Issues regarding the Meon Valley Trail

There have been several articles in the press and on TV attacking the Meon Valley Trail project. These articles have contained incorrect and misleading information resulting in unfair criticism of the project and those involved including Portsmouth CTC's Jim Weeks and Mike Ashton who provided (and continue to provide) considerable, useful input to the project.

This article corrects some of the false assertions that have been flying around...

The surface is finished

Simply untrue. The build-up of mud over the previous railway surface has been removed in preparation for the new surface.

We would have preferred to see a sealed surface to replace the old one, but we have agreed that a compromise solution (specifically approved by the British Horse Society) is appropriate in this case.

You can find out more about what's happened so far and how the project is progressing here.

The new trail will be unsafe

It seems clear that the works will improve safety on the trail:

  • The increased width of the trail will allow all users to pass each other safely. As these before and after shots illustrate (click either image to see a larger version):
    MVTBefore MVTAfter
  • The new surface will reduce:
    • Pot holes - a common cause of cyclist injuries
    • Mud that causes wheels to get stuck, and creates a skid risk
    • Dried, rutted mud which can grab a cycle wheel, and cause trip hazards for pedestrians.
  • Increased traffic on the trail will improve safety by:
    • Limiting the speed of cyclists (who nearly always come off worst in a collision) and horse riders
    • Increasing the likelihood of help being available should anyone using the trail get into difficulty

The new trail will allow motorised traffic

There will be just two points where the trail meets a road. Both will be gated. The gates will be fitted towards the end of the project after the risk of them being damaged by heavy vehicles working on the trail has gone.

We're aware of one trail in our region that has had problems with cars and motor bikes before improvements to the trail increased non-motor traffic. Now the problem has disappeared.

The improvement works are damaging the habitat

We're not experts in this area, but we understand the trail in its previous state supported a limited range of flora and fauna. One of the reasons for opening up the trail is to promote significantly more bio-diversity.

Unfortunately, it's hard to see that right now. The trail has been left to its own devices for several decades. Ideally, it would have been regularly coppiced in that time, keeping the trail open and reducing the amount of work needed and its visible impact. But that hasn't happened. To return the trail to its original width has therefore required a considerable amount of work that will take time to green over.

It's therefore easy to gain an impression that the works have caused long term damage even though the project aims to improve the habitat over time (a principle not unfamiliar to those of us involved in helping the National Trust in Slindon see here and here).

Flooding has not been addressed

There is an element of truth in this assertion. Only some of the flooding issues will be addressed in the current project. Others will be dealt with by a follow-on project relating to the South Downs Way. As ever, the Authorities are having to juggle sources of funding to get the job done.

No-one wants the improvement

It's understandable that people comfortable with using the trail in its previous state might be unhappy with what's being done.

However, the Authorities have an objective to make trails like this one accessible to more people to increase its usefulness to us - the public. Specifically, the government fund that is paying for a large chunk of the project seeks to improve access to, and within, the South Downs National Park. The improvement works will increase accessibility to:

  • Cyclists - although there are cyclists that seek out muddy trails, there are many more that will value an off-road path with an improved surface.
  • Other wheeled users including people with:
    • Wheelchairs
    • Mobility scooters
    • Prams
    • Buggies.
  • Pedestrians with mobility and balance issues.

In particular, we expect the new trail to be more family-friendly.

The upgraded trail will also:

  • Improve access to the South Downs National Park from Fareham and the new Welborne development
  • Create a good, long, off-road route in the Hampshire Downs for multiple use - there are few, if any, other examples
  • Promote the major health benefits from walking and cycling.

The project leaders are already getting good feedback from both new users of the trail, and people making more use of it.

We have many members that are looking forward to completion, and we expect to be using the new trail in some of our organised rides (for those that might be concerned, we favour distance and scenery over speed).

We know from experience that other railway line conversions have proved attractive to visitors. Local businesses including pubs and cafés will see the benefit from increased use of the trail.

The project has not consulted people

This accusation seems particularly hurtful since the project has sought to involve as many relevant organisations as possible as planning has progressed including groups representing walkers, people with disabilities, cyclists and horse-riders.

