Pathways > The Pathways book > Leisure trails
Waymarked trails have become a standard feature of the British landscape. In fact, given that only a small minority of the walking public walk them from end to end, you might argue that there are far too many of them. Every county has at least one and sometimes several. It is indicative of the value that is now placed on the 'walker'; our contribution to the tourist economy has at last been recognised.
But the fight for access to such paths and to areas of remote countryside has been a long and noble one. The famous 'mass trespass' of Kinder Scout in 1932 is rightly regarded as a milestone in getting the rights of walkers on the political agenda. Britain's first national trail, created in the image of the USA's Appalachian Trail, opened in 1965. For decades it became a right of passage for many young ramblers, although today Wainwright's Coast to Coast and the West Highland Way are more popular.
The Pennine Way walk, featured in the book, is free to download once you have joined as a member of Walkingworld.
Below you can read the full chapter from the book.
For many people the idea of walking for pleasure would once have seemed utterly bemusing, as it still does to many farmers. Walking was like breathing – it was simply something that happened. But from the start of the 19th century, and largely inspired by the Romantic movement, walking began to be a pastime for the upper middle classes (especially parsons, dons and public schoolmasters, apparently). It was a way of stimulating the mind and body and appreciating the aesthetics of the countryside.
Wordsworth was the chronicler of this new spirit, helping to establish the idea that the ideal way to experience the countryside was to walk in it, covering long distances, accompanied if at all by one or two kindred spirits. The countryside became not merely a workplace but a place of recreation. In his Guide to the Lakes he comments: “It is a great advantage to the traveller or resident, that these numerous lanes and paths, if he be a zealous admirer of nature, will lead him on into all the recesses of the country, so that the hidden treasures of its landscape may, by an ever-ready guide, be laid open to his eyes.”
In legal terms, the pendulum began to swing back from landowners to walkers with the 1835 Act of Parliament requiring footpath closures to come before a jury. The first books also appeared to guide the leisure walker. One was Thomas Roscoe’s Wanderings in North Wales (first published in 1836 and covered in more detail in our article on 'Art and Walking'). Walking groups began to be formed, the first of which was the Manchester Association for the Preservation of Ancient Footpaths, set up in 1826. The Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society was formed in 1865.
At last walkers were coming together, forming local clubs, expressing their views and beginning to put pressure on the government for better legislation. A key moment in the movement towards gaining better access to the countryside was the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932. The simple aim was to improve access to the moors, at a time when 99% of the Peak District was out of bounds to the public and people risked confrontations with gamekeepers and even prison simply by going for a walk.
The events of April 24, 1932 have long since entered the realms of rambling mythology. About 400 ramblers set off from Bowden Bridge quarry in the Peak District to campaign for right of access to the moors, which were almost totally blocked off to walkers by landowners who wanted exclusive use of them for rearing and shooting game birds. About halfway up, William Clough, the trespassers’ leader, scrambled up towards the Kinder plateau and came face to face with the Duke of Devonshire’s gamekeepers, who had been instructed to block their path.
In the ensuing scuffle, one keeper was slightly hurt, and the ramblers pressed on to the plateau. Here they were greeted by a group of Sheffield-based trespassers who had set off that morning crossing Kinder from Edale. After exchanging congratulations, the two groups retraced their steps, the Sheffield trespassers back to Edale and the Manchester contingent to Hayfield.
As they returned to the village, five ramblers were arrested by police accompanied by keepers, and taken to the Hayfield lock-up. The day after the trespass, Rothman and four other ramblers were charged at New Mills Police Court with unlawful assembly and breach of the peace. All six subsequently pleaded not guilty and were remanded to be tried at Derby Assizes – 60 miles from their homes – in July 1932. Five were convicted and were jailed for between two and six months.
The arrest and imprisonment of the trespassers unleashed a huge wave of public sympathy. A few weeks later in 1932 10,000 ramblers – the largest number in history – assembled for an access rally in the Winnats Pass, near Castleton, and pressure for greater access continued to grow.
By 1935 the local and regional walking federations had formed the Ramblers’ Association (later renamed the Ramblers) to give a national voice to the views and interests of their members. This coming-together of walkers, combined with the wave of socialist euphoria after the second world war, led to the breakthrough of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. This act was described by the minister Lewis Silkin, its proposer, as a “people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out in the open air and enjoy the countryside”.
The 1949 act led directly to the creation of the national parks, the formation of the network of long-distance paths and the requirement for every county to draw up a “definitive map” of the public paths within its borders, giving them full legal status and definition for the first time.
The definitive map is now the legal cornerstone of public rights of way in England and Wales, and can be found in every council’s offices. It is referred to in any legal matter concerning paths. There is also now an established process for settling path disputes, with the general guideline that, if a path has been habitually used for a period of 20 years or more without objection, it shall be deemed to be public.
