Take a hike through history

How do you enjoy getting outside? Walking? Paddling? Horse Riding? Cycling?

Wooden bridleway fingerpost showing bike, horse rider and walker

Have you ever explored a hidden valley or stood on top of any of the summits in the Lake District National Park? Ridden your horse along a rural bridleway or paddled on a lake or river?  When you head outdoors you may not think about how the routes you follow and waters you cross came to be but the access we enjoy today has come from a rich history which enables us to enjoy these spaces today.

The Lake District National Park is a well-known area today, with honey pot tourist areas and well walked fells but back before the National Parks were established these areas were remote, uncivilised places. As these places were discovered by everyday people and poets they saw their true beauty and began to appreciate these stunning landscapes, Wordsworth described the Lake District as “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”.

As industrialisation and the wars of the early 20th century set in, the appreciation of the outdoors by the ley person was starting to become recognised. Workers and their families began to find the freedom in the outdoors and the great benefits of the fresh air of the countryside. This newfound want of access to the countryside was met with a barrier of the enclosure of land where land was owned and closed off to the general public. This began the movement towards creating National Parks and the momentum for legislation to allow public access really started to increase.

Infographic showing timeline of establishment of National Park.

Section 62 of the Environment Act 1995 makes clear that if National Park purposes are in conflict then conservation must have priority. This is known as the ‘Sandford Principle’ and stems from the Sandford Committee’s recommendation, in 1974, that enjoyment of the National Parks ‘shall be in a manner and by such means as will leave their natural beauty unimpaired for the enjoyment of this and future generations’. The Lake District National Park must still follow purposes and duties today as set out in the Environment Act 1995, their statutory purposes are:

  • To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Lake District National Park; and
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public.

So now you know where the Lake District National Park came from, but do you know how the access we use today within the Park came about? Do you know what a Public Right of Way is? Do you know about Open Access Land?

A public right of way is a right by which the public can pass along linear routes over land at all times. Although the land may be owned by a private individual, the public have a legal right across that land along a specific route. The right to use Public Rights of Way has not always existed but came about when the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 came into being.

In England and Wales there are Public Rights of Way and Open Access land for everyone to access the countryside, the Countryside Code sets out how to do this responsibly. There are different categories of Public Rights of Way which include:

  • Public footpaths are open only to walkers
  • Public bridleways are open to walkers, horse-riders and pedal cyclists
  • Restricted byways are open to walkers, horse-riders, and drivers/riders of non-motorised vehicles (such as horse-drawn carriages and pedal cycles)
  • Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) are open to all classes of traffic including motor vehicles, though they may not be maintained to the same standard as ordinary roads

There are 3,203 km of rights of way in the Lake District National Park, made up of a network of Footpaths (2208 km), Bridleways (923 km), Restricted Byways (20 km) and Byway Open to all Traffic (29 km). These Rights of Way and permitted paths can be used by different users. You can see all of these on the Lake District National Park’s interactive Ranger Map.

Infographic showing history of rights of way

You can access some land across England without having to use paths – this land is known as ‘open access land’ or ‘access land’. Access land includes mountains, moors, heaths and downs that are privately owned. It also includes common land registered with the local council and some land around the England Coast Path. Your right to access this land is called the ‘right to roam’, or ‘freedom to roam’. In Scotland due to the Land Reform Act 2003 which introduced new rights of responsible public access to land and the countryside. In Scotland access rights are upheld and managed on the ground by local authorities and National Park authorities (called the access authorities). The Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out the rights and responsibilities of land managers and those exercising access rights.

However you access the Great outdoors remember to respect, protect and enjoy the countryside and follow the countryside code.

Campaign for National Parks New Perspectives

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