Citations about trails in England compiled by Kim Taplin

Selected quotes concerning footpaths from English writers over the last 500 or so years

Note: This page will be updated with more quotes as I select them from The English Path. See bottom of page for the date of the most recent update; the most recently added quotes are not necessarily lumped at the bottom of the page, though.


Kim Taplin is the writer of a book called The English Path. It explores the history of footpaths in England as expressed in centuries of English writing and literature. The 1st edition of which was published in 1979. The 2nd edition has an additional chapter and was published in 2000.  Taplin is the person to credit for compiling the following quotes, all of which are transcribed from her book. I’ve only included the quotes themselves because I want to convey some of the wide breadth of writing about paths and trails, of which these only represent a cross-section of English writings on the subject. I’m afraid I’ve de-contextualized these quotes from the time and place they were written; however, I couldn’t very well reproduce Taplin’s entire book on this website without seriously infringing on copyright laws. All I can do is highly recommend you read this book for yourself to get far more out of these quotes, because the author analyzes them to demonstrate the importance of paths as they have changed with society through the passage of time. They are an important creative resource for artists, but they also speak of history, psychology, politics, economics, cultural values, class divisions, spiritual mores, relationships with each other and with nature, and all other aspects of a community; all of these aspects are woven together. Although the following are all writers from England, a lot of the observations they reveal about paths are likely relevant to trails in other places too.


In the opening chapter Taplin writes: “Before this century all country people except the gentry made their short journeys on foot or on horseback, so that locally paths were as important as roads for a means of communication and in providing mental landscapes. Many people, perhaps the majority, never travelled more than a few miles from home; the paths encompassed their world – a world before television and supermarkets, before so many ugly houses, and, above all, before the motor car. This is not the beginning of an orgy of nostalgia. Many things died with the First World War that were obviously better dead; but that is no reason not to preserve or revive the best from the past. We can rediscover something of a slower, quieter, and more rooted existence by seeking out and exploring the familiar paths of the past. Many of the gifts these paths have to give are still there to be enjoyed, and an understanding of their history and original purpose enhances their value (Taplin: 2000, p. 1-2).


“I want to suggest how early are the origins of what is sometimes thought of as a post-Second World War phenomenon – pressure for access to the countryside from towns.” (Taplin, p. 34)


That was Taplin’s goal in writing her book; part of mine in reproducing some of her extensive quotes is that you, the browser, will reflect on the place trails and paths have in the place where you live, in your society.


Quotes from English writing about paths and walking trails


Roads, lanes, paths. We use them without reflecting how they are some of man’s oldest inscriptions upon the landscape, how they are evidence of the wedding between men and their environment.

                        ----Geoffrey Grigson, Freedom of the Parish, London, 1954, p. 158


We find practically no reference to footpaths (other than footways bordering carriageways) in eighteenth-century highway literature, and the innumerable paths across private land were apparently used by the public without objection.

                                    ----Sidney Webb, The Story of the King’s Highway, 1906


A fresh footpath, a fresh flower, a fresh delight.

                                                ----Richard Jefferies


Everything comes pressing lovingly up to the path.

                                                ----Richard Jefferies, Footpaths, in Nature Near London


A broad green track runs for many a long, long mile across the downs, now following the ridges, now winding past at the foot of a grassy slope, then stretching away through cornfield and fallow…It is distinct from the hard roads of modern construction which at wide intervals cross its course…It is not a farm-track: you may walk for twenty miles along it over the hills; neither is it the king’s highway…The origin of the track goes back into the dimmest antiquity.

                                                ----Richard Jefferies, Wild Life in a Southern County


Everything comes pressing lovingly up to the path.

                                                ----Richard Jefferies, Footpaths, in Nature Near London


The click of the double wicket-gates – double, to keep the other people’s sheep out and the rector’s sheep in – now began to sound more frequently, as the congregation gathered by twos and threes, coming up the various footpaths that led across the fields.

…[One of the characters comments:] “The Ferne folk be moast sure to come up thuck path this sunny day, ‘stead of driving.”

                                                ----Richard Jefferies, Green Ferne Farm, Chapter I


…the wearyful women came homeward from the gleaning and the labour of the field. Their path passed close beneath the great window, and their stooping shadows for a moment shut out the sunshine. Such paths used by the workers, and going right through the grounds of the house, may be found still, where the ancient usage has not yet succumbed to modern privacy, and were once the general custom.

