Footpaths are made by feet

In England, public paths are made by walking them. You can make a new, legally recognized footpath by simply treading up and down it, with a few friends, for a period of twenty years. Paths that weren’t recorded properly in the fifties have suffered the same fate in reverse. “Cross-field paths are a classic,” Cornish said. Most people who have attempted to walk across farmland in England are familiar with the experience of climbing over a stile into a plowed field, or rows of head-high corn, and having no idea where to go next. If a path isn’t labelled clearly on a map, or walked much, then landowners can be tempted to further confuse the situation, leaving the odd tangle of barbed wire, or a homemade sign, lending the route what Fraser described as “a private feel.” Until 2026, any public path can be reinstated, as long as there is documentary evidence that it used to exist. But, after the deadline, old maps and memories won’t matter any more. “This is a one-shot thing, really,” Cornish said. “So we need to make sure we do it right.”

Source: The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths

See also desire paths:

So goes the logic of “desire paths” – described by Robert Macfarlane as “paths & tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning”; he calls them “free-will ways”. The New Yorker offers other names: “cow paths, pirate paths, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), and Olifantenpad (elephant trails)”. JM Barrie described them as “Paths that have Made Themselves”.

Author: Matthew Culnane

Sometime social and UX person working in education. Interested in food, books, music, others. Working out how it all works.