Not only has there been significant input from cyclists and horse-riders through the involvement of members of the CTC and the British Horse Society, but one of the project leaders is a regular cyclist and the other is a horse-rider!

No doubt there will be more discussion on these and other issues. Please feel free to add your (courteously-expressed) thoughts via the comments box below.

30 replies to “Issues regarding the Meon Valley Trail

  1. Hi Andy, A useful article that I shall forward to someone who was just today 'lamenting' the so-called bad points of this project.

    Is there any possibility that you can modify the link to the British Horse Society to go to the specific article (if they have one) on the surface material thy approve off rather than their home page? This would make it easier for 'casual' browsers to catch the point more quickly.

    Thanks, A

  2. Hi! I set up the petition. We are a concerned group trying to ensure that the needs of our community are considered in this project. I am afraid that the spin you have put on your post is very hurtful to me and those who are simply trying to learn more about this project. Even the houses along the route were not informed of the extent of these works & the resurfacing of the route. How can we comment when we are not told? We want a multi surface that is safe for all users. We are concerned about the urban creep into the National Park. This is a B road in an area of outstanding natural beauty. We will have no countryside left in the UK if this is government policy. The new surface is down in places & many cyclists do not like it. It's not smooth, it's lumpy & bumpy. The stones are large & angular & will puncture the sides of a tyre warranting replacement. Children have extensive cycle routes in the Forest of Bere, Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Manor Farm etc I could go on. We are not against you at all. We are just worried about policy & the lack of consultation.

    1. I'm sorry to hear you found the comments hurtful. I apologise for that. That was not - of course - our intention. We're hearing a lot of unfair criticism of the project and we're trying to redress the balance. That's not meant to imply all criticism is unfair.

  3. I know the railway well and while most recognise that the track did need some general maintenance to bring it up to a good standard what has actually happened is disproportionate to what was needed to achieve this. Horse riders, cyclists and walkers have coexisted in relative harmony for many years using the existing and natural surface nature provided which had built up over many years on top of the old railway bed. What has been done to the track is not sympathetic to the environment or the spirit in what a country track should be. The majority of existing users seem unhappy about the developments and are of the same thinking. Why urbanise and all but pave over a country track?

    To address points about consultation its understood 451 people were consulted, local businesses, farmers, residents and frequent users of the track were unaware of the scale and significance of the proposed "upgrade" It has also been advised that the consultation period was cut short as the funds needed to be secured - use it or loose it.

    Several cyclists who have been stopped and asked while on the track have reported punctures and numbness in their hands due to the vibrations caused while cycling, also miss the rural experience the track once offered & yes the mud too.

    Walkers and joggers have reported sore feet, jarred ankles and knees. They enjoyed the respite the softer surface offered them. People's dogs don't even want to walk on it and ones which do end up with a sore feet.

    Wheel chair users have expressed concerns over the surface (& I'm referring to the section which is finished) of being bumped about on such an unforgiving surface, especially those who suffer arthritic conditions. A blade runner can not run on the finished surface.

    If we go on to the horses, let's keep in mind this track has been a bridleway for over 35 years. The new surface (and again I refer to the finished section) is not suitable for horses even at a walk. The stones will cause bruising to their soles which can result in lameness and in some cases, abscesses to develop. Concussion on their limbs and tendon damage. Take away another suitable and safe place which horses and riders can ride and force them onto the road? With regards to the surface the BHS "approved" this could be two very different things and this is being investigated with the BHS. The approved surface contradicts their own recommendations as written in there guide.

    Heavy machinery has been operating in very close proximity to Badger setts and there were bats in the area which are protected.

    The access is being changed to accommodate carriage drivers which means be default motorised vehicles will be able to also get onto the track. In fact it's been reported tonight that a 4x4 has been sighted speeding along the track and endangered a pedestrian.

    Anyone who appreciates the countryside and what it has to offer should be concerned that this upgrade can be approved in a National Park. Our countryside is being paved over for no good reason and it's a waste of public funds.

