I wonder, now that we no longer have to walk everywhere, whether we have lost the art of what I would like to call "purposeful walking." The age-old footpaths that criss-cross our countryside, the lanes, the old drove roads, are now only used by leisure walkers, Most of these paths/roads stretch back well into antiquity and were, in their time, important thoroughfares.
Our local Mill Lane begins at the water mill on the beck-side in our village and follows the course of the beck, roughly, between hedges and stone walls, across fields to Friar Ings Farm. And in the name of the farm lies the clue to the lane's origins, for it was the main thoroughfare for the monks from nearby Jervaulx Abbey who, in The Middle Ages, trecked along its length with their flocks of sheep, their corn to be milled, their other livestock.
All over the British Isles there are footpaths and lanes which would once have been seen as the main roads of the day. These often still have names like Gypsy Lane, Smuggler's Lane, Beggar's Lane; we have one in our village called Hobthrush (I think that is some kind of witch) Lane. Along the side of it are the foundations of a Medieval House.
Up to the last century most people walked everywhere. On April 7th 1870 Francis Kilvert, the curate of Clyro (Kilvert's Diary) wrote:
"I had the satisfaction of managing to walk from Hay to Clyro without meeting a single person - I have such a liking for a deserted road." In those days Kilvert had three choices if he wanted to get from Hay to Clyro - he could ride his pony, take a stage coach or walk.
My father, who was born in 1896, took his first job in a chemist's shop in Lincoln at the age of 14. Lincoln was eleven miles away from where he lived, or eight miles by footpath, so there was no contest - he walked the footpath each morning and back at night until he saved up enough money to buy himself a bicycle. Then he rode the same footpath to work each day.
In my own childhood in the forties we always walked everywhere. There were only two cars in our Lincolnshire village - one belonged to the doctor and the other to the vicar. The vicar drove so slowly that one morning my brother overtook the vicar's car on his bicycle!
Ronald Blythe in "Field Work" (pub. Black Dog Books) says that until quite recently people's existence was controlled by footpaths. He calls John Clare, the country poet, "the genius of the footpath."
In fact until the last century tramping for miles was commonplace. He speaks of Mrs Hazlitt who hiked from Edinburgh to Glasgow daily during the course of her controversial divorce. And what did people do whilst they were walking? Well I think they looked at the countryside around them. Most country people in those days were amateur naturalists, noting the birds, the wild flowers, the butterflies - although most of them had not the wherewithal to write down their findings.
Wordsworth wrote much of his poetry while treading country footpaths. Gustav Holst would walk from St Paul's Girls' School home to Cheltenham so that he could compose in his mind along the way. Langland wrote much of Piers Plowman walking regularly from London to Malvern.
Now we walk these paths when out for a stroll and often meet noone (particularly once we get a hundred yards from a Car Park!), but years ago there would be people laying hedges. ditching, working the fields; there would be children playing, courting couples, families out walking - because that is what they did. These ancient green ways were once busy thoroughfares. Now we rush from A to B by car, by the shortest possible route. In days gone by people had no option but to walk and that made the pace of life so much slower (and better for it??)
## "we can work it out while walking"
The photograph shows a marker post on the footpath across Coverdale (necessary when there was a heavy snowfall).