Crowds of "approximately 1,000" cyclists and walkers protested the proposal to permanently close a popular quiet route in the Lake District due to storm damage, a plan which Cycling UK says will force cyclists to use "a narrow section of busy A-road, hemmed in by walls with fast traffic and HGVs" as the "only alternative".
The 'Rally Against Thirlmere Closure' happened yesterday as part of the 'Keep Thirlmere Open' campaign, an attempt to keep the reservoirside road from being closed and to "get our message across to United Utilities that this road needs to be reopened to allow a safe, enjoyable and important route for locals and visitors to use".
The road, part of the National Cycling Network route six along the western shore of Thirlmere reservoir, has been temporarily shut for two years due to storm damage suffered during Storm Arwen. Now, Cumberland Council has proposed a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) to close the road to all traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians, the reservoir's dam's owner, United Utilities, still having not carried out the necessary maintenance to reopen it.
Keep Thirlmere Open demo with my cycling club DVCC and approximately 1000 others. Found pit on the day there is an Act of Parliament for the road remaining open. Scandalous that we had to protest for our legal rights. pic.twitter.com/Ehg6Yfbeqn
— Nialls S. (@Niallsspence) November 6, 2023
Almost 10,000 people have signed the petition calling for the route to be made safe and reopened, "approximately 1,000" walkers and cyclists taking to the route yesterday in protest at the lack of action and proposed closure, for which a decision is to be made at a Cumberland Council meeting this Friday (10 November).
The protest's organiser said the aim was to "express our collective disgust at United Utilities and their abject failure to protect public safety and respect public rights of way at Thirlmere".
"It appears that United Utilities have no intention to fix the Thirlmere West Road and so they need to be called out for just how unacceptable their behaviour is to the public," the campaign page states.
"We want to get our message across to United Utilities that this road needs to be reopened to allow a safe, enjoyable and important route for locals and visitors to use."
One protester described the closure as "ridiculous", another attending with Derwent Valley Cycling Club saying it is "scandalous".
Explaining the history of the road, local historian Ian Hall told the protest that the 1879 Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act entitled the corporation to dam the lake at Thirlmere, thus creating a reservoir to pump water to Manchester. Under the act, the company would be required to build and maintain a road for public use, a route that "shall be maintained by and at the cost of the corporation forever".
"In the original Act of 1879, this road had to be built as a compensation for taking the lovely lakes that were here before and making Thirlmere a reservoir," Mr Hall explained.
"The act said that they had to make this road and maintain it in perpetuity for public use and, for the first 120 years, that's what was done. Now, United Utilities who own the dam want to close it and keep us out forever.
"They have a legal obligation to keep it open. It's not their right to close this road. It's our right to have it open. I'm delighted to see so many people here today to make that obligation clear."
Mark Hatton, organiser of the 'Keep Thirlmere Open' campaign, added the protest is to "object to the woeful lack of progress to reopen this road", in a "collective sense of disbelief that any of this is truly in the interests of public safety; that this isn't about public safety, it's all about corporate safety and convenience".
The road was first closed in the aftermath of the 'Beast from the East' in 2018 while contractors worked to repair damage caused by uprooted trees. Then, in November 2021, Storm Arwen felled 1,500 more trees and prompted another temporary closure due to disturbed rocks on the crags above and trees blocking the road.
The route has been closed since, and now faces permanent closure, something Cycling UK has objected to, arguing that it will "block off a key part of the National Cycle Network" and force cyclists to use "a narrow section of busy A-road, hemmed in by walls with fast traffic and HGVs".
As "one of the only safe road cycling routes leading towards Keswick", the quiet route is also popular with walkers and horse riders, Cycling UK arguing that while there is an "obvious hazard" of falling rocks due to the storm damage, "there are plenty of roads around the country where falling rocks remain a risk without resulting in the extreme solution of permanent closure", not least along the A591 on the opposite side of the reservoir where safety netting has been installed.
"So why haven't these solutions been considered to reopen the route here? Instead, the council is opting to close one of the most enjoyable and atmospheric cycling routes in the Lake District," Cycling UK said.
"Crucially, any risk assessment seems to have been focused solely on the risk of falling rocks on this road, without looking at the bigger picture of cycle safety. Closing this route forces cyclists onto a busy, and arguably much less safe, A-road up the eastern bank of the reservoir."
An FOI request asking for copies of the risk assessment for the closure and diversion route resulted in the admission that the council's diversion route "only stipulates suitability for vehicular traffic; therefore no diversion route is provided for pedestrians and cyclists at this time".
Cycling UK called this "ridiculous", adding: "Any assessment of the benefits and risks of closure on the grounds of safety clearly needs to look at the bigger picture and what is likely to result from this route being closed, not just the risk of keeping it open.
"We think it's more than just a local issue: it has a much wider impact. The closure shifts cyclists, horse riders and walkers from a safe, quiet road, to a busy, unsafe A-road, without any comparative safety audit. That disregards the Traffic Regulation Act criteria for making an order, and is a flawed decision-making process."
After publishing our initial story on Cycling UK's campaign we heard from a road.cc reader who had ridden the route during a summer cycle tour, leaving him to conclude the delay to repairing the road was "totally unnecessary" and that "if it was important for motorised traffic it would have been done" already.
Dave ignored the closure, along with another local rider who he met on the route, saying it was still "much safer than going back and cycling up a busy main road", the pair clambering past the gates and fallen trees to slowly and carefully continue along the closed road.
"It is such a good alternative route that I would imagine whatever they do to try and permanently close it, people will find a way through on foot for sure and on bikes for riders who can lift them high enough. Two closed-off, dead-end routes in this quiet location will lead to all sorts of problems," he concluded.
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.