Sunday, January 3, 1999 Published at 19:02 GMT
Ramblers step up pressure on landowner
Ramblers are demanding access to all the Sussex countryside
The Ramblers' Association is renewing its campaign against a millionaire landowner this week by staging a protest outside his estate as part of a continuing dispute row about access to a footpath.
They will assemble en masse at the entrance to the estate of Nicholas Van Hoogstraten who for ten years has refused to allow them to pass through his land near Uckfield in East Sussex. He says the footpath is not a public right of way.
Last month, Mr van Hoogstraten expressed his disdain for ramblers. "They're scavengers. The absolute scum of the earth," he told the BBC. "They don't have a stake in society, they don't own anything and they want to go rambling - or trespassing if you like - on other people's land and property."
The Ramblers' Association is taking legal action against Mr Van Hoogstraten to try to gain access to the land. "Mr Van Hoogstraten has treated us appallingly," said the association's spokeswoman Kate Ashbrook.
"The route is a right of way and he is doing everything to prevent us. The ramblers will not tolerate landowners who are trying to prevent us exercising our lawful rights."
A group of around 20 walkers, led by Labour MP Andrew Bennett, will gather at the entrance to the blocked path on Wednesday to highlight their campaign.
East Sussex County Council said it was aware that Mr van Hoogstraten was blocking the footpath, but said it could not afford to prosecute so the association's lawyers are now preparing a case against the landowner.
About a week ago, the Ramblers' Association published advertisements in the national press accusing Mr Van Hoogstraten of being a bully.
The advertisement, headlined "Bullies and Blockers: Back Off!" accuses him of breaking the law by refusing access to the land.
"Mr Van Hoogstraten is not above the law," it read. "Public paths mean just that - open to the public. The ramblers defend public paths and if all else fails take legal action to open them up."
Mr Van Hoogstraten is said to be building a vast mausoleum for his remains on the estate that is reputed to be the most expensive private home built in Britain this century.