden bridleway.
- Blackmoorfoot reservoir.
- Dunnock Road (Meltham Cop).
- Causeway (Pole Moor)
- The Packhorse Trail in Marsden.
1. Wessenden Bridleway.
Possibly one of the most popular trails in the area as it joins up to so many different routes. Although there’s nothing seriously wrong with the bridleway, it’s ideal for preventative maintenance.
There are several areas where the side drains are blocked and water is leaching onto the trail and has started to cause erosion. Also most of the existing cross drains are blocked so they’re no longer channeling water off the trail.
This situation is only going to get worse so it’s best to solve the problems now. We’ve already had a couple of sessions here, and the improvement is fantastic.
The pictures below show the reintroduction of the drainage channel. From the picture on the left it’s hard to believe there is one. Previously it was blocked and the standing water in it was leaching onto the trail. We’ve uncovered and emptied it so it’s now free flowing with water, and the trail is much drier. This has helped remove the pooling of water in dips in the trail which were beginning to erode.
2. Blackmoorfoot Reservoir
The plan is to improve the bridleway between Reservoir Side road and Harrison Lane for all users. This small bridleway has a reasonable number of users due to it’s proximity to Blackmoorfoot Reservoir.
The aim is to reinstate existing drainage and improve drainage onto the moor. There was also problems with overhanging vegetation but these were resolved by Kirklees Bridleways Group.
The existing cross drains are silted and the flow off channels onto the moors are blocked. This is causing water to flow down the bridleway, increasing erosion hence clearing them will resolve the issue.
3. Meltham Cop (Dunnock Road)
This is a well used bridleway that’s suffering badly from standing water. There’s existing cross drains and side drainage channels that are all badly blocked. This is causing standing water to cover the trail, and people are either creating path creep to the side, or using stone from the dry stone walls to try to create stepping stones through the puddles. These photos were taken in summer show the impact of the problem.
The aim is to reinstate all the cross drains, and clear the drainage onto the fields below. This will remove the standing water and people will use the main trail again. The dry stone wall can be reinstated and next summer’s growth will cover the path creep.
Causeway and the bridleways over Worts Hill near Pole Moor provide a multitude of problems. The first being that despite the marking on the OS map, Causeway isn’t actually a right of way so getting permission might take longer.
Causeway – There’s a side drain that runs beside the trail that’s mostly blocked (with Himalayan Balsam). This is causing significant amounts of water to chanel straight down the path, to such an extent that the householder at the bottom hasn’t fashioned dams to stop their drive flooding.
Worts Hill – There’s huge amounts of standing water caused by the lack of cross drainage from the farm track. The sheer size of the puddles and lack of drainage may mean a huge amount of work, and possibly machinery to sort this one out, as well as loads of aggregate. The plan on this one is to attempt to create some drainage, but will require some extra input from the landowner and the council!!
5. The Packhorse Trail.
Most riders in Kirklees know of the Packhorse Trail in Marsden. Probably one of the best and longest descents in the area. It runs from the A640 above Marsden Moor down to the Easter gate bridge. It has recently seen the National Trust carry out some stone pitching and flagging on the bottom section – the final descent to the bridge.
The fear is that without intervention from us, the pitching and flagging will continue along the whole trail. There are already a couple of sections in the in the middle of the trail that have been flagged across boggy areas and the unstoppable project to sanitise the bottom section is underway. The top section (pictured) is becoming heavily rutted through water damage. We have put together a proposal to clear out the existing cross drains and landscape the ruts to create a flowing line that should keep users on the original line of the bridleway. The idea is that any water will be diverted off the trail and onto the moor. This in turn will help to re-wet the area and protect against wildfires and encourage growth of sphagnum moss and other moorland species. It will also help to prevent more ‘desire lines’ so the bridleway doesn’t become a wide track across the landscape, but will be more ‘singletrack’.
How can you help?
We have now been granted permission to work on the four of the sites (as noted Caiseway will take longer). We’ve completed 3 maintenace session on Wessenden, clearing a huge length of drainage ditch and drastically reducing the amount of water on the main trail. We have another day planned on the 25th of January, which should mean the first section is complete and we can head further up the hill at a later date.
We are planning on holding a monthly dig day (the third Saturday of the month) so we can develop the trail network and show that us mountain bikers are willing to put something back. We have got permission to begin work on the bridleway between Reservoir side road and Harrison lane (Blackmoorfoot res) and Meltham cop, so the February dig may well be on one of those – keep an eye on Facebook for the dates!!
It’s not only about bridleways though, there is some potential to do some official trail building at a couple of locations as and when we can get permission. So if you’re more into your downhill and playing out in the woods, there hopefully will be a chance for you to get the shovels out. Happy digging!