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What were roads before they were roads?

What were roads before they were roads?

I’ve been really inspired by the Slowways project Their aim is to create a national network of walking routes connecting all of Great Britain’s towns and cities as well as thousands of villages. The idea is to use existing paths, trails and roads to walk or wheel between neighbouring settlements, and potentially combine them to create longer distance routes. Of course, readers of this blog will know this already exists in our footpath network, but you won’t be surprised to find out that not everybody knows this. We need clearly marked, clearly signposted walking routes to help people find these ways. The Slowways project is a great way of raising the profile of our footpaths and highlights where they are missing or where improvements might be beneficial.

If you come across blockages on public rights of ways you need to report them to your local council. Each authority should have a page like this. However, do not expect a response! Local authorities are very much under pressure due to funding reductions and the footpath and bridleway department is one which has suffered greatly.

Here in Wales the Government is making all the right noises. They have an Active Travel Act Currently the local authorities are mapping existing active travel routes and are mapping the gaps. In the valley’s of south Wales there are some amazing traffic free cycle and walkways, but there is much, much more to do in Wales and if you visit your local authority’s plan you’ll find far too many gaps.

On the other hand roads are subject to minimum standards in law. They have to be maintained to a set standard, signed to a set standard and marked to a set standard. There aren’t any charities working hard to ‘save our roads’. Yet, what were roads before they were roads?

Modern rural roads can be hostile places for walkers, cyclists and horseriders

The work of the Slowways project is required because the easiest walking route between any two places has been tarmacked and colonised by motor vehicles (driven by us). Our roads have become very hostile places for anyone on foot, on a bike or on a horse. It is this which is wrong. Why should the walker or cyclist have to take to the long way round just because we’ve taken the best route and given it over to motor vehicles? And anyway when did we accede the right of way to motor vehicles, or was it just bullied away from us? These highways were walked for, in some cases, thousands of years before cars. They have, at least, been inexistence for hundreds of years. Horse and foot traffic established these routes and forced them into being. Many were tarmacked in the early twentieth century not just for the few cars that were around at the time, but for cyclists. It is only in the late 20th Century maybe the 1970’s onwards, the last 50 years when most people have been able to switch to motor vehicles. Busses have been neglected, railways closed and footpaths ignored. We now drive everywhere. Yet these routes were not always the sole preserve of motor traffic, it is a tragedy that they have been lost to pedestrians and made inhospitable for cyclists and horse riders.

We need to reclaim these spaces. We need safe walking routes between settlements that take the old established route. We need to get rid of motor vehicles. It’s not going happen is it! Could we move to better co-existence? Could we make all country roads single file and create a safe space for walking, cycling or riding on? I doubt it very much. Should we build a cycle route alongside very road? As we are pushed towards electric cars it seems the demands of traffic will always hold supremacy over foot, bike and horse travel. Maybe this is the way, but I for one think it’s a shame, but what should we do?

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