                                                ----Richard Jefferies, Green Ferne Farm, Chapter IX


By the footpath, higher up under the close-cropped hedge, the yarrow flourished, lifting its white flower beside the trodden soil. The heavy boots of the plate-layers walking to and fro to their work on the permanent way brushed against it, and crushed the venturous fibres of the creeping cinquefoil that stretched into the path.

                        ----Richard Jefferies, Hodge and his Masters, Volume I Chapter X


…workmen engaged in the towns, but sleeping several miles out in the villages, can keep a register of the slight indications they observe morning after morning as the cross the fields by footpath to their labour.

                        ----Richard Jefferies, The Amateur Poacher, Chapter IV


The more they are downtrodden the more they flourish.

                                                ----Edward Thomas


A church stands “at the hub of many pathways.

                                                ----Edward Thomas


…it was my beginner’s experience of large-scale map-walking that took us everywhere except the highroads. In the middle of fields which cows and thawing snow had had churned into bog, he paused, clay pipe between his teeth, hazel-stick up-ended under his arm, intent on the map spread open on both hands. Re-folding it, he ploughed across the width of the morass, aware of some completely invisible track.

                                                ----Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas, the Last Four Years, London, 1958, p. 5


[A party of friends of Edward Thomas, having set forth from his cottage, set fire to a notice-board warning off trespassers.]

“May the fumes suffocate Squire Trevor-Battye, arch-enemy of ancient Rights of Way.

                                                ----Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas, the Last Four Years, London, 1958, p. 10


‘I don’t like roads,’ said Morgan Nelly. ‘I likes tow-paths and cattle-droves best.

                                                ----John Cowper Powys


In shady lanes the foxglove bells appear,

And golden spikes the downy mulleins rear;

The enclosure ditch luxuriant mallows hide;

And branchy succory crowds the pathway wide.

                        ----John Scott, Amoebean Eclogues  


There’s something rich and joyful to the mind

To view through close and field those crooked shreds

Of footpaths.

                                                ----John Clare


…home-bred pictures many a one

Green lanes that shut out burning skies

And old crook’d stiles to rest upon;

Above them hangs the maple tree,

Below grass swells a velvet hill,

And little footpaths sweet to see

Go seeking sweeter places still.

----John Clare, The Flitting


There once were lanes in nature’s freedom dropt,

There once were paths that every valley wound –

Inclosure came, and every path was stopt;

Each tyrant fix’d his sign where paths were found,

To hint a trespass now who cross’d the ground:

Justice is made to speak as they command;

The high road now must be each stinted bound

.           ----John Clare, The Village Minstrel


Took a walk in the fields saw an old wood stile taken away from a favourite spot which it had occupied all my life the posts were overgrown with ivy and it seemed so akin to nature and the spot where it stood as tho it had taken it on lease for an undisturbed existence it hurt me to see it was gone for my affections claim a friendship with such things…

            ----John Clare’s Journal, September 1824.


The pent-up artisan, by pleasure led

Along their winding ways, right and glad employs

His sabbath leisure in the freshening air;

The grass, the trees, the sunny sloping sky,

From his week’s prison gives delicious fare.

----from John Clare’s series of sonnets, Footpaths


The weary mower on the meadow path

With wallets on his shoulders rocks along.

                        ----John Clare, The River Gwash


The shepherd goes wi happy stride

Wi morns long shadow by his side

Down the dryd lanes neath blooming may

That once were overshoes in clay.

                        ----John Clare, Shepherd’s Calendar


[A schoolboy “lolls upon each resting stile” in his way to school:]

And sawns wi many an idle stand

Wi bookbag swinging in his hand

And gazes as he passes bye

On everything that meets the eye.


[He sees the “wheat grow green and long,” and lambs, and birds, and he hears:]

…the weeders’ toiling song

Or short note of the changing thrush

Above him in the white thorn bush

That o’er the leaning stile bends low

Loaded wi mockery of snow.


[He leans “O’er the brig rail to view the fish” until he is:]

…cautioned not to stand so high

By rosy milkmaid tripping by.

                        ----John Clare, Shepherd’s Calendar


…the old path where he used to play

At chock and marbles...

                        ----John Clare, Returned Soldier


The stiles we rode upon ‘all-a-cock-horse’,

The mile-a-minute swee

On creaking gate.

                        ----John Clare, Childhood


The Sunday paths, to pleasant places leading,

Are graced by couples linking arm in arm.