    1. Absolutely spot on !
      I have been a club cyclist of many years including the CTC and used to ride the route from Wickham to West Meon quite regularly. I for one loved the variation in the natural surface and surroundings for that is what enjoying the countryside is all about.
      By trying to make it available for all destroys the original attraction of the facility and so what they have achieved is an insipid compromise that the original users and the newly introduced are not happy with.
      Not having ridden the path for some time I was thinking of riding it again with my wife but in view of the comments on here I think we will give it a miss.

  4. In response to the points:

    The surface is finished - the West Meon end of the trail is we're told. There have already been complaints regarding the surface from all user groups including horse riders, cyclists, runners, walkers, dog owners. There's some debate on whether the BHS advise was followed as the installed surface contradicts their guidance.

    The new trail will be unsafe - the smoother surface will do nothing but speed cyclists up. We get enough bad eggs causing friction amongst pedestrians as it is. Horse riders certainly won't be going very quickly due to concussive injury from the hard surface.

    The new trail will allow motorised traffic - there was a report this evening of a Suzuki 4x4 using the trail so I hope gates are installed. Although with the reports that the trail is going to be reclassified as byway how will carriages be let through?

    The improvement works are damaging the habitat - I don't know how they couldn't. Mature trees have been chopped down and foliage flailed. Good bye nesting birds and insects. There is some debate on the effect on local badgers, wildlife organisations are investigating this.

    No-one wants the improvement - local horse riders didn't. Local mountain bikers didn't. And going by the reaction on a road cycling Facebook page on the article the majority agree that bridleway should be left as off trail. Almost going as far as running a tarmac B road ruining a trail to appease a few is far from acceptable.

    The project has not consulted people - by hants councils own admission (following a freedom of information request) the consultation was rushed to meet the deadline for claiming the DoT funds. Few regular users and locals appear to have known about the work until it started. Those that did know appear to have been mislead as to exactly what was happening. If the consultation had been done correctly I doubt that there'd be over 1100 signatures on a petition to halt work.

    Overall I think its damaging for cyclists reputation to be rights claiming on a bridleway when horse riders have less safe places to ride than we do. The trail is (or was) a bridleway, generally considered as off road trail. To almost tarmac the route is completely over sanitising the trail.

    Regards,
    (A cyclist)

  5. I have used the Meon Valley Trail for twenty years to cycle on and rode the track yesterday.

    The surface was admirably dry for the time of year, presumably because of the considerable cut back of the canopy. However, it's now a dull, uninteresting ride. What was once a ride through charming countryside on changing sections and surfaces is now one long grey gravel driveway. For first time users, I expect they'd find it a pleasant enough experience if a little rough, as was mentioned by one couple but I was left looking for the smoothest path every time as my hands became numbed by the constant jarring, especially between Exton and Warnford where the chippings are significantly large.

    Potholes? I'd never had issues with potholes previously. The surface could be a little churned up from horses' hooves in the wetter months but that had never caused a tumble and if it had, better mud to land on than gravel....

    A sealed surface? On a rural bridleway? Really?? Come on now....

    As for Welborne, you should note that that particular project is still in the hands of an independent government inspector and is considered by many as less than viable.

    I did meet people in the trail who were pleased to see the changes and yes, it does provide better access for user groups who found it difficult before. However, some groups, primarily the horse riders feel somewhat disenfranchised and I can understand why. It's sad to see a route that was special for its own character and charm hijacked as just a means to get from A to B.

    Maybe nature will reclaim it again. I hope it's sooner rather than later.

  6. There are many inaccuracies in this article. I'd like to focus on the consultation of others. I personally knew nothing about it until the work started and have been a regular user for man years. I spoke to someone last week who lives very close to the railway and she and her family were unaware of any works until I told her. I know many users none of whom knew in advance and none of whom are happy about the works. These people are all different types of users. Who has been giving positive feedback? Nobody from any organisation linked to the project has asked anyone I've come across, nor have I seen any request for feedback, online or otherwise. I hope the public meeting at Wickham community centre on Thursday 16th at 7.30 will be well attended, both by users and officials.

