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Long Distance Footpaths in the UK

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Britain is blessed with a rich variety of long distance footpaths, and the key to a really successful one is that it should not start from anywhere people might want to start from, and even more importantly, should end up somewhere no-one would ever want to go.

Also, the route taken should be the most circuitous possible (a sort of anti-straight line; the longest distance between two points) and whenever possible it should follow the most inaccessible, uncomfortable, and exhausting tracks. For these reasons, routes following the coastline (like the Pembrokeshire Coast Path) or mountain peaks (like the Pennine Way) are particular favourites.

Occasionally, a long distance footpath will follow an extremely useful route, but only if the route was extremely useful several centuries ago. An example is the North Downs Way, a pathway starting for no discernible reason at the commuter town of Farnham and ending up at the dreary ferry port of Dover, possibly the ugliest seaside town in the south of England.

However, when Chaucer's pilgrims were 'on the road', the old Pilgrims' Way from Winchester to Canterbury would have been one of the most popular in England. So when, in the 1970s, no one was remotely interested in visiting the shrine of Thomas à Becket, it was decided to build a path following much of the same route, but to put it on the muddy farm tracks along the windswept downs, instead of the sheltered valleys lined with warm pubs.

We should be especially proud of pathways that are destroying the small patches of unspoiled countryside left in our small island. In many areas, local authorities have been able to dump concrete slabs on bits of hillside too remote even for green-field, out-of-town shopping centres.

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