UCR's - A Moral Right To Drive ?
The right to drive
So as a vehicular user do you feel you have a right to drive UCRs (Unclassified County Roads) because they are, quite clearly, old roads that were used within recent memory. BUT aren't they part of our country's heritage and shouldn't they be subject to just as much respect and legislative constraint as other ancient monuments and therefore maybe we should NOT drive them ? Wooooh... hang on a minute! Let's have a think about this!
A brief history
The term RUPP (Road Used as a Public Path) was conceived in 1949, when the definitive map was born. More recently, BOAT (Byway Open to All Traffic) was
introduced to simplify and help clarify he status of the rights of way network. Many RUPPs and BOATs were public carriageways (roads that were used by carriages). Carriages were used well into this century, and even now we still have signs stating "Dual Carriageway" on major roads.
Often RUPPs and Boats simply connected villages but as other local road surfaces improved, use diminished on them. Just because they were never surfaced (although you will find many RUPPs and BOATs that are now sealed) and became overgrown and forgotten, does not mean we have any lesser right to use them today.
UCRs are just as likely to have as much history as RUPPs or BOATs - most unsurfaced roads do. It just happens that someone had to originally decide whether to put a certain highway either on the definitive map or on the list of streets. At that time, it's probable that "UCR" was still in use, at least more so than "RUPP". So the only difference between them is that RUPPs and BOATs are marked on the definitive map and UCRs are marked in the list of streets. In fact, not all councils recognise UCRs to have vehicular rights!
So the term UCR, does not necessarily mean that it was never a roman road or drove road. It gets more complicated though as, back in the 1950's, Hampshire (and possibly other counties) decided to classify many of their RUPPs as UCRs (although still retaining the RUPP status on the definitive map) thus creating ways with dual classification Therefore we now have some RUPPs that are UCRs or is it some UCRs that are RUPPs?
A tricky situation, especially if the RUPP/UCR follows the line of a roman road, which of course is quite possible! Is it a road used in recent memory or an ancient historical track that should be avoided?
For YOU, a moral dilemma. Talk about making life difficult for yourself!
I only hope that you have not actually been out and about digging up old roman roads to see what its cross section looks like!
To look or to touch
Public opinion does at present seem to insist on preserving and pickling just about everything that is old. I guess the National Trust were the first modem preservers of our heritage.
Let's take a guide look around one of their historic monuments. After paying a substantial sum to get in, we pass through the recently restored gates (they were past repairing so a new set was made) and we approach the large house up a long sweeping drive (now surfaced). We enter and are shown around, The light is dim inside in order to preserve the decaying curtains and upholstery. You can't walk on the carpet. Soon, these too will have to be repaired or more probably replaced with new items. The library is imposing but we can't hold the books for fear of them falling apart so we will just have to be happy looking at them in their bookcases. We then exit the house into the beautifull gardens but wait - these gardens have not been preserved, they have been carefully maintained. The lawn is mown regularly, trees trimmed and borders kept clean, whilst repainting goes on each year. It constantly changes. The garden lives, but the house is dead.
It's not exactly a brilliant analogy, but it attempts to show that"things" (including unsurfaced roads) need to be used .If left to nature, they will decay and soon become unrecognisable.
Lanes created through use
If it wasn't for the passing of packhorses, carts and carriages along many of our roads, we would not have sunken lanes. It's because of erosion - the passing of traffic that many of our unsurfaced roads have the character that we see in them today.
As for damage, over the centuries there have always been problems on certain unsurfaced roads. It was quite common for many roads to become impassable in wet weather (the word 'foundrous' is sometimes found).
Do a little research. Check out old paintings and writings.
Let me cite an example from about a century ago: In April 1891, the minutes of the Blackheath Highways Board record a letter that had been received fiom Shere Parish Council protesting about the bad condition of the roads in the parish. Twelve years later, the Shere Parish Committee minutes state that they were of the opinion that "...the highways of the parish have been much neglected... and would press upon the District Council the need of more supervision over the labour employed".
In 1912, the Guildford Rural District Highways Committee was informed by a surveyor that a local road (now a BOAT) had never had any repairs undertaken on it beyond "pecking in the ruts".
Nothing changes! Except that now we believe the countryside always used to be some kind of well maintained, carefully landscaped garden-like place with crystal clear streams running past pretty thatched cottages and well groomed farm animals munching green grass, with daisy lined green lanes linkine each village. The example above does prove though, that some unsurfaed roads have always suffered from overuse, but can easily be put right provided there is adequate maintenance.
Even if these roads are not regularly maintained, they can always be fixed at some point - or an extra three lanes added!
Our surfaced highways are constantly being repaired, which is why we pay road tax. (Well, as long as your vehicle is not older than 25 years!) Vehicular users of unsurfaced rights of way are the only users that pay for that privilege and conseqent-ly the maintenance of them.
Motor vehicles - modern day carriages
I believe we do have a right to drive our unsurfaced roads. Just because time has moved on a bit does not make any difference; the internal combustion engine is just replacement horsepower - the horse and carriage becoming the horseless carriage.
What gives the walker or rider any more right to use an unsurfaced road than a vehicle? After all, they all cause erosion to same degree. Okay, walkers do not cause as much damage as a vehicle - but what if a track has 200 walkers passing along its length in one day? Now that's different.
Do we have a moral right though? Did we have a right to surface roads in the first place? It does not matter. A road is a road is a road, if you see what I mean!
There is one point that perhaps we all overlook. Today, rights of way are used almost solely for recreational use, be it on foot, horseback or in or on some type of vehicle. However, their existence came of necessity, the need to travel from point A to point B. Our metalled roads, generally, still provide this but it is quite possible that one day they, too, will be surplus to requirements.
So, does this give any one user group right to recreational use of public highways? It certainly does not give any one user group a greater right over another user group.
If`we were ever so stupid as to agree to abandon vehicular rights on more sensitive tracks, then we may as well give up now because the antis wont just have their foot in the door, they will be inside, kicking you to the floor.
Whatever we do, we will never be able to properly resolve the issue of driving unsurfsced rights of way because the antis do not want vehicles driving unsurfaced roads - not just on sensitive ones - none at all.
What we do need to do is educate people to accept that on certain unsurfaced roads you may meet vehicles; that they have a legal right to be there; that damage to our lanes is nothing new and that it only affects a small proportion of the vehicular rights of way network. Hang on, let us not forget to tell them that horses and people cause damage as well, or have I already mentioned that?
The main problem is the fact that this is small crowded island and everyone wants their own space. Humans are selfish creatures!
.. Adapted from an article in 'Greenlanes', by Dale Wyatt .