  7. I have lived along the line off and on for 42 years and was well aware of the works through articles in the press and from contact with the National Parks authority. I approve the work and as a lifetime cyclist who has used the track year round and am really looking forward to completion of the works. I find the temporary surface to be a vast improvement over the deep mud of winter and I have many cycling and walking friends who were put off the quagmire of the unmaintained track.
    The pruning and cutting back had not been done since a YTS scheme around 1980 and will soon soften and grow back. Well done to all involved for improving access for all. My 76 year old mother is looking forward to being able to ride to Wickham and reduce her car dependence. She tried before but fell off several times due to deep mud and ruts.

  8. I have ridden my bike up the trail twice to West Meon from Wickham.
    I did not get numb hands
    I did not think the route was boring - I could see far more of the surrounding countryside
    I saw plenty of people with dogs - very happy
    I saw plenty of people with buggies - no problems
    I saw plenty of walkers and fellow cyclists who appeared to have no problems
    I saw plenty of young children with bikes using the trail than I have ever done before
    Yes the route is stony in places but it will bed in and it is not finished!
    I was so pleased not to have to ploughs through mud
    Hopes this helps redress the balance!!!

  9. My parents -in-law live next to the trail no were fully kept informed of the work by the project team at various stages

  10. I think the issue here is that the trail is meant to be for multiple user groups - parts of the trail was/is a Bridleway - I note that you didn't mention on your ride from West Meon to Wickham that you saw horse riders? The surface should be suitable for all user groups and currently it does not meet this specification. I am really pleased that at least some people were consulted, however this seems to have been a very small group, at the project managers own admission the consultation period/people was hurried - and other user groups feel they have been misrepresented. I hope that an agreement can be found to satisfy all multiple user groups as this is such a beautiful trail and no one should be excluded in being able to use it - Walkers, Cyclists, Runners, Families, Dogs, Horse Riders/Carriage Drivers, it would be a shame if the newly laid surface discriminates/dictates this.

  11. "We would have preferred to see a sealed surface to replace the old one"

    Have you bothered to read section 30 of the 1968 Countryside Act, I wonder?

    1. Our 'right to ride' representatives are - of course -familiar with relevant legislation and guidance, although I'm not. As far as I can see, the section you quote does not prevent use of a sealed surface on a bridleway. I'm unaware of any legislation or guidance that does.

  12. Are there any plans to link up the bottom end of the trail? Currently it comes to a dead-end just short of Knowle. It would be great if it could link up with the minor road to Funtley - providing a cycle/riding route into Fareham.

    Am reserving judgement on the current works. Looks a bit of a scar at the moment but hopefully the edges will green over. The sections of the Forest of Bere that it passes through could definitely use some woodland management - coppicing/grazing. My boss broke both arms riding his bike along the route a few years ago, so I agree that there was some need for improvement!

  13. Hi Julie
    On my two bike rides I only saw 1 horse rider. But I never used to see that many and I was told by a guy I spoke to on the trail on Sunday that most horse riders go out in the mornings. My point was I did see a variety of other users (including walkers in flip flops) and my impression was accessibility has been improved for users other than horse riders. All I read is that no one is happy with it. I just don't think that's true. Some cyclists may not like it but some do. I think it will get better for all and I think we should give it a chance. I believe the work needed doing. I'm sorry if it is causing horse riders problems and if they don't feel they were consulted properly but it appears there was some consultation with horse riding bodies.
    I agree with Nick that the Knowle end of the trail should be linked to create a route through to Fareham which again could benefit all users.

  14. Great article. I am looking forward to using the improved trail. It's great that so many other people will get the chance to use it.

