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The fight to save the Roman Cam High Road in the Yorkshire Dales

PUBLISHED: 19:27 12 November 2012 | UPDATED: 21:26 26 January 2014

Mike Bartholomew, of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, on the Cam High Road not far from Horton in Ribblesdale

Mike Bartholomew, of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, on the Cam High Road not far from Horton in Ribblesdale

Conservationists are determined to stop a scheme which they say would destroy an historic right of way and ruin a national park. Terry Fletcher reports Photos by Joan Russell

Caesars conquering legions once marched the length of Cam High Road as they crossed the Pennines. Centuries before traders had trodden the tenuous route into existence as they moved westwards from Wensleydale to the heart of the Three Peaks and onwards into what would one day become Lancashire.

Today the ancient trackway sees a new breed of traveller walkers, cyclists and horse riders on two of Englands premier national trails. The Pennine Way and the recently-opened Pennine Bridleway now both follow in Roman footsteps, as does the popular Dales Way, which also makes use of this timeless route through some of the Yorkshire Dales National Parks most remote landscape.

But now the track and the tranquil area it crosses are being threatened by plans to use it for thousands of heavy lorries to extract more than 60,000 tonnes of timber from nearby woodlands over the next 15 years or more.

Conservationists are determined to stop the scheme which they say would effectively destroy the historic right of way. Mike Bartholomew, of the Yorkshire Dales Green Lanes Alliance, which campaigns to safeguard unsurfaced routes through the national park, said: This is a key green lane. This plan would be the end of Cam High Road as we know it. We regard it with complete dismay.

The campaigners are particularly angry that it is only recently that the national park authority managed to ban recreational 4x4 vehicles and trail bikes from Cam High Road. At the time the authority argued that the ban was needed so that the feeling of wilderness, remoteness and associated tranquillity would be preserved. It added that the landscape, natural and cultural heritage features were outstanding while the open nature of the terrain meant that vehicle noise would carry long distances. Conservationists argue the effects would be many times worse if 30 tonne trucks were allowed to use it.

Since we got a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) banning recreational off roaders and a lot of work has been done to restore Cam High Road. Allowing huge timber lorries on there would turn it into a wide swathe of mud and chippings and undo all that good work, as well as sending out entirely the wrong message, said Mr Bartholomew.

The plan has been put forward by the Cam Woodlands Trust, which owns 600 acres(250ha) of forest high on Cam Fell between Langstrothdale and the Three Peaks and wants to harvest the trees. It says that to get the 60,000 tonnes of timber out it will have to dump hardcore along a one and half mile long section of the historic green lane to strengthen the surface and build a new concrete bridge of large diameter pipes to link it to a tarmac road at Gearstones, near the Ribblehead viaduct. The trust admits it will mean thousands of lorries weighing up to 30 tonnes each using the road for up to 15 years or even longer.

Colin Speakman, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society, is appalled.

We are seeing a nightmarish disaster emerging in the heart of the national park with some of its highest quality landscape about to be ruined.

Mr Speakman, who personally devised the Dales Way route more than 40 years ago, was one of those who opposed the original planting in the 1960s and 1970s, arguing then that it was an environmental catastrophe in the making. He said: The planting was driven by hopelessly generous subsidies at the time and now the chickens are coming home to roost. This is in the heart of one of the wildest parts of the very highest quality landscape and on the threshold of the Three Peaks.

It is one of the few precious areas where you can get right away from the noise of traffic and modern life. This proposal could scarcely be any worse. It is a horror story.

Hugh Thornton, chairman of the societys policy committee, said there was also a serious concern that if a route along Cam High Road were established there would be a strong likelihood that it would be seen as a viable route for timber from the adjoining and much bigger Green Field Forest, just to the south. It is estimated that clearing Cam Woodland would need about 2,400 lorry loads. If Green Fields timber came out the same way that could push the number of lorries up five fold, he said.

The woodland owners planning consultant, Bruce Armstrong-Payne, said: There are 600 acres of woodland and it has to come out somehow. To leave 600 acres of timber to rot would be a terrible waste. This is the only option. The Forestry Authority has said it does not want it clear-felled, not least to protect the red squirrel colony in the woodland.

The felling would be done in phases, some in the first five years, some in the second five and perhaps some in the five after that. There would be bursts of activity and then long gaps. I can see that walkers and cyclist might be irritated by the lorries but this is not the only part of the Pennine Way where they will come across timber lorries. There might be three lorries in and three out per day, said Mr Armstrong-Payne, who insisted there was no suggestion that Green Field Forest should make use of the road.

But Colin Speakman remains unconvinced. There is no law that says timber must be moved in 30tonne lorries. It can be extracted using horses or cable ways or be transported in smaller loads to a collecting point. The owners want to use big lorries because that makes it economic for them and will justify their investment but the desire for profit does not entitle them to trash a national park nor an ancient road.

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