Saving Our Ancient Tracks

Have you noticed how fashionable our ancient tracks have become?A Lake District Corpse Road 014.JPG

Those lovely old paths which may have been used by drovers and pilgrims, marching armies or industrial workers. Or even the local footpaths which people used to get to church or market.

Our ancient tracks are as important to our history as the stone circles, the henges and hill-forts beloved by antiquaries. They should be cherished and protected. Lose them and we lose much of our history.

But, they have certainly become fashionable: the current issue of Country Walking magazine devotes much of its pages to walking ancient trackways: Tony Robinson has a Channel 4 television series where he walks ancient tracks: Robert Macfarlane has a best-selling book, The Old Ways, on the subject. I commend them all to you.

How the world has changed over the past few years…

Not so long ago, those of us campaigning to have our ancient tracks and their original lines preserved felt like voices crying in the wilderness.

Landowners sought to have these important tracks diverted or closed, aided by dreadful local councils and even national park authorities. Some of them are still at it. “Why does it matter?”, these people said to me. “Who’s bothered about the paths people used to get to church or wherever?”

Even some footpath officers in Ramblers Association groups happily waved through dreadful diversions and closures, terrified of being branded ‘militant’ if they didn’t. Many of these diversions agreed were awful on the ground, even if you took away any historical links.

But I scent the winds of change. The more people write or broadcast about the historical gems these paths are, then the better.

Footpath officers, whether they be Ramblers or council, should work on the presumption that all closures and diversions should be opposed.

We should no more contemplate wiping out the line of an ancient trackway than we would contemplate knocking down the old stones of Avebury or Stonehenge.

Every twist of a path tells us much about the people who created it with sometimes centuries of long use.

Let’s save at least some of our much-battered heritage for the generations to come.

I’ve written a lot about my own feelings about ancient tracks in my books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole. Here are the links if you’d care to have a look… 


9 thoughts on “Saving Our Ancient Tracks

  1. “Before the Romans went to Rye” – but the real story of those wandering roads as told elsewhere in the same chapter of The Flying Inn in prose ties us in even closer to the past. Living in Ireland I’m very aware of the loss of heritage here that comes from the loss of footpaths – most landowners in ireland cling even more closely to their right to forbid intruders than the landowners of England ever did. It’s as though, having got it back, they are determined that no one else will enjoy it. One almost feels that one needs a permit to walk off road and the laughably named national footpaths tend to acquire long sections of sometimes not particularly quiet road. Tarmac is not what one wants under ones boots. I can’t imagine a Kinder Scout here – or for that matter in England nowadays. I was shouting at the tv screen when Tony Robinson missed the opportunity to lobby for access at Fox Tor – “we can’t go any further” didn’t really meet the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know from the many reports I get about the many problems on walking in Ireland. Such a pity and I’m not sure what walking organisations there are doing. Such a pity Tony Robinson didn’t go on to Vixen Tor, though TV companies are very jumpy about it. I remember, when I worked for the Dartmoor Preservation Association and undertook countless interviews there, that they would film me going in but always stay outside themselves,


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