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?



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