Despite their best greenfingered efforts, not everything in the Scotts' garden is rosy.

Retired couple John and Ann have lost a decade-long legal wrangle over whether a public right of way runs through their pretty property in the picturesque village of Thompson.

Officials have ruled that a long-lost footpath passes through their beloved garden before eventually joining up with the nearby Peddars Way.

The couple - who have lived in the village, between Watton and Thetford, for about 25 years - had argued the route did not exist.

The defeat means they face the prospect of having ramblers and dog walkers passing through their land.

However, they say they plan to object against the decision and have posted a notice in their parish magazine telling villagers the garden remains "strictly private".

Eastern Daily Press: The footpath that could run through the Scott's gardenThe footpath that could run through the Scott's garden (Image: Google)

The row started in 2013, when an elderly villager claimed at a parish council meeting that a footpath had once crossed their property.

The council checked with Norfolk County Council (NCC), which holds rights of way records, which agreed there should be access through the Scotts' garden, on Pockthorpe Lane.

It said the route joined up with nearby Sparrow Hill, which eventually leads to Peddars Way, the popular long distance footpath which runs from near Thetford to Holme-next-the-Sea. 

Eastern Daily Press: Ann Scott in 2022Ann Scott in 2022 (Image: George Thompson)

The Scotts, who are both retired teachers, disputed this, arguing there had never been a public footpath or road across their property.

At this point, the government's Planning Inspectorate - which adjudicates on planning disputes - got involved.

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It launched an inquiry and was due to organise a hearing in April 2020. However, it was delayed by the pandemic.

The saga was expected to come to an end in February last year but the hearing was immediately adjourned and not reconvened until November.

At the inquiry, the Scotts said the council's case for the route was “flawed, void and must be rejected”. 

They were joined in their objection by a nearby landowner - Leoware Ltd - which is also on the disputed track.

Eastern Daily Press: Ann and John Scott's garden in Thompson Picture: SuppliedAnn and John Scott's garden in Thompson Picture: Supplied (Image: Supplied)

The council initially argued that the properties were bisected not just by a footpath, but by a 'byway open to all traffic' - a thoroughfare known in planning jargon as a 'BOAT'.   

This is a highway along which the public has a right of way for vehicular and all other kinds of traffic.

During the hearing, NCC accepted historical evidence indicating this was not the case. But it stuck to its claim there should be a footpath.

The inspector, Sue Arnott, said evidence presented to her showed a path included on some historic NCC documents but not on others.

She described this as a "muddle" which "does not inspire confidence in NCC’s past administration”.

However, she ultimately sided with the council.

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Ms Arnott said: "My conclusion, both from the historical evidence I have examined and from the accounts from people who have known and used the path over many years, is that the order route had been established as a public right of way on foot long before 1998 [when the Scotts purchased the property].

Eastern Daily Press: Pockthorpe LanePockthorpe Lane (Image: George Thompson)

"Given the absence of challenge to users of the way until the end of that century, I am satisfied that dedication as a public path can be presumed such as to warrant addition to the definitive record."

However, because the status had been updated to a footpath, not a BOAT, planning law says the Scotts must get another chance to object. 

Eastern Daily Press: The order noticeThe order notice (Image: George Thompson)

While the couple did not wish to comment, Ms Scott shared a notice she had placed in the local parish magazine.  

It said: “Concerning the interim decision of the inquiry, Mr and Mrs Scott wish to inform the parish council and residents of Thompson that we will be objecting to this interim decision and modifications to the order.   

“We remind them and the general public, that our driveway and garden currently still remains strictly private.”