If you are a British rambler, you tend to take individual footpaths and bridleways for granted, linking them together to design a longer walk for the day.
I know walkers, determined as they are to arrive at their destination, who scarcely see or examine the path they are on.
We all do it from time to time. Yet look more carefully and you can find out much about the history of the landscape you are walking through.
The great dramatic tracks – the old Roman roads, the prehistoric ridgeways and so on – tend to get noticed. But the simple paths linking village to village, farmhouse to church, are just as important and worthy of note.
Our footpaths and bridleways are an absolutely vital resource for every country walker. During my campaigning days, landowning organisations were continually pressing for the “rationalisation” of the path network, seeking to get rid of many of our precious rights of way and pushing walkers on to unimaginatively routed and compromised core paths.
Thankfully, walking campaign groups resisted much of this, though some rambling footpath officers too readily agreed diversions which were not in the best interests of ramblers.
Core paths are still promoted by some local authorities. With austerity budget cuts, some highway authorities are not spending enough on the entire network, singling out just some of the more popular walks.
Yet walkers bring billions of pound into the British countryside, so this is a false economy. And the best way to keep ALL paths opened and maintained is to get as many walkers as possible out on to them.
One idea is to look at designing shorter long-distance walks on little used rights of way. My old group of the Ramblers Association in Teignmouth and Dawlish in Devon http://www.teignramblers.org.uk/ did this with the creation of the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way – 18 miles around some little visited wilder countryside. Many other rambling groups have done something similar.
You don’t have to be in a group to design such a route. You can do it yourself and produce your own booklet to sell online or in local bookshops.
Or why not just walk all the local paths in your locality, reporting any problems to the local highway authority and the Ramblers – who have a useful path problems app on their website http://www.ramblers.org.uk/