Action to safeguard Swanage’s footpaths urged by report

A report detailing all of Swanage’s 34 miles of public paths and bridleways has made far reaching recommendations to maintain and enhance the network, as well as suggesting giving right of way status to town centre cut throughs.

The document, commissioned by Swanage Town Council, has been completed ahead of the 2026 deadline when all rights of way must be registered on its county’s Definitive Map to maintain their status. Pathways not formally recorded as a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway, risk being legally ‘lost’.

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Footpath signs

The report includes footpaths and bridleways

The footpath, part of the South West Coast Path, from the Ballard Estate leading to Sheps Hollow

“The majority of Swanage rights of way were found to be in reasonable condition”

The Swanage Rights of Way Survey Report is to be presented at an open evening at 7 pm on Tuesday 21st June 2022 at the Emmanuel Baptist Church, where anyone who is interested is welcome to attend.

The detailed report was compiled by footpath expert Ian Fleming, assisted by Steve Williams. Between them they walked all 95 rights of way plus other additional paths, logging and recording key aspects of each route.

The report summarised:

“The majority of Swanage rights of way were found to be in reasonable condition, without any problems caused either by fallen trees or encroachment of undergrowth. This is a positive situation…”

A rural footpath between Bon Accord Road and South Cliff Road in south Swanage

An urban cut through between Ballard Road and Ballard Way in north Swanage

Some paths not protected by right of way status

The most surprising finding was the list of 15 paths that were regarded as public footpaths prior to 1975 but do not appear on Dorset Council’s Definitive Map – the legal record for public rights of way in Dorset – and as such do not have legal right of way status. This includes these much used and popular footpaths:

  • Commercial Lane between Institute Road and Commercial Road in the town centre,
  • Sunshine Walk from Cluny Crescent to Queen’s Road near the hospital
  • Chapel Lane from the High Street by the Methodist Church to Queen’s Road
  • Battlegate Footway from De Moulham Road near Beach Gardens to Shore Road and the seafront
  • Springhill path from the High Street opposite the Purbeck House Hotel to Kings Road West opposite the Swanage Medical Practice

The report recommends that Swanage Town Council applies for right of way status for 14 out of the 15 additional paths identified, prior to the 1st January 2026 deadline.

The author writes in the report:

“Confirming these paths as rights of way will safeguard their continuing existence and will also highlight their role as useful urban short cuts.”

Springhill path between the High Street and Kings Road West is recommended to be formally designated as a right of way

Sunshine Walk between Queen’s Road and Cluny Crescent is not on the Designated Map as a right of way but recommended to be included in future

Other key recommendations

  • Enlisting a team of volunteers who have a keen interest in the local countryside and the continued use of public footpaths, to continue the survey of the network, report any problems and help prioritise improvements
  • Improve the ‘inadequate and inconsistent waymarking’. These are the signs that mark the route of the footpath and make it easier for walkers to find them
  • Highlight routes of particular interest to visitors because of their scenic value
  • Create a route between south and north Swanage by combining seven footpaths to form an interesting walk
  • Swanage to aim for Walkers are Welcome status. This is a UK-wide, community led network of accredited towns whose purpose is to develop and promote walking in areas with something different to offer

Some of the rights of way in Swanage have spectacular views

Whitecliff footpath leads up to the top of Ballard Down and views of Old Harry Rocks

Responsibility

Dorset Council holds overall responsibility for the rights of way in its area, in conjunction with landowners, which in Swanage is often the town council.

Landowners are responsible for cutting back hedges, trees or shrubs overhanging a public right of way. Surface vegetation or undergrowth on rights of way, such as nettles or brambles, are the responsibility of Dorset Council.

The South West Coast Path is celebrated and protected

Former popular cut throughs in Swanage have been lost as they weren’t designated as a right of way

“Start talking about our footpaths”

Swanage Town Council visitor services manager Culvin Milmer said:

“I think it’s really important that we all take an interest and start talking about our footpaths, not just the serious walkers, but also those who use these cut throughs to nip into town or walk to work.

“Sometimes these routes are quicker than taking the car and encouraging people to walk can only be a good thing.

“It would be great to be able to implement the recommendation of getting a team of volunteers together to be the eyes on the ground. Some people walk the same route every day with their dog and would be quick to spot a problem or help implement improvements.”

The route to Durlston Country Park along the South West Coast Path clearly signed

The walking route to the beach

Sustainable Swanage open evening

To hear about this report, discuss the findings and to find out more about how to help, everyone’s invited to the Sustainable Swanage open evening at 7 pm on Tuesday 21st June 2022 at the Emmanuel Baptist Church on Victoria Avenue in Swanage.

Also, at the meeting will be the chance to chat to Dorset Council’s senior countryside ranger with responsibility for rights of way in Purbeck, Katie Black, Sustainable Swanage’s active travel working group, and the National Trust.

Further information

  • Those who are keen to get involved but can’t attend the meeting can contact the Swanage Information Centre in Shore Road on 01929 766018 or via email welcome@swanage.gov.uk
  • More about Dorset Council and the rights of way is on its website
Footpath poster

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