Memory lanes: UK ramblers trying to save 10,000 lost footpaths

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Dec 5 00:01:21 GMT 2018

lanes: the ramblers trying to save 10,000 lost footpaths

It’s not just walkers who get lost – paths can 
get lost, too. Now a small army of volunteers are 
seeking to recover thousands of public rights of 
way before they disappear for ever

Kevin Rushby Tue 4 Dec 


Once paths failed to appear on maps, people 
stopped walking them and, within a few years, they were invisible.

Paul Howland is standing in a bed of nettles, his 
head surrounded by a halo of dusky blue sloes. 
Behind him is an impenetrable tangle of 
undergrowth, self-seeded trees and what looks 
like the long-discarded parts of an a vehicle.

“The old path went up here,” he says, waving his 
walking pole further into the thicket. “I first 
spotted it on Milne’s county map of Hampshire from 1791.”

Howland emerges from the nettles and shows me an 
image on his phone which confirms his suspicions: 
we have just found one of Britain’s missing footpaths.

“This is Greenwood’s 1826 county map and you can 
see the path. It was called the Markway and goes 
straight up to this line – now the A30 road. But 
compare that with the current Ordnance Survey 
map.” He unfolds a paper map and points to our position.

“Instead of going straight, the footpath turns 
hard left at this point and heads back towards 
Andover. What we have here is a missing mile to a 
forgotten right of way – and a very useful 
missing mile, because it links to other footpaths.”

England and Wales have about 140,000 miles of 
footpaths, but there are an estimated 10,000 more 
that have been lost from current maps. Even that 
figure looks like a huge underestimate: a recent 
survey in Cornwall alone identified 3,000 
possible paths that had fallen out of use and 
needed to be checked. That work of rediscovery is 
being done by volunteers, people such as Howland, 
who has so far made 85 legal applications for the 
recovery of lost paths in a small corner of 
Hampshire. A government deadline of 2026 for such 
claims has given Howland’s work a renewed sense of urgency.

“It sounds like plenty of time, but I reckon that 
in our area we’d need to make two applications 
every week until 2026. There is just so much to be done.”

As a walker, I reflect, I’m used to losing my 
way. It’s a bit alarming, however, to find that paths can get lost, too.

Howland chuckles. “It’s easier than you think.”

We give up any attempt to force a way through the 
bushes and set off up the path to the left. Two 
deer watch us warily from a stubble field and the 
giant white dish of a radio telescope appears to 
hover on the horizon as we catch up with a group 
from the Ramblers, among them Jack Cornish, 
project manager for the nationwide campaign Don’t 
Lose Your Way. He explains how government 
legislation in 1949 ruled that every council 
should draw a definitive map of footpaths and 
bridleways, a laudable aim, but one carried out piecemeal.

“Some parishes recorded hundreds of paths, others 
did almost nothing. You ended up with footpaths 
that led nowhere or simply disappeared.” Once 
those paths failed to appear on OS maps, people 
stopped walking them. The nettles grew, the ash 
and sycamore seeds blew in and, within a few 
years, they were invisible. If a housing estate 
or a major road then appeared, that path was 
truly lost. And it did not only happen in the 
countryside. The Open Spaces Society has pointed 
out that urban areas were often exempt from the 
1949 regulations and produced no definitive maps, 
leaving footpaths in cities and towns particularly under threat.

Howland has a rough estimate of losses from his 
own experience. “In my area I expect an annual 
loss of half a percent – mostly from new buildings and roads.”

“Those missing paths can be the vital element in 
a good circular walk, or access to great countryside.”

“These are ancient rights of way,” Cornish adds. 
“Rights built up over centuries. And it’s not 
just about walkers: cyclists and horse riders need them, too.”

We reach a sign – “Private road, access only” – 
and ignore it. “It’s a public bridleway,” says 
Howland, reassuringly. One of the ramblers finds 
a sign lost in the undergrowth and, producing a 
pair of secateurs, quickly makes it visible again.