The obligations outlined in such acts are seldom enacted as quickly or as well as one would like. It took some counties 20 years to complete the job of creating definitive maps, and it was sometimes done in a rather slapdash way. Some of the maps lacked even the signature of the person who had prepared them, and there are tales of office-bound clerks simply drawing a line from A to B rather than investigating where the path went on the ground. London was never required to draw up a definitive map, although with the shift in favour of pedestrians and cyclists there is a renewed political impetus to put this right.
The trend towards improved access has continued steadily since the 1949 act. In 1968 official signposting of paths became a requirement for councils. This was recognition that paths were now used by people who were unfamiliar with the surrounding countryside, and that walking was becoming an increasing part of the tourist economy, especially in rural areas.
The 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act finally granted the freedom to roam over mountain, moor and heath, down and common land in England and Wales. Scotland, on the other hand, has always had an effective “right to roam”. Free access is allowed almost anywhere over open countryside, except in the deer-stalking season, when walkers are expected to take reasonable steps to find out where hunting is taking place. As a result, however, there are fewer marked paths and ways and none of them are designated as public rights of way. This means that although one has the right to roam, it’s not always easy to find a way through, especially if you are unfamiliar with an area.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 went another step towards giving the public full access to its natural heritage. It is intended to create a continuous path (or rather, given the presence of Wales and Scotland, two continuous paths) around the coast of England. Currently, almost half of England’s shores have no public right of way. Tom Franklin, then chief executive of the Ramblers, has commented: “This act enshrines a very simple principle on the statute books – that everyone, no matter who they are, where they come from or how much money they have, has the right to visit all parts of the coast which is so much a part of our heritage.”
One of the arguments that the Ramblers put forward while lobbying for the act was that it would create an estimated extra £284 million income for coastal economies. But as with so much walking legislation, the timing of implementation is uncertain, and the speed of implementation will undoubtedly be affected by the 2010 round of public spending cuts.
Still, in the last generation the pendulum has indeed swung back after at least 200 years of the landowners holding sway. Paths are now for the most part well signposted, there is growing access to non-cultivated areas and there is the mouth-watering prospect of a pathway right around the British coastline.
The Pennine Way
The Pennine Way, Britain’s first official long-distance path, takes in the changing landscapes of northern England and a very small segment of Scotland. It was the brainchild of the journalist and rambler Tom Stephenson, who was inspired by similar trails in the US, particularly the Appalachian Trail. He proposed the concept in an article for the Daily Herald in 1935 and later lobbied parliament for the creation of an official trail. Stephenson had started life as a labourer in the textile industry in grimy, industrial Lancashire when at the age of 13 he began walking on the nearby open moorlands. He served for 21 years as the secretary to the Ramblers’ Association.
As part of intensive lobbying to get the 1948 bill passed, Stephenson arranged for MPs Hugh Dalton, Barbara Castle, Arthur Blenkinsop and George Chetwynd to walk the stretch from Middleton-in-Teesdale to the Roman Wall. Dalton commented afterwards: “After renewing acquaintance with this beautiful part of the country, I am sure that we must in the lifetime of this parliament place on the Statute Book a great measure of liberation, freeing for the health and enjoyment of all our people what for so long has been monopolised by a few.”
The Pennine Way was officially opened on April 24, 1965 at a rally by 2,000 walkers on Malham Moor in Yorkshire. The trail runs from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, through Yorkshire and Northumberland to finish just inside the Scottish border at Kirk Yetholm. Travelling up the “backbone” of England, the route passes many famous spots, including the limestone cliff at Malham Cove, Tan Hill (England’s highest inn) and Hadrian’s Wall. It takes in peaks such as Pen y Ghent, Cross Fell and the Cheviot (although this last is a small detour from the official route).The entire trail is 267 miles, of which only 20 is on roads.
For the generation after its opening it became a rite of passage. Celebrated walking guide author Alfred Wainwright offered to buy a free half-pint of beer for every walker who finished the route at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm. The pledge is estimated to have cost him some £15,000 between 1968 and his death in 1991 (one of those half-pints was quaffed by Walkingworld's David Stewart some 40 years ago, and very welcome it was too).
But although the Pennine Way once reigned supreme as the long-distance challenge, the emergence of other paths, notably the South West Coast Path, Hadrian’s Wall and Wainwright’s own Coast to Coast Path, has diminished its popularity. And more exotic walks, like the Annapurna Circuit or the Inca Trail, have to some extent supplanted it in people’s imaginations as they huddle around a table in a suburban bar dreaming of their next outdoor challenge.
Nicholas Rudd-Jones, his two young sons and an extended Stewart family set out on the same stretch of the Pennine Way that inspired Tom Stephenson and his clutch of enthusiastic MPs.
