Historic King John's Highway reopens after 7 year right-of-way battle
An historic pathway that was once the haunt of royalty has been reopened to the public following a seven-year access battle.
King John's Highway was a public right-of-way in the Co Down village of Holywood but was fenced off so that locals could no longer walk along it.
They had to walk round a sharp bend along a dangerous stretch of road instead of using the safe 100-yard public right-of-way that would have cut off a corner of the road.
North Down mayor Andrew Muir welcomed the court decision that has seen the path reopened to walkers.
More than 250 people signed a petition set up by Holywood Conservation Group to have the path opened again.
Mr Muir said a campaign group was set up, which relentlessly lobbied North Down Borough Council to assert the right-of-way and oversee the removal of any obstructions.
Since then the council had been locked in a legal battle with the owner of the surrounding ground, but following the court decision he was instructed to remove the padlocked gates blocking the right-of-way immediately.
"This is fantastic news, proving that a committed campaign can reap the required rewards. Holywood is the gateway to North Down and the reopening of this public right-of-way ensures another key link to the great outdoors for local people," Mr Muir said.
"This well-fought battle has also restored a piece of Holywood's history. King John is said to have passed through Holywood in 1210 on his journey from Carrickfergus to Dublin.
"Legend has it the king spent time on his journey in the Government Bailey, situated on the Holywood Motte, before heading to Dundonald via the King John's Highway off Creighton's Green Road.
"Open green space is an asset to any community. Public paths and rights-of-way like this one are extremely important. I know many will enjoy this pathway and following in the footsteps of Holywood's famous royal visitors," he said.
"Along with the Coastal Path upgrades, Holywood will soon have a lot to offer its active residents," he added.
John Moore, chairman of Holywood Conservation Group, said at least 80 people had been "jumping up and down" over the decision to close the path and many more had been inconvenienced.
"It has taken seven years for the legal system to do its duty," he said.
"I walked the route yesterday and this morning.
"The blockage was cutting off a corner which meant pedestrians had to walk round a very dangerous bend on an extremely dangerous section of the road.
"Now people will be able to go along a safer route.
"This is in the public interest," he added.
Alan McFarland, chairman of the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs, commended North Down Council for its action in asserting the right-of-way and said the current legislation appears to lay the onus on taxpayers to keep them open.
"We have aggressive landowners putting up aggressive mud banks and walls, barbed wire, and closing off access to local communities," he said. "We feel the current legislation seems to sway on the side of someone just blocking a right-of-way."
FACTFILE: THE LEGAL STATUS
A public right-of-way:
* Is a highway which any member of the public may use as of right; not a granted privilege.
* May be created specifically or through 'deemed dedication' (by the public openly using a path for a period with landowner's knowledge.
* May be limited to certain users, eg walkers or walkers and horse riders
* Is a permanent legal entity and remains in existence unless path is extinguished.