ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Benefits of Using Public Footpaths in the English Countryside

Updated on December 17, 2017
chef-de-jour profile image

Andrew has been writing for decades, publishing articles online and in print. His many interests include literature, the arts and nature.

A footpath into the heart of the English countryside
A footpath into the heart of the English countryside | Source

Public Footpaths for Walking and Hiking

Your mind, body and spirit can benefit from using the public footpaths in England. The English countryside is criss-crossed by a huge network of ancient pathways that can take you into the heart of any particular landscape. They're a mix of old shepherd trails, packhorse routes, farm tracks and priest's ways - ancient paths that have been in regular use, day after day, for centuries.

In England (and Wales) there is an estimated 140,000 miles of public rights of way! For a relatively small island that's an enormous amount of mileage. It just shows how important these walkways were to mostly rural folk who had to go about their business and make a living.

What makes these footpaths unique is the fact that they can be found in the most unusual locations - they cross river bridges, bisect farm yards and sports pitches, quietly follow a graveyard wall, cut between modern housing estates before heading out into the fields.

I use public footpaths every day, walking a few miles when time allows, building up to long distance walks occasionally, getting out into Nature and fresh air. Some of these paths can take you into unexpected secret places where you can end up discovering things you would never get near in a car, or even on a bike.

That's why I think they've survived into this modern age. People will always want to walk, to escape, to experience the thrill of getting from A to B to C using only their feet and often, with no need of a map.

The Benefits

  • you get to keep physically fit.
  • walking can definitely lower stress levels.
  • you may even lose weight.
  • you can exercise your organisational skills when planning new walks.
  • you experience the countryside at first hand.
  • walking with others is of social benefit.
  • being out in Nature is uplifting for the spirit.
  • you help continue a long tradition of using public rights of way.
  • you get to choose which pathway, where to finish, how far to go etc.
  • you learn about your local environment.
  • you see loads of wildlife.
  • there is often a pub at the end of your walk.
  • there could be a pub half way through your walk.

Public footpath up to the Cumbrian mountains.
Public footpath up to the Cumbrian mountains. | Source
This footpath takes you right into the mountains of the Lake District in North West England.
This footpath takes you right into the mountains of the Lake District in North West England.
This footpath snakes through a farmer's field.
This footpath snakes through a farmer's field.
Typical footpath signs.
Typical footpath signs. | Source

Rights of Way

In England and Wales (Scotland and Ireland have their own distinct laws regarding this issue), any member of the public can walk along a path that is a legal right of way, whether the landowner likes it or not.These paths are owned by the highway authority, the local council, and they are responsible for maintaining them in good condition.

By tradition some of these paths cut across farmer's fields and can take you out into remote areas. I've followed many a path through fields full of golden barley and wheat, and on into hills and mountains, which is a gloriously uplifting experience on a hot summer's day, with larks rising.

In contrast I've trudged miles through mud and muck only to end up at a field gate with a sign - Beware of the Bull - or on occasion reached a dead end, no sign of an ongoing path or way forward without trespassing.

Legally a farmer can't keep a mature bull in a field with a public footpath crossing. And a landowner can't suddenly just decide to divert a right of way to mislead or deter walkers and travellers. Some do. I've seen public footpath signs knocked over and hidden in the undergrowth;I've seen obstructions placed at certain crossing points say from field to farmyard, where it's obvious the owners don't want people to use 'their' land. But this is rare.

Generally speaking most footpaths are maintained to a good standard, they're clear and will take you to where you want to go. It's possible to walk for miles out in the countryside, through woods and fields, over rivers and streams, avoiding the noise and stink of traffic and urban life.

Perfect for lovers of nature, wanderers and dreamers.

Some paths are not legally right of way but can be used by the public if the landowner gives permission.

Autumnal tree just off public footpath
Autumnal tree just off public footpath | Source

From Village to Church to Wood to Mountain

Before roads and canals, bicycles, cars and tractors, before horses and mules, there were people walking. This was the only guaranteed way to get to work, to church, to the store or shop, to a neighbour. Many of the public footpaths in England still faithfully follow the routes the ancestors trod.

If you look on a detailed map of England (an Ordnance Survey map for example, see below) you'll see dotted red lines going here, there and everywhere, like little capillaries branching off a vein or artery. These are footpaths. Choose one at random and follow it closely and it'll lead you to other paths, tracks, woods, roads and long distance trails.

Can You get from Grange Farm to Park Wood? On Footpaths Alone?

Ordnance Survey map - Public footpaths are the short red dash lines.
Ordnance Survey map - Public footpaths are the short red dash lines. | Source
Public footpath out into the Cumbrian hills
Public footpath out into the Cumbrian hills | Source

The Right to Wander and Preserve

In the UK and many parts of Europe, across the globe right now, the preservation of open unspoilt space - wilderness - is a hot topic. With populations growing and competition for land increasing to unprecedented levels, the pressure on landowners and governments to build houses and factories is enormous.

Bit by bit, path by path, once green land is disappearing as development accelerates in England. Hardly surprising but very worrying. To help maintain a balance, local rambler groups and other voluntary organisations lobby councils and officials in an effort to keep the ancient rights of way open for all.

They do a great job. Without someone standing up for these pathways and for the environment they pass through, who knows what might happen? Wild places would undoubtedly start to disappear.

Footpath Addiction

Once hooked on public footpaths it's very difficult to give them up. I need at least a mile a day, more, or I start to get cravings.

There's something addictive about a path that takes you out into the wilds, pure and simple, through the forest shadows, across the pasture, over the beck with the cow drinking, up the field side against a dry stone wall where the fox likes to jump on his way to Low Fold Farm, past the lone oak centuries weathered, through the stone stile and on towards Kirkburton church, home to the tawny owl who drops his pellets on the side entrance slabs having finished off his meal atop the squat tower.

The Length of the UK - Lands End to John O'Groats

Is it possible to walk the length of the UK solely on public footpaths, bridleways, byways and other permitted paths? Many have tried and some have almost achieved the goal - avoiding modern tarmac roads is a huge challenge on such a cluttered island! To truly stay 100% rural would mean back-tracking, deviation and frustration because many of the old footpaths aren't straight. They take you to the left, to the right and often end up joining a tarmac road. It would be a hard task but who knows?

All images by the author unless otherwise stated.

© 2016 Andrew Spacey

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • chef-de-jour profile imageAUTHOR

    Andrew Spacey 

    2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    The public footpaths in England are well worth time and effort - the rewards are many. They take you to magical places - brooks and streams hidden deep in woods, crags, beaches...you name it.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    My dream is to take an extensive walk along the public footpaths of the UK. I've explored some of them a little, but there is so much more that I want to see. Thank you for sharing this article and reinforcing my daydreams!

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)