                                                ----John Clare, May


One of my worst labours was a journey to a distant village named Maxey to fetch flour once and sometimes twice every week in these journeys I had haunted spots to pass and…the often-heard tales of ghosts and hobgoblins had made me very fearful to pass such places at night.

                                                ----John Clare, The Prose, J.W. & A. Tibble (editors), London, 1951, p. 23


[Timothy Tangs was at one point observed] shortening his way homeward by clambering…where there was no road, and in opposition to express orders that no path was to be made there.”

----Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders, Chapter XXVII


In days bygone – 

Long gone – my father’s mother, who is now

Blest with the blest, would take me out to walk.

At such a time I once enquired of her

How looked the spot when first she settled here.

The answer I remember. ‘Fifty years

Have passed since then, my child, and change has marked

The face of all things. Yonder garden-plots

And orchards were uncultivated slopes

O’ergrown with bramble bushes, furze and thorn:

That road a narrow path shut in by ferns,

Which, almost trees, obscured the passer-by.’

----Thomas Hardy, Domicilium


…Away the folk roam

By the ‘Hart’ and Gray’s Bridge into byways and ‘drongs

Or across the ridged loam;

The younger ones shrilling the lately heard songs,

The old saying, ‘Would we were home.’

----Thomas Hardy, At Casterbridge Fair. “Drongs” are narrow ways.


[Where Fanny waits for Sergeant Troy:] The scene was a public path, bordered on the left hand by a river, behind which rose a high wall. On the right was a tract of land, partly meadow and partly moor, reaching, at its remote verge, to a wide undulating upland.

----Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter III.


[Where Bathsheba first meets Troy is:] “a path through a young plantation of tapering firs,” [where she feels an apprehensive fear, but reassures herself] “by a remembrance that the path was public.”

----Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter XI.


…she had gone for a short walk by a path through the neighbouring cornfields…Oak…took the same path…The wheat was now tall, and the path was narrow; thus the way was quiet a sunken groove between the embowering thicket on either side.

----Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Chapter XXIX.


…they roved along the meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden bridges to the other side, and back again.

----Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Chapter XXXI.


…the irregularities of the path were not visible, and Wildeve occasionally stumbled; whilst Eustacia found it necessary to perform some graceful feats of balancing whenever a small tuft of heather or root of furze protruded itself through the grass of the narrow track and entangled her feet. At these junctures in her progress a hand was invariably stretched forward to steady her.

----Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native, Book IV Chapter III.


She consented to go; and away they went over a stile, to a shrouded footpath suited for the occasion.

----Thomas Hardy, The Distracted Preacher, Chapter III in Wessex Tales.


We had eyes for phantoms then,

And at bridge or stile

On Christmas Eve

Clear beheld those countless ones who had crossed it

Cross again in file:-

Such has ceased longwhile!

----Thomas Hardy, Yuletide in a Younger World


But to-night, while walking weary,

Near me seemed her shade,

Come as ‘twere to upbraid

This my mood in deeming dreary

Scenes that used to please;

And, if she did come to me,

Still solicitous, there may be

Good in going to these.


So, I’ll care to roam to Ridgeway,

Cerne, or Sydling Mill,

Or to Yell’ham Hill,

Blithely bearing Casterbridge-way

As we used to do.

----Thomas Hardy, Old Excursions


Upon a noon I pilgrimed through

A pasture, mile by mile.

----Thomas Hardy, Her Immortality


I went by footpath and by stile

Beyond where bustle ends,

Stayed here a mile and there a mile

And called upon some friends.


On certain ones I had not seen

For years past did I call,

And then on others who had been

The oldest friends of all.


It was the time of midsummer

When they had used to roam;

But now, though tempting was the air,

I found them all at home.


I spoke to one and other of them

By mound and stone and tree

Of things we had done ere days were dim,

But they spoke not to me.

----Thomas Hardy, Paying Calls


My spirit will not haunt the mound

Above my breast

But travel, memory-possessed,

To where my tremulous being found

Life largest, best.


My phantom-footed shape will go

When nightfall grays

Hither and thither along the ways

I and another used to know

In backward days.


And there you’ll find me, if a jot

You still should care

For me, and for my curious air;

If otherwise, then I shall not,

For you, be there.

----Thomas Hardy, My Spirit Will Not Haunt the Mound


The sort of poetry I seek resides in objects Man can’t touch – like England’s grass network of lanes a hundred years ago, but today he can destroy them.

