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Private Property versus the Right to Roam

Running is one of my favourite ways to simultaneously get fit, think about stuff, forget about stuff, and enjoy the outdoors. I think all of us reading this probably feel the same, even if you prefer to substitute the word hike, walk, climb or scramble for ‘run’!
Being exiled in the flatlands of southeast England means I seek out woodland as my daily replacement for hills and mountains. There is a small wood only half a mile from where I live. I have run through it hundreds of times. I use it as my barometer to the year for the way it shows me the seasons that are only too easy to forget living in an air-conditioned, urban world. In winter the trees are cold skeletons, muffled by silence. Then just when I think I cannot take the British gloom any longer, spring arrives, and my wood is dusted with green buds and bursts with birdsong. By summer running in the woods feels like underwater swimming, submerged in a ridiculously fertile cloud of soft green colour. In short, my wood is a wonderful little place.
Now picture this scene. The heroic athlete (OK, me) is galloping effortlessly (ish) through this wood. Sunshine bursts through the canopy. Life is glorious and free. Then suddenly, right across the path, across the entire damn wood, is a brand new,12 foot, solid metal fence, topped with spikes. I slam on the brakes, astonished, in front of it. No entry. Keep out. The path I was on is narrow and winding, but well established. I would bet that people have walked this way for hundreds of years. But no longer. I’m shocked, angry, and sad. The wood is closed off. Private Property, I later learn, after making my way home by another route.
I’ve told this story for two reasons, neither of which today touch on the issues of private property, the right to roam, or the CRoW Act. First of all, the next time you are in the open expanses of Britain’s uplands, remember how enjoyable that freedom is. We must do all we can to care for it and keep it the way it is. Secondly, I want to remind you to make the most of the 150,000 miles of legal footpaths that we still have the freedom to use across our country. Get out and tread the obscure little paths round where you live. Download the Pathwatch app and report on their condition. Use them or lose them, goes the saying.
Last month I urged you to go somewhere you had never been before, to climb a big mountain far away from home and broaden your horizons of our beautiful land. This month can I suggest you explore far closer to home. Go and climb the biggest hill within five miles of where you live. However mighty or modest that mountain or molehill may be, walk up it and re-appreciate it. Enjoy the view, the open sky, the fresh air. We can and must still seek out wilderness and beauty everywhere, even in our era of 12 foot metal fences.
Finally, don’t forget to start sniffing out the first of the blackberries this month. And the Perseid meteor shower peaks on the 12th and 13th of August this year, so keep your eyes skyward too.

This piece originally appeared in Trail Magazine.

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