A solicitor homeowner has put up a 4ft barrier coated in greasy anti-climb paint to deter Norfolk ramblers from a scenic countryside path. Sine Garvie-Mcinally erected wooden stakes to block part of the Nar Valley Way, one of the county’s flagship footpaths, sparking a local row which has now played out in a public inquiry.
The former Norfolk County Council (NCC) solicitor, who lives in a cottage next to the path, claims that she put up the unsightly palisade because the route passes too close to her home and infringes her right to privacy.
It marks part of a 30-year row with her former employer over 150m of the Nar Valley Way route, which covers 33 miles of Norfolk’s ancient woodland and open fields.
Speaking at a public hearing this week, she said that men have urinated outside her garden and that she has faced harassment from intrepid walkers.
“I’m doing what I can to protect my home - this order would break my statutory right to privacy,” she told the two-day public inquiry, which was chaired by a government inspector.
‘Urination and harrassment’
Mrs Garvie-Mcinally added: “People can see straight into my windows from the path. Men walking on the path have urinated outside my garden. I have suffered harassment and had rude comments and gestures made at me.
“If the decision goes the other way I will have to sell this house as I would not be able to live in quiet enjoyment.”
It follows back-and-forth battles with the council over whether the 150m path has ever been registered as a public right of way - something the Norfolk Ramblers Association claims it has.
However, any walkers passing through the small hamlet of Newton by Castle Acre will now find their way impeded by the solicitor’s structure, which has poles smeared with greasy anti-climb paint and nearby signs warning them of CCTV monitoring.
The dispute began when Mrs Garvie-Mcinally moved into the village with her family in 1993, when she told NCC - where she worked at the time - that she did not believe it was a public right of way.
While the Council have ruled it is a registered path, the row rumbled on over whether it was a public one, with a neighbouring county council asked to get involved to avoid a potential conflict of interest between the senior lawyer and her then employer.
Walkers and riders continued to use the footpath as its status remained unconfirmed - until in an unrelated incident, a local landowner put up a series of signs in 2000 to prevent vehicles from using it.
Nine years later, a group of horse riders objected to NCC about these posts, complaining about access to the route.
This instigated Mrs Garvie-Mcinally to revive her historic objections to the path and to assemble her barricade in August 2020.
Historic right of way
The Norfolk Ramblers Association took notice of the dispute at this time and applied for a ‘modification order’ to have the path registered as a public right of way.
The local county council agreed to do this in the following year, on the basis that the track had been used for hundreds of years.
Mrs Garvie-Mcinally appealed this decision to the Planning Inspectorate - an agency for the Government’s Department for Levelling Up - which has been called in to settle the long-running dispute for good.
This week’s hearing at the local village hall saw the solicitor’s case being argued using the claim that the path lies on “excepted land” under the Countryside Right of Way Act (2001), because her home is within 20 metres of the track and so invokes her right to privacy.
However, locals and ramblers - through the National Ramblers Association - have produced maps dating back to 1774 showing the route has been used historically in the hope that this justifies making the path a public byway through the legal maxim – “once a highway always a highway”.
Currently, the barrier blocks a section of a path connecting the Nar Valley Way from West Lexham to a road that leads to Castle Acre.
‘An unfriendly action’
Julie Whales, who lives in nearby Great Dunham, said: “We’ve walked, cycled and horse ridden this route for numerous years and my husband has used it since he was a young lad.”
The 67-year-old added: “I cannot believe somebody would like to take away access people have had for hundreds of years, a route which provides access to many villages in the county.”
Helen Breach, an artist who lives locally, said she had used the track for 40 years and that finding it blocked seemed “an unfriendly action” and “not very community-minded”.
Planning inspector Paul Freer, who chaired the hearing, is expected to announce early next year whether the barricade must go.