For the love of footpaths
Pinehurst II, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 7BF Telephone 01252 555072 www.countrylife.co.uk
IS there any more inviting sight than the little wooden footpath sign that beckons the curious walker over a stile, across a meadow, along the clifftop, through woodland rustling with deer and birds and down a shady lane that could lead who knows where? Intrigued and committed, the walker presses on. And then—such disillusion!—a suddenly impenetrable thicket or uncompromising barbed-wire fence looms before them.
The Ramblers has carried out an assiduous survey of some 140,000 miles of footpaths in England and Wales and has found many that doom the walker to such disappointment (Town & Country, page 24). Rightly, the charity accepts that clearing paths, some of which are never used at all and others by only a handful of weekend walkers and their dogs, competes with many more pressing issues for localauthority funding. There are also many conscientious, long-suffering landowners, and active parish councils, who keep paths commendably immaculate.
The footpath is no longer crucial to travel, but it is a delightful feature without which the countryside, and our health, would be much the poorer. The signposts are clear: if we are not to lose them, we must use them and everyone must share in their care.
RSPCA in the dock
LAST week, MPS recommended the 192-year-old RSPCA be stripped of its prosecuting powers, a move that elicited protest from fellow animal charities and approval from rural bodies (Town & Country, page 27).
Obviously it’s an anomaly that, somehow, a charity has become the only organisation allowed to act as a prosecutor in animal-welfare cases—especially one that has taken two years to put in place official recommendations about transparency and that has, due to expenditure on sometimes over-zealous legal cases, had to cut crucial staff and rescue centres—but the howls of disapproval should centre more on why it’s taken Government nearly 200 years to get around to making local authorities take responsibility. Penalties for animal cruelty in England are among the lowest in Europe, shameful for a country of so-called animal lovers in which about one in two households owns a pet.
Luxury is… a reliable, punctual, diligent builder who cares as much about our homes as we do. No one minds dusty boots and digestive-biscuit devouring— it’s the Invisible Man and the Artful Bodger who are the stuff of renovation nightmares. Our feature (page 48) about the most renowned companies, some of which have been in existence for centuries, addresses the fact that, as a new generation is increasingly drawn to more comfortable, but less satisfying careers, the essential skills required in the sector have never been more thin on the ground. Schools should be promoting building as a career—you’re guaranteed a job for life, as illustrated by the very best of these old family firms.