We’re back in the land of public footpaths, that ancient, glorious tradition of the United Kingdom.
In between visits with Clive’s father and family, we’ve walked on several Suffolk footpaths. They’re open to everyone, and as I wrote in ‘Walking in Suffolk, Part 1: England’s Rural Countryside,’ even Madonna couldn’t stop people from using the public footpath on her property.
Public footpaths seem to be everywhere. As I spend more and more time with Clive in his country of origin, I realise that whether we’re in coastal Suffolk, where he grew up, or travelling farther afield, to the Peak Districk, the Cotswolds, Scotland, or tomorrow to Wales, wherever we go there are footpaths and walks nearby.
Even as I’m getting more and more used to the idea, and reality, of public footpaths, I don’t think there will ever come a time when I take them for granted. My American upbringing still has me feeling I’m trespassing when we walk beside a farmer’s driveway or I find myself sharing a field with cows. (I’m also not sure there will ever come a time when I’m comfortable with big animals up close and no fence between us. Clive says the cows are not interested in us.) As for trespassing, he still reassures me, “Don’t worry. It’s a public footpath.”
Clive’s cousins were amused years ago on their first trip to the U.S., when they asked for walking directions. “They told us how to get there on the road.”
Well, of course! What other way is there? In the U.S., private property is sacred (most beaches are private, too, unlike those in England and Australia, as I described in ‘Hot Summer Day at Manly Beach‘). Walking across someone’s property is often considered trespassing, and in many parts of the country, if you take that risk you could be threatened with a gun or (God forbid) actually shot.
Not so in England. Here you are left alone, to follow the footpath where it leads. On one walk this trip, we encountered a large barking dog who ran toward us as his owner called out (as they always seem to do, when their dogs are panting and sniffing and drooling all over), “He’s OK.” I was nervous but we continued walking and the dog stayed with his owner.
This year I saw my first gorse, a word I’d seen and read about for years, on a regenerating heathland near Martlesham Creek. We’ve also walked through several fields of rapeseed, a flowering member of the mustard family used to make animal feed and vegetable oil.
After suburban New Jersey, Paris, and London, it’s been a lovely change to spend time in this beautiful English countryside. We’re off to Wales tomorrow and, Internet connection permitting, I’ll post more about our travels from there.