Down council staff to remove barriers in right-of-way row over shoreline walk
Barriers blocking both ends of a popular walking route on the shore of Strangford Lough are to be removed by Down District Council.
It comes after the council voted unanimously on Monday to assert the right-of-way between Ringhaddy Road and Quarterlands Road.
However, it is understood that, ahead of the council meeting, solicitors for the landowner had warned that any decision to assert the right-of-way would be challenged in the courts.
All obstructions on the right-of-way will now be removed by council workers.
Both ends of the scenic shoreline route were blocked off in 2011 and last year fences and warning signs were erected at the Ringhaddy Road entrances.
A council spokesman said: "Down District Council can confirm that the Ringhaddy Road to Quarterlands Road, Killinchy, was asserted as a public footpath at its council meeting on Monday January 26, 2015."
Last year DUP MP Jim Shannon said battle lines had been drawn over the contentious issue, with concerns over how a number of recent planning applications would impact on the right-of-way.
Since the route was first blocked, Down District Council has been gathering evidence for the existence of a right-of-way.
Residents said the process had unearthed a wealth of historical evidence dating back hundreds of years showing that the route was used to move cattle, horses and heavy goods.
One resident said he remembered riding horses along the shoreline towards the Quarterlands Road, and farmers would have used it to move cattle.
"It saved a couple of miles on the road, going along there rather than round the back of the hill," he said.
"For some reason it was known as 'Purgatory' - why I don't know, but I think that was the hill in he middle."
Residents say that long before the First World War, when the roads were poor, the route was the best way for pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic to get to Killinchy.
At one point Killinchy Parish Church even erected a toll bridge in Quarterlands Bay crossing a salt marsh and stream. Another resident said families used the route to visit relatives and friends and to transport heavy goods.
"This is supported by records of a small agricultural business, circa 1830-1911, in nearby Ballybregagh townland, which provide documentary evidence that, at low tide, supplies were imported by way of Ringhaddy quay using the right-of-way for distribution," he said.
"There was a public well set back from the path about 20 metres along the path from the Ringhaddy Road entrance, and this well was used by locals and residents."
The name Purgatory remains a mystery, but may have been linked to the derelict Rathgorman Church.
A public right-of-way is a highway that any member of the public may use as of right, not a privilege granted by the landowner. It is a permanent legal entity and remains in existence unless extinguished or diverted by due legal process. It must be respected by the landowner who should do nothing to obstruct the right-of-way or prevent or intimidate anyone from exercising their rights of passa ge.