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32 Life

house and beside the lawn, keeping the Horse Chestnut Tree on your right.” Two aspects of this bothered me, firstly it had been a slow spring and the trees were not in leaf, and I’ve as much chance of successfully identifying a denuded trunk as I have of explaining the intricacies of String theory, and secondly, walk into someone’s farm yard and cross their lawn? That was a notion that smacked, if not exactly of trespass, per se, then at the very least of imposition.

But, as neither the OB nor I look particularly threatening, and we were wearing walking boots and all weather jackets, we reasoned our purpose would be clear and, after a moment’s hesitation, we walked up the drive to the farmyard. We hadn’t gone more than a few paces when a cacophony of barks started up and two dogs came hurtling from the direction of the farm buildings. Undaunted we continued, we’re both fond of dogs and our reception committee comprised a black Labrador and a chunky Scottie, both exhibiting the tail wagging, tongue lolling, bounce of the “wow, people, how exciting” variety of greeting rather than the streamlined, ears back, teeth bared “get off my land” variety. Whilst the two dogs happily inspected us, their owner joined them. We explained that we were looking for the footpath and, in slightly weary tones, she told us that the council had come out three years back to survey the path with a view to erecting footpath markers, and that she hadn’t seen hide or hair of either since. We apologised for interrupting her day and she politely denied that it was any trouble, and she may have been speaking the truth, after all it was early in the year, we might have been the only people who’d strayed onto her farm in weeks, months, she might have been pleased to have someone to chat to for a few minutes. But, what about in the summer, I’d no idea how busy this particular footpath might become in summertime, or how many people might wander around her farm trying to find the footpath and it struck me for the first time to consider the point of view of the landowner, when following a footpath. Particularly one that wanders close to habitation or gives right of way through working farmyards or private gardens.

There is a Sussex walk, that takes in Christ’s Hospital and wanders idyllically through woods and valleys, around field perimeters and through sleepy churchyards, along lanes that seem time locked and magical, but the footpath also takes you practically beneath kitchen windows of private dwellings. Now I’m all for access to the countryside but, being a private person myself, I


can think of nothing worse than doing the dishes whilst gazing out at your garden and admiring the years first crop of walker sauntering past your salvias. Which set me to wondering how this had come about? How had the mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the early twentieth century (1932 in fact, I looked it up for you), which led to the establishment of rights of access for all classes of people - and a jolly good thing it was too -, led to rights of way over farmyards and back gardens?

Natural England estimates that there are more than 225,000 kilometres of public footpaths and bridleways available for use in England and Wales. Paths created by our ancestors as they went about their daily business, ways of getting safely from one settlement to another, avoiding natural hazards, such as marshland or potentially dangerous forests, paths trodden by invaders to our island and paths followed b y f a r m workers making their way from village to their place of work each day. Paths that walk

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