After the hurricane …….. of October 1987, Occold was galvanised into action in order to save its battered environment.
A professional report by Claire Grindrod of United Framlingham Farmers - Countryside Management Services was issued in August 1988. Very unlike other villages, two of the main movers in this were local farmer/land owners Harry Standley and Brian Hull. It was sponsored by the then major employer Life Science Research at the behest of John Halliday. Looking back quite a lot of the plan was implemented but a full review can wait until its twentieth birthday. Nearly ten years later Sue & Tiny Welch came onto the scene and revived our footpaths. Now read on for Sue's own account of what followed............
We moved into Occold, 31 years ago from Yorkshire, and I had been used to walking the hills - just think of my dismay when there didn't even appear to be any footpaths, never mind hills, in this part of Suffolk.
As the boys grew up, we became very adapt at hacking our way through the undergrowth, finding our way to Eye using the supposed footpaths was a real adventure especially when the nettles are taller than you are. Although passable, it was hard work making it through to Southolt down the bridle way named Hundred Lane, so in the end we tended to walk nearer the coast in places like Dunwich.
Then, in May 1997, The Parish Council put a notice in the Occold Village News asking for anyone who would be interested in working with Parish Paths Partnership or as it is normally known P3. The Partnership is between Suffolk County Council (as highway authority), local councils and voluntary groups and its aim is to give local people the resources and skills to enable them to improve their local rights of way to walk them and keep them open.
So in April 1998, Occold joined the P3, myself as the Footpath Warden and Tiny doing all the hard work, like dragging cutting equipment (one large lawn mower) out of a deep ditch where it had careered when trying to cut a narrow field edge. Our map reading was not too brilliant to begin with - not that one can see a lot in the middle of a full grown rape field. But with the co-operation of the landowners and help from villagers the idea of a circular walk took shape
On 14th of June 1998 eight intrepid locals set off on what was to be our village circular walk. It involved crossing cropped fields and climbing in and out of ditches, but there was an up side, a meadow full of wild flowers, also a different way of looking at our surroundings, areas people had not been before, that they had never even thought of going to.
In August of that year we began the walk leaflet, September we saw the beginning of bridges going in, five in all and that was just so we could complete the circular walk.
There were also other paths within the Parish boundary to open up to enable people to vary their walks. All these paths also needed way marker posts; we wouldn't want ramblers getting lost in the outer regions of Occold
On December 13th nine walkers set off on the circular route but only five completed it the remainder were defeated by the mud, most of the fields had been ploughed, a necessity for a farmer a disaster for a walker, they tend to end the walk taller than when they began and would definitely not be allowed in the local pub without taking off their boots
In 1999 the work continued and villagers came on guided walks no matter what the weather. In April we paddled rather than walked, but it all seemed worth it when on the 4th Sept the circular route was finely opened by local councillor Julie Craven, well wishers enjoyed tea and biscuits in the village hall and 16 walkers set off on a bright sunny day to complete the 7.5km.
When I offered to be the voluntary footpath warden, in my mind I hoped to create a circular walk that would be opened by the year 2000 plus a leaflet detailing the walk, this the parish has achieved, little did I think we would receive a rights of way award from the ramblers association
None of this could have been achieved without the help and support of our fellow villagers, who walked with us in all weathers. The help that I had with the leaflet ensured that the Parish Paths were well advertised, and without the landowners, the Parish Council and the Highways Department who provided the grants and installed the bridges, we would not have got so much done in 2 years.
We have continued to build up the network of paths over the years and recently through discussion with HLS, Red House Lane has been opened up but there is further work needed to join the route up to the B1077, at the bottom of Castle Hill, near the pumping station. The more we open the more work there is in maintaining them, as most need cutting twice a year at least and over hanging branches and briers need to be dealt with.
As Tiny and I have other demands on our time we wish to hand over the reigns to another, so Tiny is putting down his spade, hanging up the secateurs and turning off the mower and we are handing over the responsibility to John Hewitson who is keen to see the footpath network progress. We have always felt supported and a helping hand or two has been there when needed to dig out tree stumps, clear briers or help with cutting the paths.
There is still a lot to do the same problems pop up every season, some do not seem to get solved, others move forward and that is rewarding, I am sure there are people out there who are interested in helping maintain the footpath network and improving the paths so let John know who you are.