A murder of CROWS is out in Salem woods along Hebden Water – mallets, saws and azads in hand, and mud squelching underfoot (just how they like it).
CROWS is the recently-formed Community Rights of Way Service, a volunteer group who like to get out in the countryside and pound mallets, saw obstructive branches and scrape mud off paths – all in the cause of keeping rights of way open on the network of footpaths that link farms, villages and towns across Calderdale’s hills and valleys.
Their project in Salem woods is to create a new circular path that starts on the footpath from Salem cricket field to the bowling green, then crosses the metal footbridge and turns right along the previously very overgrown footpath that runs between Hebden Water and the old leat that used to channel water to the millpond below Windsor View.
Taking a breather from banging in short wooden posts to support the last step in a new flight of steps up a steep and previously very slippery path, Richard Jackson, Dave Austen and Peter Clarke explained what they were up to.
Dave Austen rested his mallet and said,
“We’re all volunteers, but we’re not part of Mr Cameron’s volunteer society!”
Richard Jackson added,
“We’ve done lots of this round Calderdale. And we’re not just blokes – it’s open to everyone.”
So, not part of the Big Society, and not just blokes. What is CROWS then?
Eleanor Green said,
“We’ve various grants to do work in Upper Calder Valley and Ryburn Valley, doing e-trails. As well as this one, there’s one in Cragg Vale, one in Todmorden and one in Sam Hill.”
The commissioner is Pennine Horizons, who are developing e-trails; CROWS are clearing the e-trail paths so people can walk on them. Walkers will be able to download the e-trails, – electronic guides to the walks.
The Salem e-trail is called Talking Trees. There will be adult and children’s versions. In the children’s version, the trees talk to you. This path has been chosen because it’s bordered by most of the main British indigenous trees.
In parallel with the Countryside Service
All the CROWS group are experienced countryside volunteers with Calderdale Council. Richard Peters explained that what with the cuts to the Council’s funding, the Council has decided it wants to prioritise working on its own countryside sites – it has around 80 of them.
“That meant doing less rights of way work. It came to a head because Pennine Horizons got money from Natural England and went to the Countryside Service and said could they do £5K worth of work and they said they weren’t able to do it. That’s when we decided to set up CROWS to do £5K worth of useful work, while continuing to work with the Countryside Service.”
Eleanor Green said,
“Basically we’re a group of people who want to get out and work in the country.”
And Barbara Green (no relative to Eleanor, and not the Barbara Green who’s famous for her letters to the HB Times) said,
“We’re doing it because we love working in the countryside and we want to make sure paths stay open.”
Footpaths – the key to walkable communities
In the 1950s, these paths used to be managed by five paid staff employed by Hebden Royd Town Council (although it had another name, before the 1970s reorganisation of councils). The paths were seen as roads, as part of the Highways Department. Now they’re seen as recreation. Richard Peters thinks that it’s important to identify routes that are actual footpaths – that people use to get from one place to another in their daily lives – as roads. And the Council should treat them as part of the highways.
As fossil fuels inevitably become more costly, and the need to cut carbon emissions becomes more and more urgent, creating walkable communities is a no-brainer. Walking is the ultimate low carbon form of transport.
Freeing the inner (muddy) child
According to Richard, CROWS members never had a chance to mess about in mud as children, and are making up for lost time!
“In the end it’s about coming out and getting very muddy. In good company.”
A final plus came from Dave Austen,
“Its out in the countryside and saves going to the gym.”
The chalked sign, “oh it’s such a perfect day” (homage to the late Lou Reed), outside Salem allotments seems to sum up the general CROWS mood.
You can find out more about CROWS here.