English and Welsh Ramblers have seven years left to catalogue the nation's footpaths, or they will be absorbed into private lands

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/01/22/dont-lose-your-way.html


If a footpath has been forgotten, in what sense is it a footpath?


I wish them luck. I live in an American city so the idea of footpaths like that is a bit alien. Everywhere I go is either sidewalk, marked and paved trail in a park, or private land. I like the thought of such organic pathways!


I’m sure all the Scots are looking at that, please that the trespass laws work differently there.

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An American version of the Ramblers are Vinod Khosla’s worst nightmare.

Here’s a great podcast about the movement:


In the sense that it is a footpath under law, and those laws weren’t repealed until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. They will still be legal footpaths until 2026, unless they are mapped.


If I lived there I would totally get involved in mapping these out. Finally, a purpose to hiking besides enjoying exhaustion and appreciating how good instant meals can taste when you’re out in the woods.


But if nobody can point to it, and no map shows a footpath, in what way does it exist? In the Mind of the Creator? That’s fine, except he’s not telling.

Some maps do, but they are hundreds of years old.


Even if forgotten for a while, a footpath that has been used for hundreds of years leaves traces, a depression in the ground, old roots that are worn smooth. You just have to keep an eye open when you walk to find them. Nowadays with smartphones with GPS it’s a lot easier to map paths as well.


There are a few near me that go right between the buildings of some very fancy homes. Needless to say they’d rather you used their “suggested” routes. I’ve been told by a friend of one that has been built over by a landowner… so I guess time will tell what happens with that one.

But then they’re already mapped.

Not by the Ordnance survey.


I think you misunderstand what’s going on here. There exist foot paths – some of which were in use for many, many centuries – that were were essentially designated by law as a public way. Remember that for all of human history, cartpaths were the highways, and footpaths were the secondary roads of a land; the way that most people got to where they needed to go, whether by foot or by single rider horse. Some of these paths became less used after the advent of more modern forms of transportation, and some dishonest owners with a public footpath across/alongside their land basically stole the path by deliberately disguising or hiding it.

The paths exist on plenty of antique maps, but modern maps don’t typically show many non-automobile routes. So the triple threat is 1) less use leads to less maintenance, ergo, not as easily physically identified, 2) unscrupulous land owners further hiding the paths, and 3) modern maps not copying all the fine details of older maps.

The fact that some of these ways aren’t very visible doesn’t mean they’re not still legally a public way. If you don’t maintain your back yard, can I just append it onto mine?


The type of plants and climate in the area can make it hard to find those traces, though. I’ve seen Creeping Charlie, ivy, and Pachysandra take over paths in less than two years after typical summer droughts turned into excessively rainy seasons.

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Unfortunately, right-to-roam only works if both sides behave in an appropriate manner.

We don’t have that in Canada, but a surprising number of people think we do. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen things from such people as:

Allowing their dogs to harrass farmers’ livestock
Harassing farmers’ livestock themselves
Feeding the livestock things that aren’t safe for animals to eat
Refusing to follow the gate rule (if you find it open, leave it open. If you find it closed, close it after you).
Damaging fences
Damaging property
Nearly starting a goddamn forest fire because the moss growing on a rock was making it too difficult to climb, so they lit it on fire in the middle of the goddamn summer.

Not to say that landowners are blameless. Legitimate, legal right-of-ways do sometimes get blocked. They have on rare occasions threatened people using them.

So, if you want to do it, make sure that a) it is an established precedent / law where you are and b) don’t be a dick.


Where I hike, there are a number of public roads that have never been drivable by motor vehicle and remain public roads nonetheless. The hiking clubs encourage hikers to use them openly and notoriously, ignoring the posters that landowners put up.

On one of them, I once had the ‘landowner’ set dogs on me. (The dogs decided that they didn’t want to mess with a human holding trekking poles and standing his ground.)

On another, a hiker reported shots fired. That stretch of trail is now closed and that footpath is lost, because there was no corroborating evidence to go after the shooter, but the club decided that it would be prudent to send hikers elsewhere. (That gave up access to a trail shelter and a rather nice view.)

I’ve also seen one where the ‘landowner’ tried to prove in court that the easement was abandoned. The state contested it, and won. There is now a sign on the road saying, ‘PUBLIC EASEMENT ON PRIVATE LAND. STAY ON TRAIL AT ALL TIMES. YOU ARE NOT WELCOME.’ Apparently, that’s lawful, although the previous NO TRESPASSING posters were not.

I’m sure this is some vestige of British land tenure, from our colonial heritage.


Any number of interesting bits about footpaths in the UK. If a path crosses a field, the farmer can plow across the path; a right of way does not include the right to stop; baricading the path is forbidden, but putting a bull in the field is not.