Saturday, June 23, 2012

Phantom footpaths

Harri battles his way across a Newport footpath
One of the best things about living in Newport’s prettiest outpost is being able to leave our garden and be in the countryside within minutes.

There are definitely some places well worth seeing in our immediate vicinity – the fire-damaged but still haunting Ruperra Castle, Craig Ruperra’s stunning 360 degree vistas, the beautiful Rhymney Valley and (Harri’s favourite) Mynydd Machen, to name a few.

Newport council is doing its best to promote the countryside around the city with its Let’s Walk Newport pack – ten walks ranging from 2.8 miles to 8.7 miles. To (mis)quote Naomi Campbell, Harri and I don’t generally get out of bed for anything under ten miles, but there’s a certain appeal to exploring the countryside on your doorstep.

Factor in high petrol costs and it makes perfect sense to hike local . . . until you try to find some of Newport’s footpaths. In theory, they exist – at least Let’s Walk Newport and our Ordnance Survey maps suggest so – but locating them on the ground is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Blocked footpaths are the bane of a hiker’s life. In popular hiking areas, footpaths are walked sufficiently often to keep brambles, nettles and other plant life at manageable levels, but Newport, it seems, just isn’t particularly popular with outdoor types.

Last week, we really had to battle to stay upright in Pen-y-lan as we struggled through a huge field of overgrown rape. The plants weren’t just growing across the footpath, they’d been planted on the footpath. Accidental or what?

I'm a hiker, get me out of here!
We’ve had similar experiences trying to circumnavigate a restaurant/garage in the Bassaleg area (no prizes for guessing which one). The footpath has been legally diverted but the new route is so overgrown with nettles that it’s virtually impassible (quick tip: if you do get stung by nettles, do not, repeat DO NOT, scratch your skin – the pain rapidly diminishes if ignored).

We’re not unsympathetic to the plight of those who have inherited or bought up great swathes of Wales’ countryside, mountains and coastal areas, of course we’re not. We realise that they want their birthright or hard-won gains protected from the pitter-patter of hikers’ feet. We understand how having walkers peering over the wall into their palatial homes and landscaped gardens can be – well, perhaps a little unnerving at times. After all, what's the point of money if you can't buy yourself a bit of privacy, a sizeable slice of the countryside?

It’s just that, as law-abiding citizens, we like to see other people operating within the law too. Public footpaths, as depicted on maps, are part of the Queen’s highway, and if landowners don’t understand what that means, I’ll keep it simple. Hikers have a legal right to walk across a footpath on your land – you have a legal duty to ensure we can find them!

Don’t even start me on bulls. A future post, maybe.

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