I’m really passionate about this topic because I think that many people are missing out on a great opportunity to have fun and stay healthy without spending a penny. Walking in the countryside or among greenery has been proven to improve physical and mental health, fighting anxiety and depression.
Still, when I walk in the fields around my town, I rarely seen anyone else.
Following public footpaths I have walked through an arboretum, through the grounds of stately homes, rambled through stunning fields of hay (like the one in the photo above) and strolled next to cows, sheep and llamas. For free.
Of course, public rights of way go through moors, coastlands and beaches, forests and field, but they also go past our doorsteps.
So, how do you do it?
- Go to https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/ and, using your 7 days free trial, download a map of the area where you want to walk. You can plan a route or pick one of their suggested ones. Print it off. If you prefer to go old style and don’t mind spending money, buy the OS paper map of your area. (To my US readers: sorry but I haven’t found much other than this article)
- If maps are not your ‘cup of tea’, put your walking shoes on, go out and look for these arrows:
Photo by Peter O’Connor
Yellow arrows mean footpaths: only pedestrians are allowed.
Blue arrows are bridleways, open to walkers, horse-riders and cyclists.
Red arrows stand for byways: they’re basically roads open to anyone and anything, including motor vehicle but they’re usually just narrow dirt tracks.
If you’ve chosen the yellow arrow and followed it correctly, at some point you’ll get to a stile. Stiles allow you to climb over a wall or fence and come in all shapes and sizes. Climbing over them gracefully requires some practice so, if you’re walking in a group and are dignity-conscious, let others go before you and climb last. This way, there’ll be nobody left to stare at your bottom as you have it over.
I you find a gate instead of a stile, you MUST close it after yourself. If you don’t, you’ll have helped Shaun The Sheep’s Great Escape and the farmer will not be your friend. Ever.
Sometimes, like in the photo above, the yellow arrow is at an angle. Unless the wooden post is also at an angle and rotting at the base, don’t think it’s a mistake. In the photo above, the worn grass shows you where the path goes and you can see that the angle of the arrow is quite accurate in pointing to where you should go.
In the photo below, you can see that three paths are crossing over. The arrow pointing down tells you to go straight on ahead over the wooden stile, first, and then over the stone stile in the drystone wall. The other two tell you to go left or right. The choice is yours. Unfortunately only one of them will take you to the nearest pub and you don’t know which one.
Not all footpaths are public ‘right of way’ (the landowner is required by law to allow people to “pass and repass along the way”). Some are just ‘permissive byways’, which means that the landowner allows people to pass through out of the goodness of their heart, under no legal obligation. This is really nice of them, and we can thank them by being considerate walkers. As well as closing gates after ourselves, we should:
- Stick to the footpath. (Wandering off actually means trespassing into private property).
- Keep our dogs near us, on the path. Keeping them on lead where specifically requested.
- Do not litter or leave dog poop.
- Do not disturb farm animals.
We are allowed to stop to rest or admire the view, or to consume refreshments, provided we stay on the path and do not cause an obstruction. We can take a pram, a pushchair, a wheelchair or a mobility scooter, however there is no guarantee that the surface of the path will be smooth enough.
Landowners, on their part, have to keep signs and stiles and are not allowed to keep dangerous animals like bulls or aggressive dogs near public rights of way.
If you feel self-conscious about walking through other people’s properties, like I did at the beginning, join your local walking group or the ramblers’ association and start walking with them until you feel confident. Alternatively, if you don’t like going in a group but are afraid of being mistaken for a burglar or rustler, do what I did: wear walking boots and tuck your trousers into your socks. Every landowner will know you’re a walker.
Going for a countryside walk really DOES reduce stress and anxiety: Strolling in natural surroundings ‘is good for the brain’ – Daily Mail article
Walking in the countryside is good for the brain as well as the body – Telegraph article