2026 - Don't Lose Your Way
If we don’t take action now, you may see a lot more signs like this in the future:There is a well-known maxim which underpins rights of way law: “once a highway, always a highway”. What this means is that if the public’s right of way over a path was established at some time in the past and has not been legally extinguished, that right still exists even if the path is not shown on modern maps and has not been used for many years. But from 2026 onwards, the maxim will no longer hold true. Unless action is taken before 31 December 2025 to “claim” the historic right of way over the path, it will be lost for ever. There are hundreds if not thousands of these paths throughout the country. There are bound to be plenty of them in Wiltshire. Not all of them will be useful, but many will fill important gaps in the network, avoiding the need to walk on a busy road or enabling existing “dead end” paths to be brought back into use. We need to do a lot of historical research to identify these paths and find the evidence which would enable us to claim them, so that they can be added to the definitive map and not be lost. Many other Ramblers Areas are well ahead of us in this process; some already have up to 50 paths ready to claim. We now have less than 9 years to go, so we need to get 'DON’T LOSE YOUR WAY' going. We plan to work with other organisations which also have a keen interest in protecting rights of way, such as the British Horse Society. One of the reasons why it is important that Ramblers Wiltshire and Swindon Area carries out this work is that it was a Wiltshire path – Crudwell 26 – that was the subject of a test case that went all the way to the Court of Appeal. In July 2015 the court ruled that when, in the early 19th century, inclosure awards were made by the Inclosure Commissioners, the setting out of a path across land as a public right of way had legal effect as to the status of that path. Crudwell 26 has now been added to the definitive map. Inclosure awards are therefore one of the sources of evidence we need to look for. We will need plenty of volunteers to help us with this task. You do not need any prior knowledge of rights of way law or its history to do this.
We are looking for a range of different interests, skills and experience. Do you like looking at old maps? Are you a local historian?
Have you undertaken research at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, the National Archives at Kew or any other records centre, in order to research your family tree or for any other reason?
Are you a photographer with experience of taking pictures of documents?
Alternatively, can you help us identify the paths we should be investigating? Do you walk on paths which are not marked as rights of way on the OS map?
Are there paths near you which stop for no apparent reason, for example at a parish boundary?
Have you lived in the same area for a long time?
Did you walk paths as a child which no longer exist? If so, please tell us where they are.
Do you know anyone else (whether or not they are a Ramblers member) who falls into any of these categories?
Tim Lewis, Area Footpath Secretary