                        ----E.M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy, London, 1951, p. 369


“Here’s the path.” The bank of grass where he had sat was broken by a gap, through which chariots had entered and farm carts entered now. The track, following the ancient track, led straight through the turnips to a similar gap in the second circle, and thence continued, through more turnips, to the central tree.

                        ----E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey Part I, Chapter XIII


“The parks give us delightful green walks, paths through the beautiful woods.”

“If there is right of way for the public.”

“There should be,” said Miss Dale, wondering, and Clara cried: “I chafe at restraint: hedges and palings everywhere! …Of course I can read of this kind of rich English country with pleasure in poetry. But it seems to me to require poetry. What would you say of human beings requiring it?

                        ----George Meredith, The Egoist, Chapter XVI


…my object was, not to see inns and turnpike-roads, but to see the country; to see the farmers at home, and to see the labourers in the fields; and to do this you must go either on foot or on horseback. With a gig you cannot get about amongst bye-lanes and across fields, through bridleways and hunting-gates.

                        ----William Cobbett, Rural Rides, 25th September 1822


“Guard well thy rights, and cease not to pull down

All gates that block thy highway to the town,

Such as that man of Belial, Jacob Sears

Has set in Crawley Lane these thirty years.”

----Wilfred Scawen Blunt, Worth Forest, in Poetical Works, London, 1914, vol. II, p. 31


The stile and footpath leading from the churchyard, across pleasant fields and along shady hedge-rows, according to an immemorial right of way [is one of the] common features of English landscape [which] evince a calm and settled security, and hereditary transmission of homebred virtues and local attachments, that speak deeply and touchingly for the moral character of the nation.

                        ----Washington Irving, Rural Life in England in The Sketch Book


…a race that neglects or despises this primitive gift, that fears the touch of the soil, that has no footpaths, no community of ownership in the land which they imply, that warns off the walker as a trespasser, that knows no way but the highway, the carriage-way, that forgets the stile, the footbridge…is in a fair way to far more serious degeneracy.

----John Burroughs, Exhilerations (sic) of the Road in Winter Sunshine, in The Writings vol. II, London, 1895


This is especially what takes the fancy of the sympathetic stranger; the level, deep-green meadows, studded here and there with a sturdy oak; the denser grassiness of the footpath, the lily-sheeted pool beside which it passes, the rustic stiles...

                                                ----Henry James, In Warwickshire, in English Hours


These by-paths admit the wayfarer into the very heart of rural life, and yet do not burden him with a sense of intrusiveness. He has a right to go withersoever they lead him; for with all their shaded privacy they are as much a property of the public as the dusty high-road itself, and by an even older tenure…An American farmer would plough across any such path…but, here, it is protected by the law, and still more by the sacredness that inevitably springs up, in this soil, along the well-defined footprints of the centuries. Old associations are sure to be fragrant herbs in English nostrils, we pull them up as weeds.

                                    ----Nathaniel Hawthorne, Leamington Spa, in Our Old Home, 1863


…those generous and delightful institutions of Old England – the footpaths, that thread pasture, park, and field, seemingly permeating her whole green world with dusky veins for the circulation of human life. To lose all the picturesque lanes and landscapes which these fieldpaths cross and command, is to lose the great distinctive charm of the country.

----Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John o’Groats,

2nd edition, London, 1864, Ch. 1


The footsteps of a dozen generations have given them the force and sanctity of a popular right…They run through all the prose, poetry, and romance of the rural life of England, permeating the history of green hedges, thatched cottages, morning songs of the lark, moonlight walks, meetings at the style, harvest homes of long ago, and many a romantic narrative of human experience widely read in both hemispheres.

----Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to John o’Groats,

2nd edition, London, 1864, Ch. 2


The coast road, running from village to village, winding much, now under now over the hills, comes close to some of the farms and leaves others at a distance; but all these little human centres are united by a footpath across the fields. It is very pleasant to follow this slight track, this connecting thread…I recall, too, that some social rodents…have a track of that kind leading from village to village, worn by the feet of the little animals in visiting their neighbours. The fields being small you have innumerable stiles to cross…but they do not want climbing, as they are nearly all of that Cornish type made with half a dozen or more large slabs of granite placed gridironwise almost flush with the ground.

----W.H. Hudson, The Land’s End, Chapter III


[Footpaths are] The human rights of way which had been trodden out of the country by generations, like the paths of rabbits in the dead bracken. His fathers and the rabbits had been cast from a common mould, cross-countrymen and dwellers on the land.

