Groundwork has been a labour of love for Robert
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
A POPULAR footpath has been transformed from an overgrown wilderness into a neat and colourful floral display thanks to an OAP’s three-year effort.
Robert Furness travels from Eggleston each day, including bank holidays, to tend the path that connects Bartlemere and Kalafat, in Barnard Castle, purely out of a love for local football.
His effort has not only cleared the path and made it safe and attractive, but he has also helped to beautify the borders of adjacent Tensfield football ground and its clubhouse.
The route is popular with families and children going to the nearby playground as well as Green Lane Primary School.
Mr Furness credits football as “saving him” after his wife Wendy died 13 years ago, and he would attend Bowes FC matches, at Shaw Bank, while living alone.
He said: “I never missed a game for 13 years, even after I came out from a hernia operation and a heart bypass.”
He described Geoff Thwaites, former Bowes FC manager, as being like a father-figure who helped him through the difficult time.
He paid that back when Bowes FC changed name to Barnard Castle FC, moved to the Tensfield ground and merged with the town’s junior football club.
Mr Furness said: “We started off working on the hut internally. I did all the painting. Then we came to the outside. There were nettles, brambles, trolleys, the whole lot, along the border.”
Three-and-a half years ago he began work on the neighbouring public right of way and, after cutting back the overgrowth, planted daffodils, tulips and crocus bulbs to add colour.
He also cleared the footpath of mud and rotting leaves.
Most of the bulbs were supplied by Mr Furness, along with a donation of plants he received from a woman who lives nearby.
He said: “I used to work from 8am to 5pm, but now I am jiggered by dinner time.”
Mr Furness, who worked his way up from shop floor to shop manager at Bakelite before taking early retirement 26 years ago, said: “There are only two ways of doing things – the right way and the wrong way. Nobody has done anything on the border, only me, and I like it that way because it is done right.
“I’ve enjoyed doing it. My own garden is getting neglected, but it is self-maintaining. I have a lot of shrubs – you only have to cut them back once a year.”
Mr Thwaites, who stepped down as manager earlier this season but remains involved with the club, said the improvements would not have been possible without Mr Furness’ help.
He added: “It is marvellous. People come walking around with their kids and having picnics.
“He has tidied it all up so people can use the area. There were nettles three feet high before.
“No disrespect, it was a wilderness and now it is a place people take pride in.”
Mr Thwaites said the football club has significant ambitions to improve the ground further, including putting in a new car park this spring.
He said: “Grants are ongoing for the extension and changing rooms, plus renovating the pitch and border.”