Walking the Local Paths

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.TDWAYFront Cover

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/


The Old Tracks

So what are these old tracks?Smardale Fell Walk 007

We all see them as we walk in the countryside. Take them for granted as we use them for our present-day walks. But every single path we use tells a story, an episode in our history. They are as vitally important for telling the story of Britain as archaeological sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge.

That is why I believe the original routes should be preserved as much as possible, closure and diversions should be resisted. Changing the line of a path is interfering with our island story.Roman Road Feb18 002

About the tracks themselves –

I’ve been re-reading A.J. Brown’s classic work of Yorkshire Tramping Broad Acres. Brown was a leading figure in the rambling world between the two world wars, the author of definitive works such as Moorland Tramping and Striding Through Yorkshire – all worth a read. In Broad Acres he gives a good definition of the Old Ways:

Ancient British ridgeways (followed by hillside ways);

Romanised roads (i.e. ancient British ways. metalled and straightened by the Romans);

Pure Roman roads;

Drovers’ roads, drift ways and pannier-mule tracks;

Local green ways or Monks’ Trods’

i) Leading from monastery to monastery or chantry

ii) Saltways, flintways and other local ‘tradeways’.

I would add the following to Brown’s list:

Coffin Paths or Corpse Roads (Lich or Lyke Walks) – the way the dead were taken for burial.

Parish Paths – used to get to local churches, or from farm to farm and village to village.

Industrial Paths, the ways miners and quarrymen got to their work or transported minerals.

Paths constructed for the defence of our country in time of war.

Many of the above still wind through our countryside and may be followed by ramblers. But  by properly looking at them we can get a great deal more from our walks. We are literally walking in the steps of our ancestors most of the time. Striding through the British landscape is a history lesson on foot.Rydal Corpse Road 005

In my next blog I’ll be looking at a path used by lead-miners in the Northern Pennines.

On this blog Walking the Old Ways, I’ll be recounting some of my own walks and looking at what you might see along the way. But more than that I’ll be featuring the organisations which are fighting to protect these ancient paths, the people who have written about them and the books they’ve produced, and the ethos of the country walkers.

Looking too at the wild places where paths are few and far between,  for I’m an ardent campaigner for the right to roam. So there will be some campaigning as well. You can read how I became interested in our paths in my books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser – available in paperback and on Kindle.The Occupation Road 010

But I’d like to hear from readers too, particularly if you are fighting to protect an ancient path.

The above is just an introduction, so please keep visiting the blog or click on the Follow button, to get an email when the new blog appears.

Enjoy your walking.