----T.H. White, Farewell Victoria, London, 1933, p. 73-74


Of pre-Celtic men, who loved

The earth well enough to draw

Over its tractable surface,

Their property potent lines.

----Shirley Toulson, On Peddlars  Way


I believed that, as I followed their hesitations at the river-crossings, as I climbed where they had climbed, whence they also had seen a wide plain, as I suffered the fatigue they suffered…something of their much keener life would wake again in the blood I drew from them.

            ----Hilaire Belloc, quoted in E. Thomas, A Literary Pilgrim in England, 1928


…a whole procession of travellers with burdens…came straight over the nearer ridge from the one so bluely outlined behind it…They were saving time, if not labour. In a flash of vision he saw how other feet would cut their track arrow-straight towards the city…

            ----William Golding, The Spire, Chapter V


Lastly, there were two subjects, which demanded a good deal of attention and common action, but on which, notwithstanding their importance, we have scarcely time to dwell. I mean the drawing and keeping up of frontiers, and the management of village streets, roads, ways and paths…the scattering of the bits of ground to which people had to find access in the course of their farming rendered this last subject especially momentous.

            ----P. Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, 3rd edition, London, 1920, p. 184-5


In general, it would seem that the villagers relied upon ancient custom to assure them of their rights on and upon the common roads, ways, and paths of the village, and that express formulation of these rights in by-laws, at least in the earlier centuries, was not common. In the sixteenth century there are numerous by-laws on this subject.

----W.O. Ault, English Historical Review vol. 45, 1930, Some Early Village By-Laws


What footpaths are made, and how broad,

Annoyance too much to be borne,

With horse and with cattle what road,

Is made through every man’s corn?

----Thomas Tusser (writing in the 16th century), quoted in Country Life in England, E.W. Martin (editor), London, 1966, p. 71


The law relating to easements was greatly developed in the nineteenth century. The progressive urbanization of the country has had a great deal to do with this; so too has the process of enclosure, which made it necessary to define more closely the reciprocal rights and duties of the owners of separate holdings of lands. In the days of the common fields there was for example no need for many of the rights of way which exist today, for the local population could wander where they wished through the unfenced countryside without causing annoyance or injury, and the modern desire for privacy was hardly known.

.           ----A.W.B. Simpson, Introduction to the History of Land Law, 1961


Your fathers o’er the downs might rove

Where roadless turf was each man’s way;

But you may rarely dare to stray

Beyond the bank’d and narrow drove.

Where they on commons only saw

The worded guidepost’s friendly rail,

Now uncouth boards, with threats of law,

Growl, ‘No road here, but to the jail.’

                        ----William Barnes, The Cost of Improvement


Ah! I do think, as I do tread

Theäse path, wi’elems overhead,

A climen slowly up vrom bridge,

By easy steps to Broadwoak Ridge,

That all theäse roads that we do bruise…

Be works that we’ve a-vound a-wrought

By our vorefathers ceäre an’ thought.

----William Barnes, Our Father’s Works


Their gauzy sheäpes do come an’ glide

By vootways o’ their youthvul pride,

An’ while the trees do stan’ that grow’d

Vor them, or walls or steps they know’d

Do bide in pleäce, they’ll always come

To look upon their e’thly hwome.

Zoo I would always let alwone

The girt wold house o’ mossy stwone:

I woulden pull a wing o’n down,

To meäke their speechless sheädes to frown.

.                       ----William Barnes, The Girt Wold House o’ Mossy Stone


An’ the goocoo wull soon be committed to cage

Vor a trespass in zomebody’s tree.

Vor ‘tis locken up, Thomas, an’ blocken up,

Stranger or brother,

Men mussen come nigh woone another.

                        ----William Barnes, The Leane


We souls on foot, with foot-folk meet:

For we that cannot hope to ride

For ease or pride, have fellowship.

----William Barnes, Fellowship


On Steän-cliff road, ‘ithin the drong,

Up where, as v’ok do pass along,

The turnen stile, a-paīnted white,

Do sheen by day an’ show by night.

Vor always there, as we did goo

To church, thik stile did let us drough,

Wispreaden earms that wheel’d to guide

Us each in turn to tother zide.

An’ vu’st ov all the traīn he took

My wife, wi’ winsome gaīt an’ look;

An’ then zent on my little maid,

A-skippen onward, overja˙’d

To reach ageän the pleäce o’pride,

Her comely mother’s left hanzide.

