Walkers dice with danger to prove a point: Andrew Gliniecki reports on yesterday's events for Forbidden Britain Day

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The Independent Online
ALTHOUGH they donned their wind-cheaters and pulled on their hiking boots with the usual willing fervour, it was to be no ordinary journey for one group of committed British ramblers yesterday.

Forsaking familiar muddy fields and leafy country lanes, about 100 walkers set their sights on crossing a busy four-lane road in Essex which blocks a public right of way.

In theory, the journey across the A127 near Brentwood is just 30 yards (27m). In fact, every inch is fraught with the danger of high-speed traffic. Two people have died trying to cross there in the last six weeks.

To continue along the public footpath severed by the dual carriageway, hikers were forced to take a three-mile coach trip to get to the other side.

This was just one of 40 events marking Forbidden Britain Day that took place yesterday around the country. The Ramblers' Association urged Britain's 10 million walkers to 'take action to protect the nation's 140,000 miles of footpaths'.

David Beskine, assistant director, said: 'These paths are part of the Queen's highway and those who obstruct them are breaking the law.'

Alan Howard, the vice-chairman, who attended the Essex road-crossing demonstration, said: 'Trying to cross that road means taking your life in your hands. It's disgraceful that no bridge has been provided.

'The cost of a public footbridge is pounds 200,000. According to police figures, the cost of a fatal accident is pounds 610,000 - and that's quite apart from the loss of life and immense suffering it causes.

'How many people have got to be killed before the Government does something about this?'

He said that, after a makeshift survey, the association had discovered 354 unsafe crossings in Britain. He suspects that the true number is double that.

Other events yesterday also focused on the absence of safe crossings. In Derbyshire, walkers made a circuit of Big Moor which avoids a busy road only by leaving the marked path.

The behaviour of obstructive landowners figured largely in yesterday's demonstrations. At Bayham Abbey estate in Kent, an event highlighted the need for clarification of the status of claimed footpaths which are disputed by some of the landowners. In the Lake District, ramblers went on a walk to illustrate how an important link in the local footpath network in the constituency of David Maclean, countryside minister, was denied, obstructed and then ploughed up by a local owner. A second hike encountered a public right of way blocked by a wall.

In North Wales, ramblers were demonstrating in Whitford, near Holyhead, Clywd, in 'one of the most obstructed corners of Britain'. Whitford has more than 100 blocked footpaths.

The ramblers are also concerned about developments that could impinge on rights of access and disfigure the landscape. A walk in Oxford drew attention to a golfcourse development. In Nottinghamshire, ramblers alerted the public to a proposal by the Forestry Commission to extract gravel, which threatens Stapleford Wood.

In Berkshire, a peaceful walk took place around Greenham Common as part of a campaign to have it returned to public use now that the US Air Force has withdrawn.

In north-east Lancashire, ramblers accompanied Chris Hall, the association's president, on a walk to highlight continued lack of access to the Forest of Bowland. Landowners and local authorities are being urged to hold talks to resolve the problem.

Hampshire ramblers held an event to promote a claim of access to Horsedown Common near Odiham. Suffolk walkers staged a hike along Hundred Lane, an ancient highway 'claimed' but not investigated because of what the association believes is a defect in legislation. A second walk was planned to 'substantiate claims' for by-ways and footpaths in the Benacre Estate.

(Photograph omitted)

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