Despite the promises of the weather forecast, it turns out to be a rather dull and damp morning. But we have spent three hours driving up from Stamford in Lincolnshire, so there’s no turning back now. We sit in the back of David and Chris’s Volkswagen van, brew up a cup of tea and exchange the books we have been reading. Brough the Jack Russell, meanwhile, is bored and straining to go. He eventually forces us to depart.
From the Bowlees Car Park, the path heads west to cross the River Tees. As we come to the river we immediately get a good view of the Low Force waterfall through a copse of trees. We cross by the very narrow and slightly swaying Wynch Bridge, an iron suspension bridge constructed in 1830. It replaced a chain bridge built in 1741, apparently the first of its kind, and somewhat scarier as it had a hand rail on only one side. It was built to provide access for the Holwick lead miners, who used it to get to the mine at Little Eggleshope in the fells to the north. It survived over 60 years before it collapsed, with the loss of one life.
Turning right up the river on the far bank, we come to a stone carving of two rams, with the inscription “A wonderful place to be a walker” – true enough, although as a sentiment it seems a little prosaic. In the river dozens of brightly coloured kayaks are making their way up and down. A few of the craft are carried by hand up into the pool above Low Force and are paddled gingerly towards the gushing waterfall. For a moment the paddler is able to hold the flimsy plastic vessel back, but inevitably the force of the water catches them and they shoot over the edge, plunging into the dark pool below. Most of them, astonishingly, end the right way up.
From Low Force we follow the Pennine Way a mile or so up the west bank until we reach High Force. With a drop of 21 metres it must be one of the grandest waterfalls in England, and certainly no place to be kayaking. We are here on a day when the river is in spate after heavy rain. It is a magnificent and impressive sight, best viewed from a tiny path heading off to the right as you approach the falls, where you can perch high above the river bed (but take great care of your footing).
The spectacular waterfall, with the peat-coloured mass of water forced between two massive stone buttresses, must have impressed the MPs and made them appreciate the uplifting qualities of nature at a time when the country was still on rations and looking to raise its spirits. My boys are equally taken with it. For my co-author David, who had walked the Pennine Way 35 years previously as a teenager, it provided something of a memory jolt, as it was one of the few experiences of the whole route that he could vividly recall (well, that and having a drink on Alfred Wainwright at the end). High Force is not a sight that is easily forgotten.
As we continue up-river past High Force the path is increasingly reinforced with large limestone slabs and wooden walkways, a reminder of how erosion has become a problem in popular walking areas throughout the UK. Several of the limestone slabs look as if they have been used previously for some other purpose, odd gouges suggesting that they perhaps served as gateposts. The wooden walkways look as if they may have been railway sleepers in a previous life.
On our left a man is out with his ferret, hunting rabbits. Every now and then the peace of the valley is shattered as he lets off with both barrels. Brough’s ears go down and we have to put him on his lead to encourage him on. For a dog brought up on the edge of a shooting moor in an old gamekeeper’s cottage, he is surprisingly ill at ease with guns. Chris and David wonder if he was on the wrong end of one in a previous life.
From now on we notice a difference in the type of walkers we pass, as we venture beyond the honey-pot locations of High and Low Force. There is a switch from “leisure day out” walkers – who are after all the majority – dressed in nothing special and often attached to a dog. We start to encounter that slightly more serious type, the genuine long-distance walker, with equipment comprising backpack, waterproofs and compass, map and sometimes a GPS. They are few and far between: we probably see a handful during the whole day. It’s a reminder that although it was conceived as a long-distance path, the Pennine Way is mostly used for short excursions. Nothing wrong with that, but not quite like the Appalachian Trail after which it was conceived.
As the way veers north we pass alongside a piece of open-access land at Cronkley, a reminder of how much has been achieved since the path originally opened. The Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve is a haven for nesting birds and plants that have colonised the sugar limestone outcrops, a rare habitat that occurs in only two places in the British Isles. On our right, in savage contrast, are the massive corrugated-iron-clad buildings of a large limestone quarry.
A little further on, the path drops down the valley and we come to Cronkley Farm. It is one of the joys of Britain that so much of its finest walking lies on the divide between moorland and farmland, interweaving between the two. At Cronkley Bridge we leave the Pennine Way and start to make our way back along the other side of the valley. If we had had more time we would have loved to follow the Pennine Way to High Cup Nick, about eight miles further on and on the other side of the great hump of the Pennines. It is a spectacular natural feature, carved out in the last ice age, with ragged limestone edges open-armed towards the Eden Valley below.
