WHY ISN’T THE SAMARITANS WAY SOUTH WEST ON ORDNANCE SURVEY MAPS?

Well it is, if your edition of the recreational map was printed between 2004 and 2006 when it was abruptly removed without consultation with the path’s creator, Graham Hoyle.

The Samaritans Way South West is a long-distance path of 100 miles (160km) going from Bristol right through Somerset to Lynton, where it links with the South West Coastal Path. It takes in some of the most stunning scenery in the South West.

The path was opened on 21st April 2004 by the Vice-President of the Ramblers, the Chief Executive of the Samaritans and a farmer from Gloucestershire who headed the Farmers’ Helpline, giving a listening ear to farmers suffering as a result of the decline of the industry.

The original idea of supporting the farmers by raising money for the Samaritans came from an article in a Sunday paper in 1993 written by a farmer who happened to be an employer of Graham Hoyle in, the early 1960s. There was concern at the time about the number of suicides among farmers, and this is still the case. A lot of dairy farmers are still struggling to make a living, and the sale of tenant farms is exacerbating the situation. A recent item on “Country File” highlighted the plight of dedicated tenant farmers who face losing their livelihood because they cannot afford to buy their farms from the Council.

So far the route has taken 20 years to develop. The first 7 years – 1993-2000 - were mainly occupied by reporting footpath problems to obtain a fairly clear route between the Mendip and Quantock Hills before a guidebook could be published in 2000. The author spent £7,000 of his own money, and 2000 miles of walking were involved in preparing and editing, using public transport and taking up weekends and holidays, as he was in full-time employment. It was a lonely job for the first 4 years, then a friend became involved, and eventually a small band of loyal people formed the Samaritans Way South West Association.

When you submit a route to Ordnance Survey, the criteria you are given are as follows: The path needs to be at least 20 miles (37km) in length, a guidebook or similar description is required and the route needs to be way-marked. This can take an enormous amount of effort, since all County, District and Parish Councils need to be consulted. Landowners and farmers have to be contacted, as well as authorities for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

During the creation process, though negotiation with some Local Authorities took a long time, positive feedback was received, and encouraging remarks were made. With this in mind, the guidebook’s author worked very hard to meet the Authorities’ criteria, including responding to a request to a change of title from the original. This meant a revision to the book title and way-marks – a costly exercise.

Unlike the National Trust, who were very happy to allow way-marking on their territory, the Quantock AONB and Exmoor National Park Authorities refused to allow any. Plastic way-marks were regarded as an eyesore, and it proved impossible, in spite of attempts at negotiation on the part of the path’s creator, to obtain consent even to place a very few way-marks at salient points. A letter from the Exmoor National Park Authority in February 2003 states that “a person is welcome to promote a route and have it published on OS maps providing OS will permit this in the knowledge that no increased promotion or maintenance will be done by the relevant authority and they would not permit any such route to be way-marked”.

Graham Hoyle accepted these conditions. The writer of the letter previously mentioned added “I hope this is of some assistance and that the route is progressing well”. He wished the creator luck with the project, as did Somerset County Council, who also confirmed that they had no objection to the route being shown as a long-distance path on OS maps. The OS then interpreted the Authorities’ letters as confirmation that the criteria had been met. They confirmed by letter that they had received approval from all local authorities, adding their wishes for a successful future for the project. The OS then went ahead to print the route on 13 relevant maps, and gave an assurance that it would appear on all future editions as they were revised.

In 2006, without advising Graham Hoyle (who only discovered what had happened when browsing in a bookshop), Somerset County Council commenced action to erase the whole of the route from Ordnance Survey Maps by the removal of its name. This was apparently after consultation between the Exmoor National Park and Quantock AONB Authorities to which the Samaritans Way South West Association were not party and therefore had no opportunity for discussion or negotiation.
Unfortunately the whole of the route was erased, including the part from Bristol to the Quantocks which is outside the sensitive areas of the Quantock AONB and Exmoor National Park. It has never been possible to obtain a clear and convincing explanation of the action that was taken. One of the retrospective objections, ironically, was that the route was not way-marked for the whole of its length.

The contentious issue is not the legality of the action but the manner in which it was conducted, especially as part of the route had been replaced by another, newer recreational path sponsored by the Local Authorities.

For more than five years Graham Hoyle and his supporters have been writing to the various Authorities trying to secure its reinstatement, or at least some compromise, but no ground has been given. There seems to be no appreciation on the part of these Authorities that in creating the Long Distance Path many obstructions were cleared, footbridges replaced and recreational possibilities opened up for local people as well as for more ambitious walkers.

Perhaps the route will be recognised one day. An article in Western Daily Press on 17 April 2010 stated that Exmoor desired a higher profile on the tourist map. Meanwhile, the Samaritans Way South West, though not marked on the map as such, is still very much alive and can be followed with the aid of the guidebook. It’s a wonderful walk. Please try it yourself, report any footpath problems and send the SWSWA your assessment.

Please consider supporting the farmers by way of the Samaritans.

SAMARITANS WAY SOUTH WEST ASSOCIATION