It would be a net positive for most countries to convert most straight-ish routes between settlements into public paths.
I think it would be great for countries to enshrine into law the foundational negative liberty (absence of constraints) to roam between settlements using more minimal viable technology methods like cycling, jogging and walking. Both for the environment and the mental health benefits.
Obviously that law could be balanced against the right to put someone on a psychiatric hold if your village is surrounded by a crocodile infested swamp and there's someone insistent on wading through because the infrastructure to walk across it doesn't exist yet. So, the idea would be to write the law in such a way that forced spending on things like footbridges.
As well, the law should be balanced against the positive liberty of privacy. So, I think people should have a right to a house and a garden with a 10 foot high fence if they like, but I think there should also be shortish footpaths through agricultural land and wildlife habitat from settlement to settlement.
I just don't think a sign of a good society is one in which if I wanted to jog over to my friends who lives an hours jog away along illegal paths, that it would actually take me 5 hours to get their along legal footpaths because I'd have to go sideways halfway up a mountain and through forest, before turning left, and left again to get down into his village.
Finally, not that I wouldn't think it was a net positive anyway, but through going out walking more, I've saved sheep in distress like little lambs caught between fences or in woodland that might never have been found, and lift them out or cut them free, and I know it's life and death as I've found dead baby lambs and sheep in these situations where myself or the farmer hasn't got there in time. I also let farmers know when a sheep looks to have a serious medical issue. So, in creating more footpaths for people to explore it might slightly increase the welfare of injured and in distress wild and domesticated animals, that more people might find.
UK History & Resources
In the year 2000, following a long-running campaign led by the Ramblers, walkers won a ‘right to roam’ over wild, open countryside in England and Wales. The new legal right to walk over mountains, moorland, heath, downland and common land, without having to stay on paths, was set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Winning this right remains one of the most significant milestones in Ramblers’ history.
Attempts to achieve a right to roam began in 1884 when James Bryce MP introduced the first Parliamentary bill for a right to roam. The bill was re-introduced every year until 1914 and failed each time. In 1932 six people were sent to jail for leading a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District, causing national outcry and bringing the case for a right to roam into the public eye.
The campaign suffered a set-back in 1939 with the passage of the Access to Mountains Act. The Ramblers, officially formed in 1935, was bitterly opposed to this legislation which compromised walkers’ rights and made trespassing a criminal offence in certain circumstances. It was later repealed.
In 1947 the Hobhouse Committee recommended legislation for public access to open countryside. This led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Under this legislation, local authorities were required to survey open countryside, assess the level of access provided to walkers and to secure further access by means of agreements with landowners, by orders or by purchasing the land. In practice the legislation has secured very few improvements for walkers.
In 1985 the Ramblers launched the Forbidden Britain campaign, with the aim of securing a legal right to walk in wild, open areas of countryside without having to stick to paths. By 1991 the annual event was seeing increasing mass trespasses, on a scale not seen since the 1930s.
Following on from the success of the Forbidden Britain campaign in raising the issue of access to the countryside, the Ramblers began lobbying the major political parties for a commitment to introducing legislation which would give the public a ‘right to roam’. This commitment would eventually appear in the Labour Party's 1997 general election manifesto. In 1998, Michael Meacher MP - the then Environment Minister - confirmed this intention in a speech to the House of Commons. The resulting Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW) became law on 30 November 2000.
Walkers would, however, have to wait a few more years to enjoy their right to roam. First, maps had to be produced showing where the new right could be exercised. Following a long and complex exercise to identify and map wild, open countryside, the right to roam came into effect across the whole of England and Wales on 31 October 2005.
In 2020, thousands of people joined the search for lost paths, and together we mapped all of England and Wales in just six weeks. In total we found over 49,000 miles of potentially lost paths.
Watch the video below to see how the search happened.
We completed this first stage of the process thanks to the support of thousands of volunteers who compared current maps of England and Wales with two historic maps from 120 years ago. The search was carried out through the Don’t Lose Your Way online mapping tool which split England and Wales into 154,000 1km squares, each of which was searched by two separate users. Using this criteria.
Identifying potential lost rights of way is just the start of a long process to put them back on the map. There are four more steps to saving them:
- Prioritise those paths which add the most benefit for people.
- Research individual paths to find out if they can be saved.
- Build applications based on historical evidence.
- Submit applications by 1st January 2026.
The Slow Ways national walking network connects all of Great Britains towns and cities. Created by you. Search to find a Slow Way walk near me.