An’ then, a-wheelen roun’, he took

On me, ‘ithin his third white nook.

An’ in the forth, a sheäkčn wild,

He zent us on our giddy child.

But eesterday he guided slow

My downcast Jenny, vull o’woe,

An’ then my little maīd in black,

A-walken softly on her track;

An’ after he’d a turn’d ageän,

To let me goo along the leäne,

He had noo little bwoy to vill

His last white eärms, an’ they stood still.

                                                ----William Barnes, The Turnstile


And oh! The path at Shelvinghay;

An oak-tree here, an oak-tree there;

With people tripping on their way,

A comely man, a maiden fair,

Or children glad to skip and run

Out home from school with noisy fun.

----William Barnes, Shelvinghay


The beäten path where vo’k do meet

A-comen on vrom vur an’ near; …


How many errands had the veet

That wore en out along so clear!

----William Barnes, The Beaten Path


An’ I do wish a vield a mile,

As she do sweetly chat an’ smile

Along the drove, or at the stile.

----William Barnes, In the Stillness of the Night


An’ as I walk’d, o’Monday night,

Drough Meäd wiDicky overright

The Mill, the Miller, at the stile,

Did stan’ an watch us teäke our stroll,

An’ then, a blabben dousty-poll!

Twold Mother o’t.

----William Barnes, Haven Woone’s Fortune A-Twold


Come up the grove, where softly blow

The winds, o’er dust, and not with snow,

A-sighing through the leafless thorn,

But not o’er flow’rs or eary corn,

Though still the walk is in the lew*

Beside the gapless hedge of yew,

And wind-proof ivy, hanging thick

On oaks beside the tawny rick;

And let us talk an hour away

While softly sinks the dying day.


Now few at evening are the sounds

Of life, on roads or moonpaled grounds;

So low be here our friendly words

While stilled around are men and birds,

Nor startle we the night that dims

The world to men of weary limbs…


For what we tell, and what we own,

Are ours, and dear to us alone.


*’in the lew’ means ‘sheltered.’

----William Barnes, Walk and Talk


JEM: This is a darkish evenen: b’ye afeärd

O’zights? Theäse leän’s a-haunted, I’ve a’heärd.


DICK: …clwose ageän the vootpath that do leäd

Vrom higher parish over withy-meäd

Just overright theäse lwonesome spot,

Jack zeed a girt big house-dog wi’ a collar,

A-stannen down in thik there hollor.

Lo’k there, he zaid, there’s zome girt dog a prowlen


[He takes a stick to the dog, whereupon his arm is supernaturally afflicted]


Twer near a month avore he got it well.


JEM: That wer vor hetten o’n. He should a-let en

Alwone d’ye zee: ‘twer wicked vor to het en.

                                                ----William Barnes, Eclogue: A Ghost


To enclose an open-field parish means in the first place to think of the details of its topography as quite erased from the map. The hostile and mysterious road-system was tamed and made unmysterious by being destroyed…the minute and intricate divisions between lands, strips, furlongs, and fields simply ceased to exist. Everything about the place, in fact, which made it precisely this place, and not that one, was forgotten; the map was drawn blank, except for the village itself, the parish boundary, and perhaps woodland too extensive or too valuable to be cleared, and streams too large to be diverted. The enclosure-commissioner would then mark in the new roads he was to cause to have made to the neighbouring villages, running straight as the contours of the land would allow…The effect of enclosure was of course to destroy the sense of place which the old topography expressed, as it destroyed the topography itself.

----John Barrel, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, Cambridge, 1972, p. 94-6


[Of the situation at Three Miles Cross, near Reading, in the early 19th century:] We have the good fortune to live in an unenclosed parish, and may thank the wise obstinacy of two or three sturdy farmers, and the lucky unpopularity of a ranting madcap lord of the manor, for preserving the delicious green patches, the islets of wilderness amidst cultivation...[Speaking about the meadows, on the other hand,] There is no path through them, not one…They belong to a number of small proprietors, who allow each other access through their respective grounds, from pure kindness of neighbourly feeling; a privilege never abused.

----Mary Russell Mitford, Violeting and the Cowslip Ball in Our Village, London, 1936, pp. 45 & 57.


Now we cross the stile, and walk up the fields to the Shaw. How beautifully green this pasture looks! and how finely the evening sun glances between the boles of that clump of trees, beech, and ash, and aspen! and how sweet the hedgerows are with woodbine and wild scabious…Here is little Dolly Weston…tottering up the path to meet her father. And here is the carroty-polled urchin, George Cooper, returning from work, and singing.

