Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Right to Roam

Last week, a blog reader emailed me about my Instagrams in Oxfordshire.  She asked, "Do you think you would ever have found some of these places (cottages, fields, country trails, etc.) if you didn't have a "native" fiancé and know people living in England? I just got back from a trip in England and would have LOVED to visit places like the ones you Instagram, but have no clue how to find them... any tips? Or is it an insider-only type of thing?"

I assured her that the majority of my activities in England aren't exclusive.  You don't have to know someone who lives here to have these adventures.  The catch is, though, that most people - most Americans, certainly - wouldn't know that these sorts of things are possible.  Unless you have friends or relatives for whom off-the-beaten-path outings are the norm, it's hard to know where to start researching the options.

Good thing you have me, dear readers, right?  So let's start somewhere that's baffled and amused me since 2007: let's make this blog post about walking in the UK.


Can you imagine there being a non-profit in the United States dedicated to walking?  I'm not talking about organizations that include walking as part of their efforts, like the Avon walk for breast cancer; I mean, can you imagine a US-based group established just to support your right to walk?  I can't.*

But in the UK, there's a charity founded on the "goal is to protect the ability of people to enjoy the sense of freedom and benefits that come from being outdoors on foot."  The Ramblers' website declares, "We’re an association of people and groups who come together to both enjoy walking and other outdoor pursuits and also to ensure that we protect and expand the infrastructure and places people go walking."

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

You might remember how, when I blog about visiting Jon's parents in Suffolk, I almost always mention a walk.  Jon's mother is a huge proponent of walking - usually we plan our walks around the location of cafés or pubs, but there's no direct purpose to them.  We just go on long walks for fun.  (The "we" part of this was debatable at first, to be honest, but I grew to like them more and more every time we headed out!)  What always shocked me when we ventured out on these walks through the countryside was that we truly were wandering through the middle of nowhere.

Well, that's not entirely true.  We might walk through a farmer's field.  We might walk alongside the back garden of a grand estate.  We might walk through what is, clearly, someone else's property.  In America, this would probably be considered trespassing.  In England, the public right to roam trumps (almost) all.

I've done some research on the laws about this - here's the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 for England and Wales and this link will take you to the Scottish Land Reform Act of 2003 - but basically, it comes down to the idea that, as long as the public stays on designated paths, they can access the countryside through private land.  (Don't ask me why Scotland has its own law; that falls under the category of Internal British Politics that Non-Brits Can't Explain Without Making Someone Angry.)  It's a glorious right that I've taken full advantage of since I expatriated to the UK, and it's one that I think everyone should know about.

Walking is the absolute best way to see the parts of this magnificent country that aren't generally visited by non-native tourists.  This is how you discover the places that Kaitlyn asked about in her email.  And you can go anywhere!  The east coast of England is my favorite, of course, but Jon and I also spent a lovely weekend for our second anniversary walking in the Lake District and we've been researching walks in Scotland as well for an eventual holiday, for which Gesci has been a trove of information.  The New York Times Travel section recently wrote about an American's introduction to British walking in Wales - how incredible does that trip sound even with the horrific weather?

If you have a visit to the UK planned or even if you live here and want to venture out beyond your usual routine, I would definitely recommend looking into walking as a way to explore the land.  The Ramblers charity is a great place to start, and they've got a really helpful advice section about walking in the UK in general as well as maps and guides for specific walking routes.  I know I have readers out there who have gone on glorious walks on this side of the pond - what's your favorite walk?  And do let us know if you have any advice for those of us who want to walk through the UK!  My best piece of wisdom is this: bring wellies.  We had amazing weather last Sunday, when the below photos were taken, in Oxfordshire, but you never know...


















*I'm differentiating here between walking, which can certainly be strenuous but is meant as as a leisure or recreational activity, and hiking, which is more focused on exercise and has more of a purpose.

34 comments:

  1. Betsy, I loved this post!! I was actually thinking of writing something similar about how the public footpaths are all around the country and open to walkers. Not a park. Not a trail. Just open and usable footpaths through meadows, fields, streams and brooks. I love it. I agree with you for sure about having wellies! You never know what the weather will be like as you go through a footpath! Thanks for linking up!

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  2. I was actually going to comment on IG just how awesome some of these places are that you find, not just in England but in DC too. You always seem to be able to find really neat little spots that regular visitors wouldn't even know are there. It's fun to see places through someone else's eyes. It makes me want to visit!

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  3. I know I've been commenting on your blog a lot lately, but I think maybe I'm living your UK holiday vicariously. And yes, I love THIS. It blew my husband's mind when I took him for walks literally through farmers' fields in Scotland, and into woodland areas and climbing up waterfalls etc.

    Some of my favorite walks are in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It's such a phenomenal, barren landscape and I'm very lucky to have some good friends to take me to the best spots. I did do hiking once, but never again.

