Those Old Paths

We seem to be in the middle of a spell of warm, sunny weather. It seems Spring really has arrived, although things could always change quickly, of course. But it’s the sort of weather that tempts me out to go walking as much as I can. We are extremely fortunate in the UK to have such a wonderful network of footpaths, open to the public.

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Dartmoor footpath

Many of the ancient tracks are still just that; just trackways that have never been turned into roads over the years. Often, this is due to their locations in the landscapes they traverse. Neolithic or Bronze Age man lived in a landscape that frequently comprised dense, almost impenetrable, forest, with networks of streams meandering through marshy lowlands, and wherever possible they would utilise the higher ground to move around, and hence we have long-distance footpaths today still following these same routes such as the Ridgeway, while modern roads tend to utilise the lower, flatter land where possible. Walking these Old Ways (and it is impossible to even mention them without referencing Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful book, The Old Ways!) always gives me goosebumps, as I feel I’m following in the steps of these prehistoric travellers.

And yes, we are lucky. Not only do we have so many of these paths, but we have the right to walk them whenever we please. But this has not always been the case. Up until comparatively recently, huge areas of the British countryside were owned by the landed gentry who denied the public any access. In 1932, the first mass trespass by five hundred men and women at Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, led to the imprisonment of five of the trespassers but this led to a second, three weeks later at nearby Castleton, involving ten thousand trespassers.

This growing movement, demanding the right to roam, led eventually to the creation of the first of the national parks in 1951, and to the Countryside Right Of Way act in 2000. So today it is possible to walk plentiful footpaths pretty well anywhere in the country, thanks to this incredibly successful movement of direct action.

My header picture at the very top of the page, incidentally, is a view of the Peak District looking towards Kinder Scout.

And it’s another gorgeous day today, so we’re off for a walk to make the most of it. I’ll catch up with everyone later.

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17 thoughts on “Those Old Paths

  1. We used to live just off The Ridgeway beside a tiny village called Aldbourne. The most incredible walks with views for miles and miles … My dog loved it up there with rabbits and deer everywhere. Cold in winter though as it was so exposed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Colin Barrett

    As you know Mick, I love walking as well. I agree with you that we are very lucky in this country to have the right to roam and wander along the many paths. Where I’m living in Cornwall many of the paths and trails were forged by Miners and are historic in that sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it gives me a sense of continuity, Dave. Your heritage trails in the US may only be a couple of hundred years old, but walking them must do much the same – you’d be following in the footsteps of earlier explorers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m surprised that the Right of Way Act is so recent. I always thought that tracks regularly used by people getting from point A to point B on legit business became, under common law, a right of way.

    Was a distinction later made by landowners between people going to work, church and school (for example), and people just out walking for the pleasure of it? It’s an odd distinction, but on the other hand walking long distances for pleasure must be a relatively recent phenonemon. In the days when almost everybody had to walk to get anywhere, the chance to sit down would have been a greater pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were never rights of way, before, other than the tracks and paths that were used as roads to get from A to B for work or to market or whatever particular business people had. The concept of being able to roam over land other than that didn’t exist. Landowners owned it and landowners made sure everybody else kept off. It took that upsurge in public opinion and pressure to get anything done. We now have the Countryside Right of Way act (CRoW) giving us a huge amount of access rights, but that only came into existence in 2000. Even so, it’s one of the best legal rights of access in the world, I believe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It sounds like it! I suspect proportionately more land in the UK is in private ownership than here in NZ. And you have way more people wanting access to it.
        There does, however, need to be some limits to roaming: people should stick to established pathways when passing through farmland and conservation areas, including areas where delicate plants are flourishing.
        Urbanisation has meant an ever-growing level of ignorance about how to conduct yourself in rural landscapes, or even – as I noticed recently – in parkland, where a surprising number of people seemed to think a pretty selection of wildflowers had been planted specifically for them to roll about on. Taking selfies, of course.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The rules are reasonably clear. Certainly it is essential to stick to footpaths, and it obviously doesn’t apply to places like people’s gardens. The places it does make a real difference is areas of open moorland and hillside, woodland and the like. When the law was passed, predictably the big landowners tried to attack it by warning that everyone would get crowds of people trampling through their gardens, but that was nonsense and the law was passed.

          There are always the idiots, of course, but they will be determinedly idiotic wherever they’re allowed to go,

          Liked by 1 person

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