24 August 2018 by Jack Cornish
We are blessed in England and Wales with a fantastic network of paths – nearly 140,000 miles of rights of way (enough to stretch round the earth five times or half way to the moon!). However, there are thousands of historical rights of way which have not been recorded and if they are not claimed by 2026 they will be lost – forever!
The Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way project is focused on how we can take this one-time opportunity to preserve these rights which have been built up over centuries. We are supporting volunteers with identifying, researching and making applications to save these important parts of our local heritage.
Our landscape, and how we interact with it, has evolved and changed over the centuries. The shape and extent of villages and towns change, railways appear and disappear and – crucially for walkers – footpaths, bridleways and footpaths go in and out of use. But if we can identify a route which, at any point, been a public right of way then we can claim it and add it back to the map for future generations of walkers to use (all under the legal mantra of ‘once a highway, always a highway’).
In order to claim these paths, we need to look back at old maps and records to find evidence of previous public use. While we are working to see how we can get more historical maps digitised to support this important work, there is a wealth of material already available. For the first time we have created a directory of sources that will help volunteers research lost historical rights of way – and, if you are like me, lead to hours of fun looking at old maps!
There are many great tools that offer national coverage including the National Library of Scotland (where you can play around with side by side comparisons), the British Library, Old Maps Online, and the GB1900 project (which used volunteers to identify and locate every single word on the 1900 Ordnance Survey map).
As well as links to national sources, we have brought together links to some local projects which have digitised some fascinating maps. Highlights include the Know Your Place project in the South West, Cynefin in Wales, which has put all the Welsh Tithe maps online, and New Landscapes in Berkshire, which has made available all the enclosures in that county.
So why not explore these amazing maps and begin the hunt for lost historical rights of way? To find out how to get involved with Don’t Lose Your Way visit our webpages or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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