The Perfect Stile

A young girl and woman, outdoors

Kathleen has a love of the outdoors and walking, and during lockdown she and her mum Wendy did what many others did – they explored their local area on foot. But then they decided to do something a little different during their walks. Kathleen is dyspraxic (a common disorder affecting, to varying extents, motor coordination in children and adults) so, as Wendy explains, “we decided to work on a research project to find the ‘perfect stile’ – we wanted to work out what features are needed for Kathleen to use them independently.”

Stiles are barriers to many walkers and removing them or replacing them with gates makes the countryside more accessible. But when it’s impossible to do this, the design of the stile is very important.

Stiles are prolific and very varied in their designs. While on their walks Kathleen and Wendy decided to research all aspects of what made their perfect stile and discovered that there were four essential elements:

  1. A tall post on both sides of the stile. A single post was insufficient and often confused matters.
  2. The posts are not too far apart; the distance between them is important. An ideal width was 93cm. Too far apart and Kathleen was hunched over trying to hold them, which in turn meant it was hard to climb over the top rung.
  3. Treads were ideally 45 degrees from the fence. Where the treads were a series of steps at 90 degrees, they looked fantastic but were harder to negotiate.
  4. Good grip. In wet and frozen weather, the strong mesh nailed on the treads was essential for grip, as the wood becomes very slippery.

Applying the British Standard

Elaine from the Ramblers’ policy team added “The British Standard which applies to stiles sets very similar measurements (to Kathleen and Wendy’s ideal stile measurements). It sets a maximum distance between the ground and the top of the bottom step of 35cm and 35cm between the tops of the two steps.

Kathleen makes a great point about the width of the stile. The British Standard sets a width of 60 to 70 cm and her point about the angle of the steps to the fence line is also reflected in the Standard. Steps should be at 45 ±10°. And, very importantly, there should be no barbed wire within one metre of a stile. It was brilliant to receive this information from Wendy and Kathleen. It shows how a little bit of research and time can help to open up the countryside for all.”

Supporting everyone to enjoy the countryside

Supporting everyone to be able to get out walking is at the very heart of the Ramblers, an ethos that was echoed by Wendy and Kathleen. Where a stile cannot be replaced by a gap or a gate, making sure it meets the British Standard helps Kathleen and others be able to enjoy the countryside.

Their work draws attention to the specific details of something that could be overlooked but can make a real difference to an individual. Negotiating both stiles and walkers' gates have been learning exercises for Kathleen, and one that both she and Wendy are extremely proud of.

Once they had completed it, they wanted to share these findings with others. “We wanted to communicate what we have learnt, perhaps for future use by people who build stiles. We are grateful to all who give their time to putting them in!”

Next time you are out walking, try applying the ‘perfect stile’ test to a stile, and tell your highway authority if you think the stile is no longer needed or is unsafe.

Contact us on volunteersupport@ramblers.zendesk.com if you are interested in getting involved in our path maintenance work.