The right to ramble on

David Foster assesses the impact of new footpaths

Freedom to roam. Whenever landowners and ramblers talk about access, those three words are sure to make the feathers fly. For most of this century ramblers have been pressing for a statutory right to roam over open, uncultivated countryside in England and Wales; and landowners, pointing to the practical difficulties, have consistently opposed their proposals.

The Country Landowners Association (CLA), whose members own 60 per cent of the rural land in England and Wales, believes that the time has come for a less adversarial approach. To them, countryside recreation means more than just walking; they recently asked more than 60 interested organisations (including canoeists, anglers, cyclists and all-wheel-drive enthusiasts) for input into their Access 2000 policy.

The Ramblers' Association's Director, Alan Mattingly, while welcoming the proposals for more space to roam, sees "the primary aim of Access 2000 as an attempt by landowners to head off any moves... to legislate for freedom to walk over mountain and moorland".

Still, actions speak louder than words, and some landowners have already created "permissive paths" on their estates. These allow free public access, usually for a defined period of up to 10 years, whilegiving landowners far more freedom to manage their estates profitably.

Even the best new paths aren't much use if nobody knows where they are. The Ordnance Survey is to show more access information on its Landranger maps. The larger-scale Pathfinder series is also due for a major revamp, and some some long-term permissive paths will be added.

The estate owner

Barn owls breed on Robin Combe's estate at Bayfield, just a couple of miles inland from Blakeney on the North Norfolk coast. There are otters in the river and butterflies in the park.

A different owner might try to keep people out, but Mr Combe, a CLA member, says: "Anybody who doesn't open as much of their estate as they possibly can is making a huge mistake. Most ramblers have the interests of the countryside at heart; they're the people we have to enlist on our side to help protect it."

These aren't just empty words. He has so far opened up free access to four miles of permissive footpaths at Bayfield, and has 10 miles of riding track paid for by annual subscription.

But his work has implications beyond the estate's boundaries, for North Norfolk's internationally important scenery and wildlife are under threat from the sheer number of visitors. The Norfolk Coast Project, a joint Countryside Commission and local authority initiative, aims toencourage holidaymakers to sample some of the area's less vulnerable habitats. Project Officer Graeme Hayes sees Bayfield's initiative as a positive step; "Visitors' cars are a real problem on the coast," he says. "Getting people to explore inland areas on foot is an ideal solution."

It's a concept that seems to work well for everyone. "In the three years we've had these access paths," says Mr Combe, "we've had nothing but goodwill, pleasure and a great deal of satisfaction for a lot of people. I'm thrilled we've done it."

The farmer

In 1468 an English army under the command of the Earl of Pembroke was marching to lay siege to Harlech Castle. Near journey's end, the soldiers swept down the Nantcol valley, crossing the land now grazed by John Wynne's sheep.

Other feet now tramp these hills, and Mr Wynne is delighted to see them. "They're all nice people," he says, "but what they don't realise is that when you come into this sort of a place it is potentially hazardous". Time and again he gets called out to help rescue lost or injured walkers who have strayed off the footpaths and come to grief on the precipitous mountain slopes above his farm at Glyn Artro, near Lianbedr.

The solution, thinks John, is for the National Park Authority to waymark the more popular walks, and to publish maps of the routes, graded for difficulty. Yet there is already a plethora of guidebooks and leaflets.

The authority has recently completed the first-ever survey of all Snowdonia's footpaths and bridleways. Less than a third of them meet all the legal requirements for public use, but essential remedial work is under way. However, high-intensity waymarking might engender a false sense of security. National Park wardens would prefer to see walkers navigating safely with map and compass.

But, with no clear consensus on how inexperienced walkers can best enjoy the mountains, many landowners are worried about their legal liability when accidents do happen.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living