The reason we have such winding and erratic roads is that (those built by the Romans excepted) they evolved from the routes taken by people with very specific needs about where they needed to go, following the detours they had to make to avoid obstacles, whether man-made or natural. Most roads in America don’t suffer from that historically evolved randomness because they were able to start from scratch in a modern transport environment. Hence the efficient, if less quaint, grid system in New York, say, as opposed to the ancient labyrinthine meanderings in London.
Local footpaths evolved in this way too. Pedestrians (and most people were on foot when the paths appeared) found the shortest practical way to walk for their provisions, to attend church or school, to take their cattle to market. The original purposes of many footpaths have long been forgotten. Certainly very few are actually essential to daily commerce or human interaction any more.
So we have a network of footpaths understandably beloved by those of a rambling disposition, by walkers with dogs or those in search of a post prandial family country stroll. The right to roam is important and cherished, and rightly so, but many footpaths evolved in places where their existence is not only anachronistic or bizarre, but unhelpful. Ask any farmer how he views the footpath that marches proudly across the centre of a meadow in which his sheep are lambing and you will see what I mean. It strikes me that a little flexibility might help. As the law stands, farmers and rural homeowners have no legal right even to request that rights of way be altered. The Deregulation Bill which will receive its third reading in the House of Lords next week may, if enacted, allow a little more flexibility and not before time.
We have dogs at Baker Towers. We take them for walks in the farmland and woods around our home and greatly appreciate the ability to walk in the local countryside. But in many cases, small changes of route could make life much easier for farmers and indeed some private home owners whose land is often bisected by a footpath that was necessary 200 years ago but difficult to justify in its present position today.
There is no reason why common sense should not prevail without endangering the precious right to roam enjoyed by us all.