A Yank’s Guide to the UK part 3, Footpaths.

You may have noticed that I like to walk. Maybe it’s all those trailmaps I’ve posted. (A big thank you to this site for their help with tracks.)

Anyway one of the joys of the UK is the public footpaths or rights of way. They’re designated with red dashed lines on the 1:50000 landranger series and green dashed, dotted and other lines on the 1:25000 explorer series from the ordnance survey. The symbols are a little different from the USGS maps, but close enough that if you can read one, you can read the other. Like the US maps they have a blue background grid that is a kilometer grid based on a zero point. (Canada does something similar, and shares the datum with the USA, but they sometimes use an older one that’s about 300 meters off. Be warned.) The British use their own national grid that is similar to the US one, but based on their own origin. You’ll see numbers like SN339486 which refers to a specific location. You can interpolate the numbers from the map, enter them into your gps and find a specific neolithic stone circle on a heath in Exmoor. (it was literally a circle of small stones.)

In England, the footpaths generally go where the map says they are. There are exceptions, but if you navigate stile to stile, you’ll be OK. DSC_0975 The picture shows a style on a typically beautiful summer day. Or perhaps one good enough to be typical. Many of the styles are gates, and the rule is to leave the gate the way you found it.

Many of the footpaths follow historic tracks or roads. Often these are sunken lanesIMGP4135 where the effort of expanding them for even a single track ‘metalled’ (paved) road would exceed the effort needed to just build a new road nearby. These paths can be ancient. The ridgeway that runs from near Reading to south of Bath dates to the time of the pyramids. It’s sort of exciting to walk on a road that was old and in use when Julius Caesar was a boy.

The public footpaths can go through people’s back gardens – including quite famous people’s back gardens. (There’s a rock star near Dorchester (near Oxford), whose back garden is crossed by one.)


IMGP2631The footpaths often cross fields with livestock. Cows are a real hazard. They are not the calm sweet animals from cartoons and milk advertisements. Big and sometimes ornery, especially the beef cattle which are not handled by people on a routine basis, they need to be treated with respect. Every now and then someone who doesn’t treat them with respect gets trampled. Sheep are extremely common, but other than decorating the trail in their own unique manner, not much of a bother. There are also a fair number of horses, especially in wilder areas.

Wales, however, is another story. 10-july-13 While there are plenty of footpaths and they are marked on the maps, they are often not there in reality. This map from 2013 shows our path … digressing from the footpath. What started as a gentle walk to a pub in a nearby town, became an almost epic journey as we worked our way around closed footpaths. We took the bus home.

Trail conditions range from smooth and dry, to bogs, and on to mud pits. The paths can be wide and easy walking or narrow and filled with nettles. Fortunately, outside of Kew Gardens, there’s no poison ivy.

Water sources are few, and you will need to be prepared. I’ll put it up in another post, but my wife and I did Snowdon last week. We were prepared, and needed to be. It wasn’t a bad climb, but the temperature changed from a balmy 20C at the base to about 5C at the top, in dense fog, dripping wet. Hypothermia was a real risk. Especially as you’d be damp from sweating on the climb. So we carried rain gear, winter coats, dry change of clothes, my backcountry first aid kit (which contains a space blanket for a bivy), water, and extra food. We needed the warm clothes by the time we arrived at the top. The point of this is that you have to do your research and be prepared for what you may encounter.

Author: rharrisonauthor

International man of mystery. Well not really, although I can mangle several languages and even read the occasional hieroglyphic. A computer scientist, an author and one of the very few people who has both an NIH grant and had a book contract. An ex- booktrope author and a photographer.

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