The Race to Rediscover England’s Lost Paths
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Reclaiming these paths and ensuring they remain as public rights of way is vitally important to preserving England’s centuries-old history of rambling. Our tradition of walking through our beautiful countryside has been passed from generations above us and is a proven way to reduce stress, improve your mood and help you sleep at the end of every day. The estimated 140,000 miles of ancient pathways across England and Wales date back as far as medieval times, they link villages, roads, hamlets and towns. They are the result of generations before us travelling by foot or horse to church, fields, shops and larger settlements.
During the medieval period these paths were used to herd animals and carry the dead from small communities to bigger towns which have churches with burial grounds. Once known as corpse roads or coffin routes, families would walk for miles from their settlements and small churches to considerably bigger ‘mother churches’ where a dead relative could be buried. Once a path has been trodden by a family with a dead relative, it automatically became a public footpath and many of those paths still exists today. Similarly, a young couple who wanted to be married would make the same sort of journey to a ‘mother church’ as their local community churches weren’t authorised to conduct weddings or funerals.
Although preserving these paths is vital to conserving the history of rambling in Britain, it is quite a feat to establish, document and ensure each path is maintained as a pubic footpath. In 2004 the government introduced a similar scheme to discover every time-worn right of way across the England, the project was given a £15 million budget but abandoned a mere four years later as the enormity of the task became apparent.
However, the project has been begun again and each path needs to be documented by January 1st, 2026. The rambler’s society wants to preserve these paths to maintain the centuries of traditional and history they hold. Pouring over old maps, finding paths and submitting them to local councils is the best way of ensuring they are saved from private land owners and potential development. Once a path has been recorded as a national and public footpath it has to remain as one, even if it lies within private fields. Maintaining these paths and the surrounding areas means we save ancient paths and farmland which, in turn, preserves the home of animals and millions of wildlife from the threat of property development.