My cruise to Booze up the lane deemed too dangerous for postmen

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The Independent Online

To most people who make their way up the winding lane to the rural Yorkshire Dales hamlet of Booze, it must appear every inch the quintessential rural thoroughfare.

Resisting the temptation to pop into the welcoming Red Lion pub, anyone wishing to reach the houses perched picturesquely on the hillside above must first weave their way through traditional cottages, before climbing steeply between moss-covered drystone walls. As the road reaches the top, amid flourishing hedgerows of wild flowers and the gentle bleating of lambs, the scenery opens out to afford breathtaking views across Arkengarthdale to the brooding summit of Mount Calva.

Yet, according to the Royal Mail, this idyllic 10-minute walk – obviously a shorter journey still by car – poses an "unacceptable" health risk to its staff.

This week bosses wrote to the 15 families that occupy the windswept settlement telling them that they were stopping deliveries for "health and safety reasons". They fear that if employees continue to bring the post up, they could be left with long-term back injuries.

The decision has left local families with the prospect of an hour round-trip into Richmond and back to pick up their mail. Understandably they are furious and not a little bemused by the edict.

Trying it out with a sack of my own yesterday, I must confess the walk was not without its perils. There was some quite slippery gravel, a few large puddles and a menacing looking "beware of the dog" sign outside Maple Cottage (but no dog) and a rather friendly tabby cat which insisted on being stroked by passers-by.

There was also a bracing smell of manure and one or two ratty looking sheep though, truth be told, little to threaten the average able-bodied soul.

Rowena Hutchinson, landlady of the Red Lion, said she was astonished to hear that the hill posed a threat to life and limb, especially after the previous postman delivered there safely for 20 years without incident. "I have been here 44 years and I have never seen an accident," she said as she explained the origins of the hamlet's unusual name, taken apparently, from either the Old English for house on the bend of the road or a reference to bousing – a process used when lead mining was carried out in these hills. "There are tracks like these everywhere in the Dales. It's really a money-saving operation because the postman has to work overtime to get all the way round his round," she added.

At the very top of the lane, Hazel Harker's family have been raising sheep and cattle on their 260-acre Town Farm since 1945. "Where are the health and safety issues? It is a council road so if it is too dangerous for the postman then surely it is too dangerous for the people that live here?" Her neighbour, Carilla Taylor, agreed. She and her husband spend the summer up here helping the Harkers with the annual hay harvest. "If we send off for something off the internet how can we sign for things if they are in a box in Richmond? How do we know they will be secure?

"If we had been consulted we might have been a bit more amenable but the high-handed way we have been treated is appalling," she added.

Back down in the village, cottage owner Julia Chapman was sweeping up the remains of the debris washed down from the previous night's rain storm.

"Yes it can be a bit treacherous in the winter when it's snowy and icy but everyone else manages to get up there," she said. "You just need a bit of grit that's all."