“In every walk within nature one receives far more than he seeks”
With covid-19 having the country in lockdown many of us are getting out to explore the rights of way network from our doorsteps. I’m extremely lucky to live in a rural village with a wealth of routes from my front door. I have two dogs so have to get out to walk them everyday during my government permitted once daily exercise.
I began my rambles in the first week of lockdown very much following my usual routes that I walked from home out of routine and habit. I followed a couple of footpaths and bridleways that I have been walking with the dogs everyday for months, they had become monotonous without my realising, I could walk them with my eyes closed and so could the dogs. The lockdown gave me the kick up the bum I needed to explore beyond my norm and boy have I been rewarded with some stunning routes in some stunning weather.
I’ve discovered new footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic all within walking distance of my own home. I have used Ordnance Survey maps to research my local area to discover circular walks and to find any places of interest worth a wandering to.
When out exploring all of these new routes I have discovered many ancient corridor routes which have been around far longer than I’ve even been alive. All of this history has had me feeling nostalgic about the rights of way network and wondering about the origins of these routes.
Long before these routes were formally recorded as rights of way, following the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, they came into being for very basic reasons. Droves helped farmers get their stock to their closest market, footpaths helped workers walk from their village home to their place of work at the big manor house or farm and many routes led parishioners to their church for Sunday worship.
Following the 1949 Act parish councils were required to draw up their own definitive maps. This meant volunteers heading out with little or no training to draw their routes onto a Ordnance Survey base map. They often used felt tip pens which now correlate to 30 odd meters in width for some routes.
These definitive maps should have been consolidated by Local Highway Authorities since the 1940’s but in many cases this has not been a priority so we are left with the working copies of maps from the 80’s and earlier. Many parishes that had landowners of large estates or big parcels of land sat on the parish council now have many routes missing as they had influence over the maps being drawn up, they didn’t want rights of way interfering with their farm work or reducing the value of their land.
I love imagining who and what may have walked before me, following these hedge lines or along tracks that were once minor roads. These routes have been diverted, downgraded and in some cases totally lost over the years, although with the nation now being confined to their homes we are all out exploring these historic ways.
Make sure you get your maps out to see what hidden gems are within walking distance of your home, you could be surprised with what’s right under your nose.