Walking with Howland is to see the British 
landscape through a fresh pair of eyes. Where I 
see walls of thorny bushes, he sees a double 
hedge hiding an ancient drovers’ path; where I 
see neat white posts at the entrance to someone’s 
drive, Howland sees a devious attempt to gull the 
public into believing they are on private land; 
most of all, where I see cul-de-sacs and dead 
ends, he spots opportunities to discover lost 
routes. He reads the landscape like a detective, 
building the physical elements into narratives of growth and change.

He shows me a patch of land on his OS map called 
Bransbury Common that was declared open-access 
land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 
2000. Almost surrounded by a chalk stream, it was 
both biologically important and a local beauty 
spot. For as long as it has been an open-access 
area, the two bridges that once allowed entry 
have been unusable. They have never been 
replaced. “The public have the right to be on 
Bransbury Common,” says Howland. “But getting there is harder.”

He has seen abandoned railways, used as footpaths 
and recorded as such on OS maps, summarily closed 
when new owners arrive. In other places, 
agricultural schemes such as the Countryside 
Stewardship demand that landowners open up paths 
in return for payments. When the schemes finish, 
these “permissive” paths can disappear overnight. 
On other occasions, new owners simply don’t 
understand local traditions. In October 2016, for 
example, villagers in Bratton, in Wiltshire, were 
astonished to find a traditional riverside path 
through watercress beds blocked by barbed wire 
and “private property” signs. A London property 
dealer had bought the local mill and erected the 
barriers. It took a two-year court battle to 
establish that the path was a legal right of way.

“There are two ways to recover a lost path,” 
Cornish says. “By proving regular public use over 
a 20-year period without any attempt to prevent 
access by a landowner, and by detective work on historical maps.”

What about the Markway, I ask. How did that disappear?

“Almost by accident.” Howland says. “In the 
second world war, a Hurricane fighter base was 
built here and the path temporarily blocked. That 
order was not rescinded until 1956. By then it 
was too late: the last mile of the route had got 
overgrown and forgotten.” If not for Howland, 
this right of way would have permanently disappeared.

We stop talking to stroll along a short section 
of busy road, before turning once again on to a 
path where spindle flowers gleam like nubs of 
coral in the hedge. A kestrel cuts away across 
the field, glorying in its freedom. We come 
eventually into the pretty thatched village of 
Chilbolton and, in the way of all good country walks, reach a pub.

Over a bowl of hot soup, Howland shows me the 
paperwork that each Definitive Map Modification 
Order entails. “It does take hours of work, but a 
lot of the information and maps are now online. 
The National Library of Scotland website is 
particularly useful. You don’t need to be 
spending days in the National Archives at Kew, interesting as that would be.”

The campaign has put pressure on under-resourced 
local councils. Hampshire’s executive member for 
rural affairs, Edward Heron, pointed out to me 
that Hampshire has seen a rise in applications 
from five a year to 35. “We expect that these 
increases will continue until the closure date of 2026.”

The good news is that any application submitted 
by the 2026 deadline will, eventually, go through 
the legal process of assessment and consultation.

Meanwhile Howland is planning more routes. His 
diffident manner masks a steely determination, 
and he clearly likes the elements of research and 
historical analysis. “It’s given me a better 
understanding of how the landscape changes and 
develops.” In theory, that research could go back 
to the era of Richard I. His reign, which began 
on 4 July 1189, is the beginning of legal time. 
In practice, many rights of way date back to the 
enclosure acts of 1750 to 1850. Either way the 
sense of a long game being played is palpable and Howland knows it.

“A restored right of way will usually last for 
ever.” He smiles. “There aren’t many tasks in 
life that you can say that about.”

NB please do reply with remove as the subject or 
first line if you do not wish to recieve further emails - thanks

'From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
a substantial contribution. It has drawn many of 
the brightest Jewish businessmen into a 
participatory role in the development of many of 
its corporations, and many of these Jews share 
their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided 
with a specially dispensed venture capital fund. 
I spoke with one Jewish businessmen in Hartford, 
Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown 
several years before our conversation, but with 
Bormann money as his leverage. Today he is more 
than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits 
earmarked as always for his venture capital 
benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how 
Bormann’s people operate in the contemporary 
commercial world, in contrast to the fanciful 
nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much “literature.”

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.'

You can donate to support Tony's work here

TG mobile +44 7786 952037  
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list