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Lost – 49,000 miles of footpaths

Don't lose your way

Curry and Sarcasm

When you move from America to England there are things you appreciate in a special, deep way only made possible by being raised bereft of them. The NHS is one that springs to mind. Also curry, sarcasm and footpaths.

When I lived in the mountains of North Carolina, surrounded by hundreds of acres of beautiful forest, it was all off-limits to me, except for the area set aside as a national park. There, you can’t walk through privately owned land. Unless you risk being prosecuted for trespassing, or possibly being shot at. Meaning unless you know the landowner, all you can do is look from a distance.

The missing miles of footpaths

In England the footpath network contains paths dating from 5000 BC, used by Neolithic people to move from place to place. Some date from the Romans, and some from Anglo Saxon times. Given the prevalence of long barrows and other sites sacred to Neolithic humans in this area, it is likely that some of the paths we enjoy were walked on many thousands of years ago. I think that is pretty marvellous. Our right for free access these footpaths has been fought for by the Ramblers, established in the 1930s to protect the rights of people to access the countryside.

Obviously a lot has changed in the last several hundred years, and the Ramblers recently pored over old maps, square kilometer by square kilometer to find lost footpaths. What they found was shocking. There were over 49,000 miles of historical footpaths missing from modern maps, almost a thousand miles in Gloucestershire alone! This represents almost a third of the footpath network in England.

Walking a Footpath
Walking a local footpath

Finding and reinstating 

The government has given a deadline of January 1st 2026 to re-map the routes and preserve them. This seems like a long way away but will be upon us before we know it. This deadline was established as part of the Countryside and Rights of Way act of 2000. However, as the clock ticks down the government has taken no action towards mapping and preserving historic footpaths. Of course at the moment they have quite a lot of other things on their plate.

Some of these paths have been:

  • developed over or
  • legally extinguished or
  • are small fragments

The Ramblers Association – Don’t Lose Your Way

The Ramblers are prioritizing paths which add value to the footpath network, such as

  • completing circular routes
  • resolving dead ends
  • adding walking to areas without many off-road walking options.

They are looking for volunteers to help with this mission which they’ve named Don’t Lose Your Way, by finding and mapping these routes, and where appropriate applying for them to be restored.

For more information on how you can help with this work, you can go to the Ramblers Website where there is an extensive FAQ.

These footpaths have been established over many hundreds, or indeed thousands of years, and are easy to take for granted, but once they are gone they are gone forever. To join the South Cotswold Ramblers see their website

Jessica Burchfiel

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