North East faces losing 2,000 miles of historic footpaths - here's what you can do to help Northumbria Ramblers save them

More than 2,000 miles of historic footpaths across the North East could ‘disappear’ if action is not taken.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 12:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 12:07 pm
Stock image as Ramblers try to save as many of our historic rights of way as possible

Many routes across the region have been in use almost continually for hundreds of years, if not thousands in some cases, with many providing links to the past and an insight into the right history of the region through the ages.

But a catalogue of admin errors and oversights mean the right to use them could soon be lost forever, prompting campaigners to launch a new drive to see them registered before it is too late.

“[In the North East] there’s a lot of old paths linked to old pits and other workplaces,” said Neil Allender, of the Northumbria Ramblers.

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“If you look at 19th Century maps there’s old paths which go to old pits, especially in places like Hexhamshire, but as the pits closed no one had reason to walk them anymore.

“After the Second World War, local authorities were supposed to add them to their maps, but while some parishes were very good, others were more lackadaisical.”

According to the Ramblers, whose ‘Don’t Lose Your Way’ campaign has mapped more than 49,000 miles of paths across the country at risk of being lost if they are not registered and added to the ‘definitive map’ every English council is supposed to maintain.

The Government has set a deadline of 2026 for these to be added to official records.

Simply identifying what appears to be a footpath is not enough however for a route to gain official recognition – documentary evidence also has to be provided demonstrating its former use, including historic records and maps, but also photographs and diaries.

In the North East, Northumberland accounts for 1,117 miles of unofficial footpath, followed by 537 in County Durham and 131 in Tyne and Wear.

This is dwarfed by the issues faced in other regions such as the South West, however, where Devon alone is estimated to have almost 3,000 miles worth of ‘lost paths’.

Allender added: “A lot of these paths have been walked for hundreds of years or more – we could lose those historic links to the past.

“If you couldn’t afford a horse, you walked, which was pretty much everyone.

“The only comfort is we’re not as bad as some parts of the south.

“But it is a problem and we’re going to lose a lot of footpaths unless we can make the case these footpaths were these before and were only left off the maps by mistake.”

Visit the Ramblers’ website at www.ramblers.org.uk to find out more about the campaign.

Area – Miles at risk:

Northumberland – 1,117

Newcastle – 20

North Tyneside – 23

Gateshead – 39

South Tyneside – 11

Sunderland – 38

County Durham – 537

Hartlepool – 28

Darlington – 45

Stockton – 80

Middlesbrough – 17

Redcar & Cleveland – 71

Total – 2,026