Footpaths  How can we do better?


Many of the people who go to live in the country as commuters or retirees assume that going for a walk, that traditional English pastime, will be simple. They may soon be disillusioned. Going for a country ramble is becoming a problem.

Access. The conflict between walkers (with the Rambler’s Association as the bulldogs) and those who can restrict access to the land is too well known to need further publicity here. The UK’s adoption of the European Landscape Convention means that we need to make a clear distinction between land and landscape. The former may be owned by individuals (although in England those who call themselves landowners are often mere freeholders, like me, and certainly do not have the right to do whatever they wish with the land), but landscape belongs to all.

But there is another element to access. You have to get to the start of the path. Of course, many paths do start right in the village itself, as many are the remains of the way to village and church for outlying hamlets and farms. But most do not, and you have to walk along public roads to get to the start. Even if they are narrow country lanes, the number, size and speed of vehicles has increased so much that you would certainly not allow children to access the footpaths unescorted, and you would be fearful on your own, especially after sunset. I’m afraid most drivers assume that pedestrians will leap into the nettles and brambles or boggy ditch rather than stand their ground.

Other Users

In some places some paths, notably on the moors, are wide enough for SUVs and these green lanes can be a serious dispute of use. But pedal bikes and horses can be a problem as well.  Horses are only allowed on bridleways, but this can mean that these are inaccessible to pedestrians without wellie boots. Horses churn up the land much worse than bikes. One proposal was to convert a footpath to a proper cycleway, complete with asphalt. But the walking experience is completely changed by asphalt, and even more by racing cyclists. You may as well go to the urban park.


Having the gear.

Footpaths should be maintained to be accessible in reasonable footwear. It’s no use complaining if you insist on wearing flip-flops that you got your feet stung. But there is a reasonable cause of grumble if you need waders to get across the ditch. In summer nettles and brambles mean that a miniskirt or shorts is probably not ideal. But for simple maintenance there are systems in many counties where the Parish Council can be funded by the county to maintain its own footpaths. In one parish there is a voluntary Footpath officer who has a team of walkers, who undertake to walk their footpath three or four times a year armed with secateurs and shears, and perhaps a strimmer. Don’t ask about Health and Safety! Bigger jobs, such as replacing the stile can almost certainly be done more cheaply by local labour than the county teams.

This may not be a huge step in local devolution, but it is a start. I have heard of places doing a similar exercise looking after their trees  … any information on that?



The Village Demographic

Here in my village in the centre of Devon, we are undergoing a significant shift in our society. In this, we are behind much of England, where this shift has already taken place, but in southern Europe there is little sign of it yet. I wonder where the boundary lies?

It is called rural gentrification and it has reversed the rural population decline that led to Winkleigh’s population falling to 881 in the 1931 census, and now recovered to over 1300. The peak, 1554 was in 1851, and new estates may well mean that we have now exceeded that.

Needless to say the families who have been here for generations, and who are now closely inter-married, may rather resent the newcomers, although very glad that the shops and the Post Office thereby have enough custom to survive. Some of the newcomers are young families looking for comparatively cheap housing and prepared to drive many miles to work. Then there are the retirees, some like me from Exeter (40km away) but many more from the Home Counties. They tend to be well educated professional people. Often they have retired early and so need to occupy their time by organising clubs and societies and generally ‘running the village’. Local families are more concerned with their nearby family members.

Old property in Winkleigh
Old property in Winkleigh

The older properties in the village, notably in the Square are now frequently owned by the newcomers (or blow-ins as they are called around here). There is little doubt that their arrival has tidied the appearance of the village considerably. Properties within the Conservation Area are now well maintained, but the improvement to the material fabric has been accompanied by a more divided social fabric. The new estates are occupied, surprisingly often by the offspring of local families now returning here.

This situation appears to be the norm in southern England, with much of the south-east and the Cotswolds now being unaffordable for most local families. Cornwall and the Devon coastal areas are the same. Is the process something we should prevent, even if we could? How far across Europe has it spread. It certainly seems fairly common in much of France (with many of the incomers being foreigners, often English or Dutch), but equally Greek friends tell me that there people who can leave the rural areas still do so and head for the cities. What’s the situation elsewhere?

Please send your posts to me by email for me to send out. All aspects of rural life and environment which may interest those from other places ……………………



Rural to Rural

A decade ago I decided to watch a TV series on ‘A Village in China’ as my ignorance on China was profound. But as the series unfolded I realised that the Chinese village was so much like my village that I understood perfectly well the tensions within it, and even the debates about land use and the role of local ‘gatekeepers’. Rural problems seem to be pretty similar all over the world, but in the UK we are always depicted within the rural idyll, perfect communities living happily together in Arcadia. But it’s very difficult for rural people to share ideas and experience with other rural people without meeting in the big city. Even where we have the excellent idea of villages in one country twinning with those in another, the arrangements so often get hi-jacked by local politicos.

Hence this blog site, to enable people from one rural area to communicate ideas with others concerning their societies, concerning their landscapes and environments, concerning their economies and cultures. They may be good ideas (bragging is allowed) or they may be a plea for others to produce ideas. I intend to make a start, once I have posted this starter blog, with blogs about music in the community, and about the habit of visiting gardens. But I have a particular and professional interest in landscape issues.

I am very very new to this game, and I have not yet figured out how to allow others to post blogs on this site, but until I have sussed this out, then please do send me an email for me to convert into a blog. I am

About my place. I moved seven years ago to a village, Winkleigh, in the middle of Devonshire, England. Population 1600.

Transmission of ideas between rural areas