  15. Fair enough, the surface may not be the final one, but was anyone expecting or hoping for a Tarmac route?
    I have been on sections of the trail almost every day for the past 9 years and feel one of the worst points about the works is the destruction ( I realise that this is an emotive word) of the really rather special places which have been replaced by a wide and very open "road". The previous way that a glimpse of Beacon Hill or Winchestet Hill was revealed framed by trees really was lovely.
    I'm sure in time some of the trees will be allowed to grow back but this is a very long term view, and it might have been nicer if some more established trees had been left.
    The consultation was cut short and our own parish council were unaware of the severity of the planned works.
    There are plus points for example some of the unsafe steps to meet the trail are being renewed making access safer for pedestrians.
    Not reacting to negative stories or even half truths just my own experience.
    I hadn't realised when I replied to your original article that you were a protagonist for the change as you suggested that you were trying to offer balance.
    It could be suggested that your article now is highly skewed too

    1. I hope it's no secret that CTC, its member groups and their right to ride representatives campaign for improved facilities for cyclists. The article was trying to correct some false assertions that have been going around (probably involving some misreporting and sensationalising by the media). To produce a statement that took all views into account would be extremely difficult, if not impossible - and we've not claimed to do that.

      As it happens I was talking to someone on a ride yesterday who said she appreciated the better views offered by the new path! It's certainly not possible for the project to please everyone.

  16. In the past I tried to (bike) ride sections of the MVT. It was a rough, overgrown mudpit.

    I have tried several rides while the works have been progressing - noting that only a few hundred metres at the West Meon end have the finished surface.

    ( In anticipation . . . . ) At last I have a safe alternative to riding the A32 between Exton and West Meon. Thanks for that.

    The unfinished sections were OK on a mountain bike when the weather dry. Really nice to have the trail opened out from the dark, dull, tunnel of overgrown vegetation.
    Some of the cleared viewpoints are impressive - Old Winch Hill & Beacon Hill - very nice.

    I boldly tried some unfinished sections after non-trivial rain. I won't be doing that again - super speedy mudpie experience. I very much look forward to the whole length being completed with the proposed surface.

    Natural growth will soon hide the starker effects of the clearance work.

    Well done, to those who have rescued this route from its neglected obscurity.

  17. At the end of the day,most of this route is a Bridleway, therefore horse riders & walkers have priority. The surface should accomodate them first & no provision needs to be made for other users. However it is obviously desirable for other users to use the route but provision must be made for the priority users. Horses have very few routes that they can use in all their paces and this was one of the few that you could use in faster paces when the ground conditions were right, which luckil,y usually co-incided with the times that other users did not wish to use it .If there had been a little thought given to the situation a dual surface could have been installed or a cheaper alternative, just new drainage in places & a scraping off of the deepest mud. There was no need to hard surface the whole track . If people want nice hard gravelly or tarmac surfaces they can go to country parks or the Forest of Bere which are close by without even wearing their wellies! On a positive note, more sign posts were needed so that non locals know where they are & to help local businesses and some of the access points did need improving which have both been done. Some trimming & cutting down of tees was required but they have gone way overboard on this & left it very stark. The undergrowth will grow back quickly but the trees will take many years unfortunately.

    1. I don't think you'll find many cyclists, wheelchair users, riders of invalid scooters or people with pushchairs agreeing that horse riders and walkers have priority. That might have been the origin of the term bridleway but - like carriageway - its meaning has changed over time.

    2. Jan,
      I note your desire for the surface of the route to enable "pace".
      Even if one was to accept your assertion that priority should be accorded to horses and pedestrians I would have thought that"riding at pace" would be incompatible with the safety of pedestrians, especially the very young. I don't consider the way was ever envisaged to enable pace or competitive use by horse riders. However I gave up riding sections of it years ago when I encountered a horse jump had been erected and the ground all around made into a muddy mess as a result. It is a multi use way and all categories of users should be empathetic to other users comfort and safety..

  18. Phil, walkers & horses have always used the trail quite happily, together with cyclists. Horse riders bring their horses back to walk when encountering other users, for everyone's safety. The law relating to bridleways has not changed, horses & walkers have priority & neither over the other. Cyclists are permitted on bridleways but do not have to have a suitable surface provided. That is the law until it is changed.
    Walkers & cyclists have many miles of routes that they can use with new ones being created. We have very few & the ones we have are nearly always so narrow & overgrown that we cannot safely use them.I do not know of any new bridleways in this area in the past 18 years. If we go on the roads we are moaned at & told to use the fields, which we are not allowed on. This is the countryside & horses have always been a part of it. Everyone seems determined to urbanise it, surely the reason they want to come here is to see the countryside, not another urban area!