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  4. Oh Betsey, I've decided we have to have a Blate. I have not met another expat couple that loves the walking thing yet. We try to go every weekend...sometimes twice a weekend. My husband enjoys it so much hes put the ordinates maps on his phone so we can track where we go and look back on it on the way home. I am so in love with our country walks on the public footpaths. I admit sometimes I get a bit anxious when we are crossing through a farmers field. Like this one time the public footpath actually went through the field where their horses were roaming. The farmer was right there and I was waiting for him to yell at us, but he didnt he smiled. It is my favourite thing about this country. We walk into town and walk along the Avon canal and I just cant get over the fact that we live in England. Life is just beautiful! x

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

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  5. Wow, how awesome! If I could walk through areas this pretty, I'd probably walk daily!

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  6. I so miss the field walks, and so do the dogs. It was probably our favorite everyday activity, but it still never lost the magic. My neighbors teased me about calling the fields 'pastures' initially, as well! One of the first things I purchased was a custom OS map with our first house at the center from centremaps.co.uk , as our village was on the border of two different OS maps and we wanted to explore without having to carry two maps. Of course, we didn't always carry it once we got to know our village and the surrounding area, but every now and then we'd pull it out and find a new path. I've thought about collecting my random pictures to do a post on the various types of stiles, but I know I've not got images of all of them!


    And wellies, YES. Must-have for being in the country!!

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  7. We never made it to the Outer Hebrides... which kills me. Or the Shetland Islands. OH WELL GUESS WE HAVE TO GO BACK! ;)

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  8. So interesting! I would never even think to walk through someone's property. I love all the research and links you put in your posts too!

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  9. I am English and have only recently left England for Canada - this makes my heart ache! It showcases all of the things I love best about my country. The tumbledown walls and rolling fields and peaceful rivers. Everything is so meek and mild in England and that is just why I love it!!

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  10. The best resource for anyone (visitors or residents) who want to walk is this pair of books by Time Out:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Out-Country-Walks-Volume/dp/1846702216/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Time-Country-Walks-London-Volume/dp/1846702224/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_y



    (Granted, they assume a London starting point.) They give detailed info on how to get to and from the walk, how long the walk should take, detailed instructions so you can't get lost, and where to stop for lunch and tea.


    I've used them for a number of my walks, including my two favorites - Dover to Deal and Seaford to Eastbourne.

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  11. Looks like a lovely way to explore a beautiful country!

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  12. What beautiful pictures! Found your blog through the link-up!

    Brachel Boulevard

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  13. Norway has something similar although you can actually camp anywhere in the country. I don't know the exact law but it's something like as long as you are more than 100 m from a dwelling and are not on planted fields, you're allowed to set up shop just about anywhere.

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  14. If I'm not totally confused, that's similar to Scotland's law- they call it "wild camping". It's highly illegal in England, though. It's a pretty great scheme, I think! We never took advantage, though, because we got rid of all of our (not-great-quality) camping gear before we moved. Are you gonna try it in Norway?

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  15. haha well clearly "open" and "usable" are terms I don't understand, which is how I came to be LOST IN A FIELD, but yes, in theory :P

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  16. oh thank you! now I want an assignment from you guys to find a sort of specific place... that would be fun!

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  17. Jon wants us to take the train all the way up to Ft William and then to walk. Where? I don't know. #eek

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  18. haha yes - though when it's been raining for 6 weeks straight things do tend to get a little damp!

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  19. THANK YOU. I love research. I miss school.

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  20. oh no! but it is STUNNING. meek and mild until you turn around and are blown away by the power of a view!

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  21. "where to stop for lunch and tea" is the most important part :)

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  22. man. insane! I feel like in most of America you'd be run off the land by the landowner with a gun.

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  23. DON'T TELL JON THIS IS ALLOWED IN SCOTLAND OR HE WILL SUGGEST IT AND THEN WE'LL HAVE TO BREAK UP AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT.

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  24. oh man, I can't WAIT to bring Charlie out here for rambles! probably a good thing it won't happen for another few years... hopefully by then he won't go tearing off after every rabbit and deer?

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  25. wish my phone had worked on my run last weekend but alas no satellite reception out there - it would have helped me get unlost sooner!

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  26. Oh, he will. And roll in fox poo, which is the nastiest. Max can draw him a map of the best sheep poo (it's a delicacy, you know) in N Yorks, though.

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  27. The West Highland Way of course! http://www.west-highland-way.co.uk/home.asp

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  28. Sweden has similar laws as well, right to the land laws where you can camp anywhere there is open space basically so the big grassy part behind our apartment building say is open to any campers!

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  29. oh my goodness, all kind soy beautiful!

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  30. Go to Inverness! Ft. William is a great base for exploring, but the town itself isn't too appealing. Or go to Oban, take the ferry to Mull, and walk/camp there!

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  31. My Aunt and Uncle in Ireland are in a walking club. Every weekend they are off on miles long walk through the countryside, up and down hills, on the beach and through villages. They love it! And I swear it keeps them young :)

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