David, who is a volunteer with the Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue Team, tells us that it is one of the most difficult stretches of the Pennine Way to navigate, with walkers regularly losing their way in poor visibility. He recalls the team being called out to search for a lone walker who had become disoriented by the complex pattern of streams just before reaching High Cup Nick. He was discovered two days after getting lost, having holed up in his tent inside a deserted shooting hut, where he read a book while he waited for the storm to abate. It’s a reminder of why these long-distance trails came into place in the first place – to help people explore remote areas in relative ease and safety by providing clearly marked routes. But you still need to keep an eye on the map.
Walking back along the other side of the valley, we notice how dispersed all the settlements are, an armful of whitewashed farms and outbuildings sprinkled across the landscape. This series of non-nucleated settlements means that there is a veritable cobweb of paths taking one from farm to farm as well as from village to village.
The final stage in our eight-mile walk takes us through Dirt Pitt, a few quaint cottages thrown into the corner of a hill, with a stream running through. Apparently the name is a corruption of Deer Peth, reference to an ancient hunting forest that was in these parts in the 11th century. The route winds its way through a few dry-stone walled fields to bring us back to our cars.
Other long-distance routes
The Long Distance Walkers Association (ldwa.org.uk) lists more than 700 long-distance routes in the UK. Those that are rightly popular include the South West Coast Path, the South Downs Way, Offa’s Dyke, the Coast to Coast Path, Hadrian’s Wall and the West Highland Way. It is notable that these routes have a combination of spectacular scenery and a clearly defined feature to follow, or at the very least significant start and end points.
The past few decades have seen a rash of new routes, despite the fact that long-distance walkers are a small minority of the walking public. Many, especially those that pass across lower land, struggle to merit a multi-day walk, though small segments can be pleasurable. A few seem to be grasping at straws or have clearly been created to fulfil a county council’s insistence on having its own long-distance path, supported no doubt by EU or regional development money.
Below is a list of other walks taking in sections of long distance paths:
A panoply of hill, glen, lochan, wood, moorland & remote hamlet with great panoramas. The height gain is all achieved on modest slopes, although in very hot or snowy conditions the walk can be strenuous. Included is a 5 mile stretch of the Southern... More info
The small village of Purleigh has a church and pub placed high on a hill and commands good views north towards Maldon. It is on the St Peter's Way long distance path and part of the walk follows its route.
There are quiet lanes and field-paths and... More info
The walk, which starts from the pretty village of Ashmansworth, explores the beautiful countryside in this north-west corner of Hampshire. It crosses open countryside before picking up the
Wayfarer's Walk (a long distance path which starts near... More info
This is an ideal walk when time is not on your side. This short walk takes in the wonderful views along part of the Wealdway Long Distance Path.... More info
The outward route is along the long distance path Boudica's Way. This route continues to Pulham Market and returns along quiet country lanes and footpaths.... More info
This is an interesting walk in the Fens. The walk starts at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen and goes beside the River Great Ouse. The path is part of the long distance path, Fen Rivers Way. At the next village, Wiggenhall St Germans, you cross the... More info
The route is along country lanes, part of the long distance path Peddars Way and through Wayland Wood (of 'Babes in the Wood' fame).... More info
The route is along the Long Distance path, Peddars Way,
starting at the very pretty rural village of Great Massingham with its four large ponds on the four greens.... More info
This walk is along part of the long distance path Weavers Way, the route also is along country lanes and tracks and through the pretty village of Tuttington. This walk can be linked up with walk ID 632.... More info
This walk is beside the River Great Ouse and the River Wisseu, using part of the long distance path Fen Rivers Way.... More info
This walk is along tracks, country lanes and field edges. Colby is situated on the edge of the Norfolk Broads and the long distance path Weavers Way.... More info
This walk wanders in and out of Norfolk and Suffolk and is along the long distance path Angles Way. The route includes country lanes, so quiet, traffic is hardly known along them; these take you through pretty villages with thatched cottages.... More info
From Heddon on the Wall we follow the River Tyne through Newcastle and along to Wallsend for the end of this long distance path.... More info
This is a pleasurable walk, the route taking you along the fen paths and part of Angles Way, a long distance path. It takes you through the very pretty village of Redgrave, with several thatched pink Suffolk cottages.... More info
This is a very enjoyable walk, the route is part of the long distance path Icknield Way. Except for a little road walking to make it a circular walk, the paths are on wide tracks through woodland and farmland. where deer can be seen. ... More info
The route is partly along the long distance path, Angles Way and along paths signed with the Broad Authority markers. Other paths are tracks, field edges and country lanes. There are fine views of the country side on most of the walk.... More info
This is an enjoyable walk without stiles, the paths are in good order. There are two pubs in the village, the Anchor opens Friday, Saturday and Sundays and the Plough everyday and serves Thai food and English Breakfast. The route is partly along the... More info