Trails and tribulations

A couple of days ago I what turned into a 12.7mile training run (you’ll find all runners have to know the exact mileage we’ve covered, every bit counts after all!), and it was down to a mix of two things. The first is my running watch (I’ll see if I can remember to do a product blog in the near future), it’s basically a great starter’s watch if you wish to get into the running game without spending a fortune, but unfortunately it isn’t so great on the longer runs, with the battery draining rapidly. This led to a miscalculation on how far I’d actually run which is annoying.

But more annoying was simply getting lost! Now every trail runner can expect to get lost once in a while, it comes with the territory of running in the countryside and for many it’s part and parcel of of the fun, getting lost and finding your way back again! However, it can get a bit tiring when you are using a map which clearly indicates where the public rights of way go, but then when you get to the fields, you’ll suddenly find the route has disappeared completely, with the path either having become overgrown or the old signs simply disappearing. Don’t get me wrong, I think we are amazingly lucky in Britain for the sheer number of trails that criss cross the country, I understand from american (and honoury Brit!) author Bill Bryson that in America for example, all their fields are treated as private property and if you were to try head across them you’re likely to get some mighty mean dogs and buckshot headed your way!

However, I do find it a shame that many of our rights of way have been left to decline, with areas of countryside having simply been left to overgrow with brambles and nettles (as a runner there is nothing worse than having to wade through this, coming out the other side with legs scratched to bits and blotchy from all the nettle stings! As a personal comment, I happen to believe nettle stings are worse than bramble cuts!), in other places the wooden stiles have been left to rot, so it becomes a lottery on whether you’ll get over it safely. In other places, such as my route last night, signs had completely disappeared, so I found myself trundling along what I took to be private fields (don’t worry, I kept to the side to stay off any crops!).

Apparently there are around 140,000 miles of public rights of way in England right now. That is roughly half the distance from earth to the moon! For such a small country compared to many other nations across the world, that is a phenomenal amount of footpaths and byways to explore, be it as a runner or hiker. My worry and gripe though is that we are letting these important access to the countryside go to ruin. I understand in these days of austerity that there is simply not as much funding left to maintain them. Farmers of land which some of these trackways run across have little financial incentive to maintain them, even though by law they are meant to.

There are voluntary groups who will actually go out on a lot of these footpaths with their own equipment to cut back hedges and brambles and they are amazing and we must be so thankful for these people. But surely we need to do more? I don’t have any clear cut answers myself, but couldn’t we give our farmers and other landowners more incentives to look after them?

To me the risk is that people will become indifferent to the countryside if they can’t get access to it and see what is out there on their back door steps. With no footpaths and trails how can we encourage people to get out and get healthy, how can we get them to appreciate what we have now in the environment?  If I were a first time visitor to the countryside on Monday I would have probably given in and turned back towards home, but in doing so and not perservering like a stubbern trail runner, they would never have got to enjoy the view I got that night (see below).

Anyone have any thoughts? I for one will just keep pushing my way through the brambles where possible on my runs, trying to keep an open path for all but even I can’t run the length of all these trails..hmm…now there’s an idea for a future running project…(joke, I’m doing an Ultra but 140,000 miles is a bit beyond me!). I’ll also have to brush up on my compass using skills just in case I come across another lost path/byway! Happy trails everyone!


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