You might assume given that as Wordsworth wrote his lovely Daffodils poem in 1804, that the open spaces of the Lake District beloved by a generation of romantic poets were available to all visitors and free as air.

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee: —
A poet could not but be gay
In such a laughing company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils

This in fact was not always the case; land was usually privately and increasingly enclosed from Elizabethan times onwards.   Footpaths themselves have an ancient history but they carried no force of law only force of custom.   As the nineteenth century wore on and mobility allowed movement from hemmed in cities to country via the new train network, ordinary people began to press for access to our beautiful places.   When the USA opened its first National Park, Yellowstone, in 1872 the calls louder.   Of course, our country is much more crowded and all of the proposed areas had people within them and were privately owned.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park

Pressure came early to the poetry-lovers favourite, the Lake District.   The problem was, and still is, that pretty locations are also popular places to build houses as profitable holiday rentals, picturesque retirement accommodation or second-homes for city dwellers.   The writer Beatrix Potter was one of those instrumental in preserving this region by simply buying land and giving it to the new formed National Trust, an organisation dedicated to the preservation of British heritage.   However, this did not preserve the whole region.   Pressure continued to mount both for protection and access to certain areas.  These two contradictory aims are an endless point of discussion.

South Downs

The earliest national parks formed from legislation in 1949.   Our National Parks are somewhat different than those in many other countries, in that, people still live and work within them.   The parks have strict planning laws and have enshrined a right to roam in uncultivated areas from their earliest existence.   Much of the land actually belongs in private hands but with restriction on use and promotion of traditional ways of life.  Our parks are very distinct from each other, even within our small crowded country due to our odd contrary weather and varying geology.

The Broads

National parks are popular and vital places to enjoy the countryside but most people also want to walk near home.

In 1931, a Ramblers organisation was formed out of a left-wing workers organisation but its popularity soon broke those bounds.   In 1932, some more radical members of the fledgling group took part in the famous Kinder Trespass in which a scuffle broke out with gamekeepers leading to five arrests.

The trespassers demanded access to large tracts of open land, often reserved for the occasional hunting pastimes of the rich.   For Scotland, the picture was already much bleaker because of the Highland Clearances and that heart-breaking subject really deserves a study of its own.   In England, the workers’ organisation formed into the Ramblers’ Association that organises walks across the UK and acts as a pressure group protecting our dwindling countryside.   The Ramblers still follow the ancient tradition of `beating the bounds’ and try to walk all the legal footpaths in their area at least once a year to establish use and keep them open.  The general problem with access is ongoing and the `Right to Roam’ in the UK as a whole was not established in the year 2000.

I hope you get to enjoy the British countryside because your stroll will have hard won.