    1. It's true that cyclists are required to give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways. That is, of course, common sense. Our ride guidelines include specific provision for passing horses and we are often thanked for our courtesy. That's as it should be.

      The issue I have is when this 'priority' is extended to the design of trails. It is not true that horse riders have priority here. The latest British Horse Society guidance that we've seen points out that compromise is appropriate if horse riders are not the majority users.

      There's no legal obligation for bridleways to be maintained for cyclists, but that does not prevent Authorities from taking their needs into account. We cannot claim to represent other groups but we are aware that our needs coincide with those of other wheeled users such as people using wheelchairs, invalid scooters, prams and push chairs. Again, Authorities have no legal requirement to take their needs into account, but I think it right that they do.

      I can understand that you are concerned there are no new bridleways in the area (I'm told the legal costs associated with converting a footpath to a bridleway are prohibitive). However, it's wrong to regard all cyclists as a single category. Some are willing to mix it with heavy and fast traffic, many others are not. Some are uncomfortable riding in traffic at all. Families with young children, for example. The new trail is already encouraging people to cycle into the National Park that would previously have found it difficult or impossible.

      The new surface will not be to everyone's liking (not even to all cyclists' liking) but I think it right that the Authorities should seek to maximise usefulness of the trail as inclusively as they can.

  19. I agree that it would be wonderful if all users could enjoy the trail. With just a little forethought this would have easily been possible within the generous budget that was available. A dual track or different surface would have kept everyone happy. Agreed some people can now access the SD way, but is it fair to take away this facility from those that have agreed it in the past 40-50 years ?
    Thre was a very limited survey one & as i attended the consultation meeting after this I was given a copy of the summary of this survey.It was clear that horse riders did not want a "hard" surface, local people wanted to preserve the natural, quiet feel of the trail & there was support for looking into the continuation of the trail south towards Fareham from cyclist groups. Some drainage, trimming of trees & opening up of views & low key signage was wanted together with better car & horsebox parking.
    These views from mainly residents who pay their council tax in the area & have to live in it & exercise their animals ie horses & dogs daily have been ignored .

  20. We went as a family on the Meon Valley railway trail at the weekend and we had a thouroughly enjoyable cycle. None of us had numb hands, none of us got a puncture and we didn't run anyone over by going too fast. Pasted lots of other cyclists and walkers enjoying the trail and a couple of horses. Any trail with trees along the edges will gradually grow in and cutting back is essential to allow access to continue. The mud on the trail in the winter made it really diffiuclt to cycle in places. The surface will soon bed in and look smoother than it is at the moment. Surely it is better than mud and tarmac is definatley not going to work. Stop moaning everyone and get out and enjoy the countryside.

  21. To see what the furore is about I took my hybrid to Wickham today and cycled all the way north to the (ex) West Meon viaduct, the first time for 5 years.
    The width of the new track surprised me, not because it was offensive, but because it would have been cheaper to make it narrower. The more open look to the trail is not offensive either, and some areas could do with coppicing to provide a greater variety of habitats (in my opinion). And I won’t miss the water splashes.
    What did surprise me though was the surface finish. Rule 1 of path construction has been broken – do not use loose material! I cycle a lot on the shore around Emsworth, so am used to a loose surface, but to have such as surface on a public path is crazy. Unfortunately I saw one 6 year old cyclist being scraped off the ground.
    Railway chippings are not appropriate for such a path – the ideal material would have been self-binding hoggin, which compacts to a near-solid free-draining surface, and which appears to be horse approved too. In the long term most of the chippings will be thrown off the path, but a short term improvement would be a mechanical road sweeper.
    It’s a shame the two missing bridges have not been replaced – a lottery bid perhaps? And the Knowle link?
    Overall a good attempt, but I feel more could have been done with less. I won’t be hurrying back.

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