27 August 2019 by Sophia Khan
Our Don’t Lose Your Way campaign aims to restore some of the at least 10,000 miles of lost rights of way across England and Wales, currently missing from the definitive map. If they are not found and recorded by the cut off date of 2026, they will be lost forever. We already have some volunteers hard at work and not only are they locating and saving paths created through use over centuries, they are also uncovering the fascinating stories behind these paths back through history.
Whether they have connections to a famous figure or historical events, thread their way through the history of villages or generations of a family, or complete a route that means a whole community can access a beauty spot that was previously impossible to reach on foot, so many of our lost paths have a tale to tell.
Paths in paintings
All kinds of evidence can lead us to lost rights of way and one volunteer - a keen art historian - spotted a possible missing path at the Tate Gallery, in a painting by landscape and portrait artist Thomas Gainsborough. Painted in 1747, Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting depicts Gainsborough’s native Suffolk countryside and a woodland track. Working out the location of the painting and comparing it to old maps, our volunteer realised that the artist had been using a footpath that has since been lost. This potential lost right of way leads to a community wood and if restored could provide another useful point of access for walkers.
The Markway is a path recorded on Milne’s county map of Hampshire from 1791, but now it ends abruptly in some undergrowth, a missing mile that doesn’t appear on the current OS map. Completely overgrown, you wouldn’t know it was there without the old map for comparison. The Markway disappeared almost by accident.
In the Second World War, a Hurricane fighter base was built there, and the path temporarily blocked. That order was not rescinded until 1956 and by then it was too late; the last mile of the route had become overgrown and forgotten. The missing mile is a useful one though, as it links to other footpaths and thanks to one of our dedicated volunteers, it has been registered to be added to the definitive map and will hopefully be used by generations of walkers to come.
Connecting communities and nature
As well as their value as part of our heritage, reinstating missing paths can make a practical difference too.
Maps from the early 1900s show a path that linked the communities of Chew Moor and Ladybridge, near Bolton. The path just south of Rumworth Lodge Reservoir is shown on 1907 and 1961 OS maps but is nowhere to be seen on later maps. Today it seems to suddenly stop but has in fact disappeared under marshland.
If the path extended as far as it does on the historical map, it would enable people from the nearby housing estates to walk all the way to the reservoir for fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities, connecting them more easily to nature. It would also link up to other footpaths to create an alternative walk to current routes along busy dual carriageways and a link between communities on foot rather than by car.
Share your path stories
Have you found a lost right of way with a story? We’d love to hear about it - not only links with famous literary figures or historical events, but also the everyday stories. Perhaps it’s a path that’s part of your family history (did your great grandfather walk to school along it, was it a drover’s road travelled by your ancestors to take their cattle to market?), or one that played a vital role in the history of your area like the old corpse roads used to carry the dead back to the parish where they had to be buried.
Your path stories will help us to tell the story of why getting our lost rights of way back on the map is so important. Please share them with us by emailing DLYW@ramblers.org.uk.