Last month (June) a customer followed our walk in Bath and the surrounding area, which is at the very limits of the Cotswold region, and sent me a very nice letter saying how enjoyable it had all been but that there were a couple of places where the route was unclear – cue for us to go and check it out. Bath is a world-renowned city, celebrated, among other things, for its tiers of elegant Georgian terraces and for its Roman baths. Nearby are some exceptional villages and small towns and our walking route passes through the best of them, including Bradford-on-Avon, Lacock and Castle Combe, each imbued with its own charm. The area is not as busy as some and therefore the walking here is exceptional not only for its beauty but for its tranquility. Can one ever get lost in such an area? Not for long, but features change, paths are occasionally diverted and the weather can make an appreciable difference to the landscape. Unseasonable weather can change the aspect of the path – perhaps it gets obscured by grass that is longer than usual, for example. Or the path, which crosses a field, has been overlooked by the farmer and so is covered by a tall and uninviting crop. What to do? The first thing is to trust the map – if a map says there is a footpath, there is a footpath, and the footpaths are enshrined in law. The route notes are obviously important but if they maintain there is a stile when there is no stile, it may be that field boundaries have changed, a fence removed or something of that kind. It does not mean that you have taken a wrong turning But when you are walking on unfamiliar territory, it is of course unnerving when what you see in front of you appears not to correspond to what is being asked of you, especially if you come from a country where the notion of walking across private land is an alien one.
Anyway, we went to check out this one section, which had presented some difficulty. And, yes, the features mentioned in the notes had indeed changed – a stile had gone, the crop was now cut, a bridge had disappeared and replaced with a different structure. The notes have been corrected and the next person to walk the route will have no trouble. The joy of walking in England is precisely that it is permissible to go into the very heart of the countryside, and countryside is, naturally, changeable. It is impossible to keep an eye on the many miles of footpath we use without the help given us by our customers, for which we are very grateful.