Footpath signOne of the great features of the British countryside is our network of public footpaths, bridleways and ancient rights of way.

Buy any Ordnance Survey map and you will find a network of dotted lines, signifying public rights of way.

Walking around the coastline of the UK is a challenge in itself. What makes it even more difficult?

Here are some of the problems I have encountered:

  • ‘secret’ footpaths, where signposts have mysteriously vanished
  • neglected footpaths, covered in brambles or nettles, or invisible because overgrown with long grasses
  • farmers who churn up the paths with tractors, making it impossible to walk along them
  • footpaths leading to streams or stiles with no way across because planks have rotted or disappeared
  • misleading “Private – Keep out” signs, despite the path being clearly marked on the map as a right of way, particularly where land owners appear to have taken over the natural route of the footpath

And, most frustratingly, when I discover a problem with a footpaths:

  • no obvious way to report the problem easily
  • nobody willing to take responsibility

So the easiest thing to do is to shut up and put up?

Or should we be mounting a campaign to protect our rights of way and reclaim our access routes?

Since I originally wrote this post, I have been doing a number of things:

1. If I find an obstructed footpath, I report it to the relevant council – using email.
2. I have become a mystery walker for the Ramblers Association.
3. And, I blog about my experiences.

Some activities I am considering doing:

Postcards to Councils:
I could send a postcard to the relevant council when I have enjoyed a walk. And when I haven’t. In fact, why don’t I send a postcard to the council after every walk I do?

The Ramblers Association provides an electronic postcard and will make sure the card gets to the right address and the right council.

But would a personal postcard, sent the traditional way, have more impact?

9 Responses to Footpaths

  1. mrscribbs says:

    Ruth, I have enjoyed reading your blog. I agree our public pathways are a national treasure. I don’t often come across misleading paths but I did recently and had to do a really difficult climb over a hedge. I didn’t know about the electronic postcard – I will get on to the Rambler’s Association.

  2. John J says:

    I’ve started to use ‘Fixmystreet’ – it certainly makes sure your complaint gets through to the right council although I’m not convinced it will get results. A follow up to the relevant local councillor may help – I hope!

  3. baz says:

    Perhaps and idea would be to spray red (or an agreed colour amongst walkers) paint where the problem is. This will signify fustration and a common grievnance shared amongst walkers. And also gives reconginition to those who have blocked paths and have made false claims that they have been found out. All this sound vigilanty but many walkers have been put in danger. For example having to jump barred wire fencing with their dogs. But red paint will give confidence to walkers that “your map is right and the sign is wrong” ……… desparate situation often need depaerte measures ….Sadly

    • That’s an interesting idea, Baz. I’m wondering if yellow paint would be a good colour, because I’ve noticed some councils already mark official paths with yellow on wooden posts. Perhaps we could start a new movement 🙂

      • baz says:

        Hello Ruth ! Yes indeed perhaps a movement is needed Ruth. On reflection I think paint is offensive to the wildlife and unsightly and not good to carry around. So I had a rethink. Perhaps a bio-degradable ribbon (a yellow ribbon) which identifies an area like a crime scene. The ribbon would be tied to a tree, scrub or sign post; this would be the signal to all walkers that the path has been interfered with and something is wrong here according to the map, or whatever doubts you have may the person who put the ribbon here felt a doubt in the same way. Perhaps each ribbon could be colour coded (e.g. blue for blocked path, red for path moved, yellow signpost removed or just keep it simple with one colour indicating in writing the problem etc). Ribbons could have an ID serial number and issued by a central organisation (e.g a national ramblers organisation) to identify that particular walker for future contact. As the ribbons pile up in a particular “hot spot”, a walkers representative (the organisation) could collect the ribbons to present to the local authority to officially lodge a complaint and evidence the illegal activity (e.g. obstructing a footpath). In this way walkers can have collective voice to inform and build a register of hot spots which can be logged and evidenced. And identifiable witness can be reached. Moreover frustration can be overcome by knowing walker can be proactive in addressing a growing problem. If we keep silent, our generation will pass and the next may never have safe and accessible footpaths as encroachment becomes trivialised easily dismissed.

        Thanks Ruth you are great inspiration. Happy Christmas to you and your loved ones !


  4. bridlebank17 says:

    I live in Carmarthenshire which is probably the most walker-unfriendly county in Britain. Apart from a few of the council’s recommended routes, I have not been able to find anywhere locally where I can enjoy a country walk of just a few miles. Signage is rare, waymarking non-existent, bridges are missing and barbed wire fences across paths are almost standard. I always report problems, but little gets done. I’ve contacted councillors and my MP to no avail.

    • Hi there. Sorry to hear of your experiences in Carmarthenshire. The Wales Coast Path is usually well signed, thank goodness, but I’ve found many other ‘footpaths’ in Wales have no signage, locked gates, barbed wire obstructions, etc. Shame. Just wondered if you’ve considered enlisting the help of any local Ramblers groups? Best wishes, Ruth

  5. We visited western Ireland (from U.S.) a few years ago, and discovered that many signposts appeared to have been removed from trails noted on maps. We spoke to neighbors, who explained that some resent outside visitors and hope to make it harder by removing the signs. Turns out most of the noted trails we found in our travels were more difficult than I can manage–I only do Easy Walks because of paralysis in my right leg, and still love getting outdoors. Ended up having a wonderful time and found Easy Walks along the western coastline of Ireland, but it took some work. Most of my best Easy Walks were cart paths. And yes, we always closed any gates behind us along the way 🙂

    • Hi Marjorie and glad to hear you managed to find some suitable walks. It’s really infuriating when people sabotage a marked path, isn’t it. I’ve never done any walking in Ireland, but would love to go. Best wishes, Ruth

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