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‘Battle of the barricade’ over Nar Valley Way footpath in Newton by Castle Acre ends in defeat for former county council solicitor

It is a dispute that led to ramparts being erected across a disputed footpath, uproar among villagers and, eventually, a government inquiry.

Now, the so-called ‘battle of the barricade’ has ended in defeat for Sine Garvie-McInally, a Norfolk solicitor who blockaded a section of one of the county’s flagship footpaths where it passed near her home.

She prevented walkers from using the Nar Valley Way near her cottage, known as Byways in the tiny hamlet of Newton by Castle Acre, by placing 4ft wooden stakes smeared with greasy anti-climb paint across it.

The inspector assesses the barricade at the path's entrance. Picture: Owen Sennitt
The inspector assesses the barricade at the path's entrance. Picture: Owen Sennitt

The barrier, which was put up in summer 2020, led to locals applying to Norfolk County Council (NCC) for a ‘modification order’ to have the path registered as a public right of way.

But Mrs Garvie-McInally – a former NCC solicitor – objected, arguing it was on “excepted land” under the Countryside Right of Way (CROW) Act, which restricts public access to land “within 20 metres of a dwelling” to protect the homeowner’s right to privacy.

The row led to a two-day public hearing in November last year, which saw people living in the surrounding villages present evidence showing the path had been used for centuries as a byway that linked a road with the 33-mile walk.

The barricade which has divided a communuty. Picture: Owen Sennitt
The barricade which has divided a communuty. Picture: Owen Sennitt

The Norfolk Ramblers Association became involved and brought in an expert in rights of way – Rosalinde Emrys-Roberts – to help its claim.

Mrs Garvie-McInally attempted to put forward a legal case that proved her right to privacy outweighed the right to access.

After considering his verdict over the last three months, Paul Freer, from the government’s Planning Inspectorate, who abjudicated over the matter, has issued his decision.

In a report, he stated that he believed there was sufficient documentary evidence that showed the public rights over the route had existed since at least 1797.

CCTV signs at the barricade. Picture: Owen Sennitt
CCTV signs at the barricade. Picture: Owen Sennitt

He concluded that the modification order should be allowed under the legal maxim, “once a highway always a highway”.

However, the decision may not be the end of the matter as Mrs Garvie-McInally could choose to take her legal fight to the High Court if she appeals within six weeks of the decision notice.

Rural ramparts

The conclusion this week follows a 30-year dispute between Mrs Garvie-McInally and Norfolk County Council.

While the 150m path has been used by the public for centuries, it was not officially recorded as a right of way in 1968 when a review was carried out of the county’s byways, leaving its status in limbo.

It connects St James Road with the 33-mile Nar Valley Way, which traverses across the county’s ancient woodland and open green pastures between Lynn and Gressenhall.

This led to confusion surrounding whether or not people could travel along it, with the matter being unresolved between the solicitor and the authority.

There were no complaints about access to the route until 2019, when a group of horse riders objected to the county council about wooden posts that had been put up previously for an unrelated reason by the landowner.

It led Mrs Garvie-McInally to revive her objections and saw her barricade the path at either end in the summer of 2020.

She said she did this due to her privacy being infringed by people using the route staring into her windows.

She claimed she had suffered harassment and men were frequently urinating outside her garden.

The unsightly 4ft rampart was created using wooden stakes smeared with greasy anti-climb paint, with nearby signs warning passers-by they are being monitored on CCTV.

This led villagers and members of the Norfolk Ramblers Association to complain about their access being cut off and they then applied to Norfolk County Council for a modification order to register the path as a right of way.

Mrs Garvie-McInally appealed against this, which led to a public hearing in November 2023.

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