In England and Wales there is an enormous network of over 137,000 miles of public footpaths, bridleways and byways, which is amazingly more than any other country in the world. A lot of paths have even been joined together physically and by specialist waymarking signs to form continuous long distance routes or so-called national trails – the longest tops out at over six hundred miles.
The law is a bit different in Scotland but generally walkers will have complete and unrestricted access to any uncultivated or wilderness areas, provided there are no proven dangers either to the walkers themselves or to any local wildlife. A great deal of effort goes into putting up signs throughout the UK in order to make it easy for everyone from an intensive hiker to a casual rambler to set out on an adventure through the countryside.
One of the reasons for the plethora of walking opportunities in Britain is that public rights of way grew up as part of the country’s ancient communications system long before any forms of motorised or mechanical transport were invented. As a result, landowners are still obliged by law to give walkers free passage across their land. This is fine in theory but there have recently been clashes between walkers and landowners, particularly some farmers who will go to almost any lengths to keep hikers and other so-called interlopers off their land.
Eventually the government decided that the Country Landowners Association, whose fifty thousand members own over half the countryside in England and Wales, would never deign to allow permanent access to their land voluntarily, and accordingly passed the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2004 to establish properly designated National Parks, footpaths and other rights of way which are properly mapped and signposted using traditional fingerposts, formally designed waymarking discs and other methods of both professional and informal signage.
Take a look at our guides to long distance walking excursions and waymarked routes in the UK for additional information on walking safely and legally in Great Britain, or for more information and some beautiful examples of the types of outdoor signs commonly used to mark these legal routes visit expert signage design and manufacturing company Fitzpatrick Woolmer at www.fwdp.co.uk.