Fight to save more than 1,000 miles of Norfolk footpaths
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
More than 1,000 miles of Norfolk footpaths could be lost for ever unless they are logged with the county council.
Across England and Wales walkers are racing against time to register almost 50,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways before they disappear from the official maps.
In Norfolk the 1,199 miles of potential public rights of way which could be lost include:
A section of the long distance Nar Valley Way across the common at Newton by Castle Acre.
A lane in Forncett End near Long Stratton which joins two rights of way.
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A path which starts beside Marriotts Way at Blackwater, Great Witchingham and runs towards Reepham.
A path between Bodham Common and Bodham Woods near Sheringham.
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In a year in which many people have treasured being able to safely get out into green open spaces near their homes, volunteer ‘citizen geographers’ scoured maps to find paths which are believed to have once been rights of way but were not recorded on official maps created by local councils in the 1950s.
National walkers group The Ramblers is leading the way to reclaim the most significant paths with its Don't Lose Your Way campaign. It has identified 49,138 miles of paths across England and Wales which are believed to have been rights of way but are now missing from the definitive maps. Its members are now racing to save these for the nation as they must be registered with the local authority, complete with historical evidence, by New Year’s Day 2026 - a date set in 2000 by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Each application must be supported by historical evidence – which can be difficult and time-consuming to gather.
The Ramblers’ priority is to register the most useful paths, such as those which join up surviving rights of ways, recreate circular walks, connect people to green spaces and the countryside or improve the national network of footpaths and bridleways by providing routes in areas which lack off-road walking. Some of these paths are still regularly used, others have become impassable.
Jack Cornish, of the Ramblers said: “The amazing response we had from the public to help us search for missing rights of way just goes to show what an important place our path network holds in the hearts of so many of us. By getting the most useful of these paths back on the map, we will not only be saving a little bit of our history, we’ll also be able to improve the existing network, creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors.”
In just six weeks the volunteers identified 1,199 miles of historic paths across Norfolk which they believe are lost rights of way. With so much development since the 1950s many cannot be reclaimed as the land has been built over. Some might have been legally withdrawn and others will no longer be viable. Ian Mitchell who is the footpaths coordinator for Norfolk Ramblers is working his way through scores of the county’s lost paths. He said parish councils would have helped identify which to include on the official 1950s map but some were missed - from short sections where the path is registered as stopping short of a junction to much longer sections of footpath or bridleway. He said one path he had been working on at Newton by Castle Acre was used as part of the Nar Valley Way but while the path to the north of Mill Common was registered as a right of way ‘for some reason they didn’t carry it down across the common.’
In Forncett End, near Long Stratton, he said that although West Road is called a road, it is not an officially adopted road, or registered as a right of way, although it runs between two registered footpaths. At Great Witchingham historic documents show the original right of way had to be re-routed when the railway was built. At Alburgh in the Waveney valley he said the parish council had already claimed two paths which had been included on 19th century maps and he is working on another, known as Back Lane, which runs along the parish boundary with Denton.
The Open Spaces Society is another organisation working to identify and register paths which could be lost. Norfolk member Ian Withham has researched several routes and submitted his evidence to Norfolk County Council. These include Tollers Lane between Garvestone and Whinburgh near Dereham, Yarmouth Loke at Paston near North Walsham, Mill Lane at Threehammer Common near Neatishead, a footpath between Bodham Common and Bodham Woods near Sheringham and Dodman’s Lane at Horningtoft near Fakenham.
Another volunteer pathfinder got involved when he discovered the lane beside his home near Swaffham was not registered. His research involves scouring 18th and 19th century maps. Clues to look out for on the ground include worn stone stiles which might be forgotten entrances to footpaths, parallel hedges close together, paths hollowed out by generations of use, and old stone surfaces across fields or through streams.
Now that the paths have been identified more volunteers will be needed to visit the Records Office to find evidence that they were once rights of way. For details of how to help save Norfolk’s lost rights of way contact email@example.com
For more details of Don't Lose Your Way visit ramblers.org.uk