The TV show, The Only Way is Essex, has portrayed a caricature of Essex that obscures some of the great things about this county. For me, it was a pleasant surprise to discover the beauty of the countryside when my husband and I first decided to look for a house that was in the country but commutable to London (where we both work). As I mentioned in my first blog post, Let’s Get Ready to Ramble, I have loved exploring the public rights of way around where I live, including parts of the 81 mile, 130 km footpath called the Essex Way. However, the Essex Way is not the ‘only way’ in Essex. Every time I go out walking or running and can pass through fields and woods along marked trails and look out across the beautiful countryside I feel incredibly grateful but, being a lawyer, it made me wonder why and how I am lucky enough to have this right and who is responsible for maintaining all these routes?
According to The Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management, a public right of way “is not, strictly speaking, a path, but a right possessed by the public, to pass along linear routes over land at all times. Although the land may be owned by a private individual, the public have a legal right across that land along a specific route. The mode of transport allowed differs according to what type of public right of way it is. Public rights of way are all highways in law, but the term ‘public rights of way’ is generally used to cover more minor highways.”
Having read into it a bit more, there is quite a bit of relevant legislation that may not make for particularly exciting reading but deals with creation, maintenance and stopping up.
In Essex, according to the essexhighways.org website, there are over 6000km of public rights of way comprising footpaths, bridleways and byways and the statutory duty to maintain and protect the network of public rights of way sits with Essex County Council. I grew up in Northern Ireland which has comparatively few public rights of way (as access to land in Northern Ireland is more restricted than other parts of the UK) and so I don't think I will ever take it for granted or feel blasé about how many different routes I have to follow and explore. I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful country where so much land is accessible and gives us so many opportunities to #GetOutside.