*This article was updated 26th January 2021 to include Peak District MTB’s response to the consultation.
Staffordshire County Council (SCC) are asking for views from multiple user groups about use of the currently closed Hollinsclough Rakes south of Buxton, with a view to repairing them this Summer. Repairs are planned to be to a ‘minimum standard’ for bridleway or cycleway and SCC have stated the surface will be suitable for wheelchair users. Please take a couple of minutes to respond to their consultation survey before the 31st January deadline. You can access the survey here.
Swan Rake (map) and Limer Rake (map) descend from the Staffordshire moorlands near Longnor to the small village of Hollinsclough by the Derbyshire-Staffordshire border. Classed as ORPAs (other routes with public access), they have rights of way for walkers, horse riders, cyclists and motorised vehicles, but have been subject to rolling 18 month emergency closure orders since February 2017 due to the perceived risk to users. You can read more about the closures here.
“…general usage and the continued deterioration of the routes (which) led to the County Council, as the Highway Authority, concluding that the risk to users was too great to allow use of the two routes in their current state, requiring the Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) to be implemented.”
“…all public use on the parts of the said highway…should be prohibited by reason of the likelihood of danger to users of the said highway…No member of the public shall, by whatever means, whether on foot, horseback, in a vehicle or otherwise, proceed or have access…” – Staffordshire County Council
Limer Rake is a walled lane that traverses a hillside above Hollinsclough. Steep, loose and rocky at the top, it soon eases to often-rutted doubletrack before gently spilling out into the centre of Hollinsclough. Swan Rake is a shorter, sunken track that has a very rocky middle section with some big drop-offs that are a good test for capable mountain bikers. The popular White Peak Mountain Biking: The Pure Trails guidebook lists the Rakes as ‘double black’ grade downhills, and they’ve been an esoteric challenge for decades.
Both Rakes and the surrounding trails have also been a popular area for motorised off-roaders for years. The nearby Washgate trail had a Traffic Regulation Order applied in July 2017, and many want to prevent motorised vehicles from using Swan and Limer Rakes too.
Should they be repaired?
Staffordshire County Council intend to carry out repairs in Summer 2021 to make the route safe and is proposing to bring the Rakes up to the minimum standard of a bridleway or cycleway, with a smooth surface suitable for use by all non-motorised users.
Being able to close rights of way indefinitely through rolling emergency closures sets a worrying precedent, so we welcome the efforts to re-open. In order to re-open SCC need to remove the perceived danger – how they do that is the million dollar question. “Flattening” the trails would be a huge departure from their character as rocky, challenging rights of way. There is also the concern that any repairs could – if not done properly – be washed out with the first heavy rains. We’ve seen this poor approach before on Rushup Edge (AKA Chapel-en-le-Frith byway open to all traffic 144) which Derbyshire County Council wanted to ‘flatten’ in the name of providing disabled access (read more). We’re advocates for more access for more user groups in the Peak District, but some rights of way are simply not suitable candidates for ‘access for all’ routes.
“The order will remain in force for another period of 18 months or until the danger to users of Limers Rake and Swan Rake, Hollinsclough has been removed, whichever is the earlier.” – Staffordshire County Council
Truly resilient, ‘access for all’ repairs are likely to be hugely costly. Leaving them as is – and hence closed – is not a solution. What’s the alternative?
There’s no easy answer, but there are compromises, such as smoothing out Limer Rake to provide an easier route onto the moorlands from Hollinsclough, and keeping Swan Rake as close as possible to the current state to provide the challenge that mountain bikers travel to the area for. Superb repairs have been carried out on Roych Clough in Derbyshire in recent years, the stone pitching and trail features providing interesting, alternative and sustainable lines for walkers, fell runners, horse riders and mountain bikers.
How you can help
The first thing we can all do is help Staffordshire County Council understand who uses these rights of way. This is why we want you to fill in their consultation survey here before the deadline of January 31st. Do you use the Rakes? Should they be open to motorised vehicles? Should they be wheelchair accessible? Do you want them ‘flattened’? Do you want to see the Rakes left as close as possible to their current state? Let SCC know.
Please fill in Staffordshire County Council’s Hollinsclough Rakes survey before 31st January 2021. You can access the survey here: www.staffordshire.gov.uk/rakes
UPDATE 26th January 2021
The deadline for the Hollinsclough Rakes consultation is January 31st and we encourage you to take part. Please read our Response to SCC consultation on Swan and Limer Rake. Here are the key points:
- Cost – without seeing designs or budget, it is difficult to understand how cost-effective repairs can be made
- Drainage – the existing natural drainage is straight down the trails. If drainage is not adequately addressed the trails will easily get washed-out post-repair
- Character – the rocky and technical character of Swan and Limer Rakes is what attracts mountain bikers to these routes and should be maintained as much as possible
The consultation helps Staffordshire County Council understand who uses these routes, who will use them in future and to ask for comment on how the repairs should be carried out most effectively. Mountain bikers are a key user group of Swan and Limer Rakes and our voices should be heard.
We encourage you to take part in this consultation before the 31st January deadline.