Tom Franklin: A Message from Ramblers
Cornwall is famous to walkers for its South West Coast Path National Trail, but it’s also crisscrossed by 4,388km/2,728 miles of footpaths – some of the densest in the country. This ought to be a source of pride for its council, yet the lack of funding for rights of way, coupled with the introduction of a notoriously unworkable maintenance prioritisation scheme – grading paths as either gold, silver or bronze – has resulted in many Cornish paths falling into disrepair.
The Ramblers’ Dead End for Walking? campaign was launched recently, to warn of the risks to public paths from threatened cuts in local authority spending, and to highlight 19 local authorities where there are proposed budget cuts or backlogs in clearing paths. On the day of the launch, I walked two footpaths with Graham Ronan and Jack Burling – the chair and footpath secretary of Cornwall Ramblers respectively – and council rights of way staff, and I was stunned by what I saw. On one in St Issey (which wasn’t signposted) we found our way obstructed by dumped rubbish, over which we had to clamber, and we encountered several clear attempts to unofficially divert or block the footpath. Any casual walker would have given up in the first five minutes.
The other, selected at random in St Ervan, was even worse: there was no route through at all. Barbed wire and thicket had to be hacked through with scythes and secateurs. It’s such a shame that Cornish paths are in this state. We were walking through some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain, but on some of the worst footpaths. I was so impressed with the council staff I met that day, and there’s some great co-operation taking place between the council and the Ramblers. But without more resources, they are fighting a losing battle.
I’ve written to all Cornish councillors telling them about my experience, and I’ve booked a return visit in February to walk the same paths. I hope to see big improvements. In the meantime, the Ramblers will be campaigning up and down the country to try to save our precious path network.