RESIDENTS are celebrating the fact that they can once again walk freely on a public footpath, which had been blocked off for more than six years.

Local people have not been able to access the High Town Lonnen in the village of Melkridge since it was fenced off by landowners in 2013, so they were overjoyed this week when they joined forces to take a stroll on the once-prohibited path.

There was public uproar when the Halbert family, which owned the lonnen, erected fences at either side of the 50-yard footpath, barring the public from using the lane just off the busy A69.

Residents claimed the walkers had historically used the area as a public right of way, but the Halberts, of neighbouring Melkridge Hall, insisted it was for private use only.

The case went to a public inquiry in 2016, where it was decreed that it should be reopened as a public bridleway.

However, the saga did not end there and the family requested a judicial review into the result.

There was another twist in the tale in 2018 when it was revealed the Halberts had sold the route, which was badly damaged by flooding caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015, to Northumberland County Council, which had agreed to repair the lonnen before reopening it.

Fast forward to August 2019, and a temporary surface has been installed and the gates removed to ensure the public can use the area again. It was hoped a smoother surface would be laid in the near future, while residents also planned to line the lonnen with greenery.

After meeting on Monday evening, Melkridge Parish Council released a statement declaring how happy local people were.

The statement read: “After a closure of six and a half years, the parish council is delighted that once again the historic High Town Lonnen in Melkridge is open and able to be enjoyed by the villagers and general public.

“We are grateful to Ian Hobson of Northumberland Council, the management team and all the workers and associates involved in the project which resulted in the sympathetic restoration of the area.”

It is not just humans who will benefit from the reopening, though, as resident Pam Heslop insisted her pony Samme was excited to use the pathway.

She said: “It’s been coming here and using this area for 23 years since it was born and we’re happy to be able to use it again.”

The Halbert family were contacted but declined the opportunity to comment.