A very British icon

As a Dad with children of a certain age I often find myself watching programmes such as Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Shaun the Sheep. All these programmes are set in the British Countryside and I think my children find it amusing when I spot a footpath fingerpost and get excited.

On a recent episode Shaun and his friends had taken a fingerpost out of the ground and were using it as a football goal cross bar. Obviously sheep playing football explains why we see so many finger posts that are not in a great state of repair. It also suggests that this basic piece of footpath furniture is ingrained into our psyche. I think maybe the fingerpost is to the British countryside what the red postbox is to British towns and cities.

Footpath signsWe walk past these icons of the British countryside, ironically more often than not in an urban environment, several times a day. I walk past 2 just to take my children to school and 5 to go to the train station.

I recently gave a talk to a group of 6 and 7-year-olds about my job and as soon as I held up a fingerpost, they all jumped up wanting to tell me how they see them all the time in our little corner of South West London.

Having seen how recognisable, and I would argue iconic, the fingerpost is, I've been thinking about how important it is to the Ramblers. Not only is it important on a practical level because it tells us where we have the right to walk, but it also represents the hard-won rights that we have fought for over so many years. After all it is one of the few signs that have to appear on a highway.

It also represents the many thousands of hours that our volunteers give each year to protect our rights of way network. The Ramblers currently has over 90 teams and over 1000 volunteers out protecting and improving the places we love to walk. I recently joined Cornwall’s Ramblers Environmental Action Clearance Team (REACT) for a day’s path improvement. Despite having dug a new stream and helped to build a boardwalk the most satisfying task was - you’ve guessed it - helping to put the fingerpost up. It really was the icing on the cake.

So the next time you see a fingerpost, whether on television or whilst our walking, take a minute to remember what our humble little sign means and if you’re walking with somebody why not tell them?

If, like me, you’re a fan of fingerposts, find out how you can ensure they don’t fade away in a tangle of weeds or become a set of goal posts for sheep by volunteering with us.

Ed Wilson is the volunteer support and development officer at the Ramblers. You can follow him on twitter @Ed1983. Find out more about volunteering with the Ramblers.