23 February 2021

Footpaths to Health 

 By Richard Vann

Loughborough and North West Leicestershire Green Party press officer.


People are walking more.

Since March 2020 I have been out and about in the National Forest, and month by month I have noticed other people are walking more.

Most are like me, and do less than 3 miles. We are not as serious as Ramblers. We do not make it a full day or even a half day expedition. More like a one hour stroll. 

So what’s really going on?

My theory is that there is a piece of you missing if you don’t get in touch with the countryside.  I am lucky in that my town of Ashby de la Zouch is surrounded by farming landscape, and if I lived in a city I would go to the parks nearby. It’s a human need to get in touch with our surroundings.

Imagine a 12 piece jigsaw. If there was a piece missing, the whole thing would look odd. Similarly with walking, if it’s missing, it’s like a part of me is missing.

We could call it a health walk for the simple reason we feel more healthy for taking a walk every day. But it’s not primarily the exercise which does us good. It’s about improving the health of your whole being. And it’s not measurable, but I know intuitively that I’m better off by walking. 

Too much in life is quantified, and if there is no proof a thing has benefit, it’s off the radar. But in the last year we have learned many things of value that are not quantifiable with a scientific instrument or a spreadsheet.

If you go walking in the National Forest you will find places like Robin Wood, Harry’s Wood, Badger Wood, Cloud Wood, Penguin Wood, Alistair Wood, Jaguar Wood, Woodcote Wood, and Daniel Hayes Wood. Also visitor centres and parks like Hicks Lodge, Calke Abbey, Bradgate Park, and Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Wood. These are places where there are many footpaths to explore. But there is a problem.

Traditional footpaths were for travelling from town to town and village to village. So no circular walks, as I want for my leisure walks. My campaign is for more circular walks of up to 5 miles. Some could easily be created by making joining footpaths, or footpaths behind hedges to avoid going along a road. Traffic is unsafe to walkers. 

What have I done in the way of campaigning? Have contacted Leicestershire County Council about a blocked footpath near Barrow on Soar. It may be opened up soon. Success! I have also written to the National Farmers’ Union and BBC’s Country File, but with no response. I have written to my MP and got a wordy reply from a minister, but no action as yet. So what next?

Well, here’s the important point – patience, because it takes a long time to change the land as a lot of organisations are involved.  But I am hopeful, because people want better access to the countryside. The pandemic may have helped because people don’t like being constrained. 

So when we are free again, we will value more the land we inhabit, and go out more, and insist on more footpaths and better footpaths.