PsychoGeography #56: It makes me wander ...

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The Independent Online

I welcome the new right to roam, yes indeedy I do. After all, I'm a committed walker with the yards of nylon and feet of Gore-Tex to prove it.

I welcome the new right to roam, yes indeedy I do. After all, I'm a committed walker with the yards of nylon and feet of Gore-Tex to prove it. There's nothing I like more than a good walk and most mornings I begin the day with a little hike to the bathroom, where I choke down a bit of Kendal Mint Cake while liberally pissing. Then I walk downstairs to the kitchen, where I stop for a well-earned breakfast, usually a cereal bar broken up in a bowl with milk added. I call this concoction of my own devising "muesli". Then I walk back upstairs to my office. That's three walks even before I've started work!

I know lots of other people are keen on walking as well, because when I go out into the street I see them doing it, and if I head over to my local shop I often find Mike, the proprietor, plodding up and down the aisles of biscuits and Brillo Pads. As we pass each other we'll sing out a cheery "Hello!" because we're just two walkers doing what we love and this engenders a certain fellow feeling. Many serious walkers are pretty down on the whole business of shopping, and see trolling around expensive retail outlets racking up consumer debt as a poor substitute for the windswept romance of the fells, but I say fie on you! On a good hike in the West End or around one of London's many indoor malls, I can travel as far as a mile, while the frequent stops to heave my plastic give the whole experience great style and élan.

I suppose the real objection to all this walking I do is that it takes the form of what's termed "linear access". I start at point A and, using a direct route, walk to point B. Granted, I may make diversions to points C and D, but these too will be along fairly defined paths. What I don't do is "roam", and that's precisely what the new Countryside and Rights of Way Act allows me to do. Personally, I find the whole notion of roaming quite alien, and I'm not even sure that I know how to do it at all. Take my morning routine, where am I to go if I don't walk to the bathroom? Should I stroll aimlessly around the bedroom until I end up pissing in the bookcase? This has been known to happen but usually only after the ingestion of strong liquors. And what about my walk over the road to buy the paper? If I roam up down Mike's aisles for too long, tolerant as he is, he'll call the Old Bill.

I'm not just being facetious about this. As I say, I welcome the opening up of an area the size of Luxembourg to the British public and concur heartily with those who say that for far too long the big landowners have been allowed to hide their bushels under a ... err ... bushel. But roaming, I ask you. I don't think we're going to see the Forest of Bowland - one of the new areas of outstanding natural beauty which has been opened up - covered with cagoule-clad worthies ambling about in a completely random pattern, like smoke particles in Brownian motion. Isn't it more likely that they'll naturally fuse into flocks and packs that will then denude the patches they settle on, and perhaps end up having to be painlessly culled by high-velocity rifle bullets?

Isn't the sordid truth that by turning walking, that most primal of physical activities, into a recreational pursuit like paragliding or motocross, the roaming lobby - quite inadvertently - participates in the downgrading of more workaday ambulatory activity. The kind of walking they have in mind requires a fair outlay on kit and usually - for those of us who live in large conurbations - a long train or car ride before it can be undertaken. Besides, isn't it the case that there can be no rights without responsibilities? And I'm not talking about shutting the gate here. The harsh fact is that far from taking responsibility for their walking, the vast bulk of the population are more prepared than ever to sit around on their fat arses licking pure salt and watching reality TV shows.

At least that leaves us linear walkers with plenty of elbow room. I walked to Newhaven this summer from my house in south London. It was 87 miles and it took me four days. In the first three days out I encountered more people in electric invalid carriages (three) than I did on foot. On the fourth day this changed, because I'd got to the South Downs, which were covered with people roaming. It's an irony that can't be lost on the Duke of Westminster and his buddies, that having lost unlimited grazing for one kind of livestock, they've now acquired another species.

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