                        ----Mary Russel Mitford, The Shaw in Our Village, London, 1936, p. 263


…any person who may possess only a few acres of land, and finds that the footpath in his neighbourhood either spoils the appearance of his grounds, or deprives them of that privacy he wishes, immediately proceeds barricading the said footpath; puts up a board ‘No thoroughfare’, ‘Shut up by Order of the Justices’, ‘Shut up by Order of the Commissioners for Enclosing Waste Lands’, threatening ‘prosecution for trespass as the law directs’, and such like intimidations, to the labouring peasant or artificer, who by such artifices are forced out of their road.

----H. Clifford (from a letter to the House of Commons Committee on Broad Wheels and Turnpike Roads, written in 1809), quoted in Sidney Webb, English Local Government vol. V.


In the Reformed Parliament, so keen was the momentary feeling in favour of preserving footpaths that an amendment came near being carried…which would have prohibited…ploughing up a public footway. The votes were equal, and the chairman of the committee, George Pryme, proudly relates that he have his casting vote against the proposed clause…

----Sidney Webb, English Local Government vol. V, London, 1906, p. 230ff.


…my idea of moving the path to Langham, of turning it more to the right that it may not cut through the home meadows, I cannot conceive any difficulty. I should not attempt it, if it were to be the means of inconvenience to the Highbury people, but if you call to mind exactly the present line of the path…the only way of proving it, however, will be to turn to our maps.


----Mr. Knightly to his brother in Jane Austen’s Emma; the novel was published in 1816, the year following the passing of the Act as to Closing Footpaths


In almost every instance, the closing of a public way for the benefit of the proprietor is an absolute gift, without consideration, to an individual out of the possessions of the public. The Legislature has invested Justices with large powers, and they are bound to remember that these powers are to be exercised magisterially. They ought never to grant their assistance as a matter of favour. The Act expressly declares, that the alteration thereby authorized, is to be made only when the change will be more beneficial to the public.

----Robert Wellbeloved, On Highways, London, 1829 p. viiiff


“It is a great day for me, sir…I have established a right of way through the centre of old Middleton’s park, slap across it, sir, within a hundred yards of his own front door. What do you think of that? We’ll teach those magnates that they cannot ride roughshod over the rights of the commoners, confound them! And I’ve closed the wood where the Fernworthy folk used to picnic. The infernal people seem to think that there are no rights of property!”

----Mr. Frankland of Lafter Hall in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Ch. XI


There are some fields near Manchester, well known to the inhabitants as “Green Heys Fields,” through which runs a public footpath to a little village about two miles distant. In spite of these fields being flat, and low, nay, in spite of the want of wood (the great and usual recommendation of level tracts of land), there is a charm about them which strikes even the inhabitant of a mountainous district, who sees and feels the effect of contrast in these commonplace but thoroughly rural fields, with the busy, bustling manufacturing town he left but half an hour ago. Here and there an old black and white farm-house, with its rambling out-buildings, speaks of other times and other occupations than those which now absorb the population of the neighbourhood. Here in their seasons may be seen the country business of haymaking, ploughing, etc., which are such pleasant mysteries for townspeople to watch; and here the artisan, deafened with the noise of tongues and engines, may come to listen awhile to the delicious sounds of rural life: the lowing of cattle, the milkmaid’s call, the clatter and cackle of poultry in the old farmyards. You cannot wonder, then, that these fields are popular places of resort at every holiday time; and you would not wonder, if you could see, or I properly describe, the charm of one particular stile, that it should be, on such occasions, a crowded halting-place. Close by it is a deep, clear pond, reflecting in its dark green depths the shadowy trees that bend over it to exclude the sun. The only place where its banks are shelving is on the side next to a rambling farmyard, belonging to one of the old world, gabled, black and white houses I named above, overlooking the field through which the public footpath leads. The porch of this farmhouse is covered by a rose-tree, and the little garden surrounding it is crowded with a medley of old-fashioned herbs and flowers planted long ago, when the garden was the only druggist’s shop within reach, and allowed to grow in scrambling and wild luxuriance – roses, lavender, sage, balm (for tea), rosemary, pinks and wallflowers, onions and jessamine, in the most republican and indiscriminate order. This farm-house and garden are within a hundred yards of the stile of which I spoke, leading from the large pasture field into a smaller one, divided by a hedge of hawthorn and blackthorn; and near this stile, on the further side, there runs a tale that primroses may often be found, and occasionally the blue sweet violet on the grassy hedge bank.

----Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton Ch. 1


[Of Mr. Snagsby:]…in his way, rather a meditative and poetical man; loving to walk in Staple Inn in the summer-time, and to observe how countrified the sparrows and leaves are…[hearing of a time] when Turnstile really was a turnstile, leading slap away into the meadows – [he] gets such a flavour of the country out of this, that he never wants to go there.

----Charles Dickens,  Bleak House Ch. X


And thenceforth, every day, and all day long, he waited at her grave, for her. How many pictures of new journeys over pleasant country, of resting-places under the free broad sky, of rambles in the fields and woods, and paths not often trod…rose up before him.

----Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop Ch. LXXII


[Little Nell and her grandfather leave the town, taking a path through the wood:] …the further they passed into the deep green shade the more they felt that the tranquil mind of God was there, and shed its peace on them.

----Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop Ch. XXIV


[Sissy and Rachael go for a walk in the country beyond Coketown, on Sunday, the Sabbath day:] They walked on across the fields and down the shady lanes, sometimes getting over a fragment of fence so rotten that it dropped at the touch of the foot…They followed paths and tracks, however slight… “It is so still here, Rachael, and the way is so untrodden, that I think we must be the first who have been here all summer.” […After finding the corpse of Stephen, who had suffered a fatal fall down Old Hell Shaft:] They carried him very gently along the fields, and down the lanes, and over the wide landscape; Rachael always holding the hand in hers.

----Charles Dickens, Hard Times Book III, Ch. VI


Mr. Pickwick was joking with the young ladies who wouldn’t come over the stile while he looked, or who, having pretty feet and unexceptionable ankles, preferred standing on the top-rail for five minutes or so, and declaring that they were too frightened to move…Mr. Snodgrass offered Emily far more assistance than the absolute terrors of the stile (although it was full three feet high, and had only a couple of stepping-stones) would seem to require; while one black-eyed young lady in a very nice little pair of boots with fur round the top, was observed to scream very loudly, when Mr. Winkle offered to help her over.

----Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Ch. XXVIII


Sir – Will you kindly help me to direct general attention to the mischief now continually done by new landowners in the closing of our mountain footpaths?...of all the small, mean, and wicked things a landlord can do, shutting his footpath is the nastiest.

----John Ruskin, The Destruction of Footpaths in Arrows of the Chace, originally published in a letter he wrote to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885


In Britain, identifiably, there is a persistent rural-intellectual radicalism: genuinely and actively hostile to industrialism and capitalism; opposed to commercialism and to the exploitation of environment; attached to country ways and country feelings, the literature and the lore...

----Raymond Williams, The Country and the City, Chapter IV, London, 1973



Essex stiles, Kentish miles, Norfolk wiles, many men beguiles


Leg over leg as the dog went to Dover,

When he came to a stile, jump, he went over

----two proverbs from Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of Proverbs in England, Ann Arbor, 1950



Such slim capillaries, such seams and crinkles,

Overflown by clouds, nodded at by thistles,

Sealed by the impress of lost summer girls


And men whose ways were set by dawn and sunfall,

Offer a sense of flowers, endurances.

----Peter Scupham, Public Footpath To, in Prehistories, London, 1975


Both the aunts were very, very stout. And the stiles in the neighbourhood of Stymouth are narrow. The footpath from Piggery Porcombe crosses many fields; a red trodden track between short green grass and daisies. And wherever the footpath crosses over from one field to another field, there is sure to be a stile in the hedge.

            ----Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, p. 23 ff.


The footpaths are filled with a hardy and homely succession of pedestrians, men and women, with their baskets on their arms, containing their butter, eggs, apples, mushrooms, walnuts, nuts, elderberries, blackberries, bundles of herbs, young pigeons, fowls, or whatever happens to be in season. There are boys and girls too, similarly loaded, and also with baskets of birds’ nests in spring, cages of young birds and old birds, baskets of tame rabbits, and bunches of cowslips, primroses, and all kinds of flowers and country productions imaginable.

----William Howitt, The Rural Life of England, 1938, Part II, Chapter I. “Howitt and his wife Mary travelled up and down the country and reported very different conditions in different places…[that] is often forgotten or glossed over by emotive generalisations about the life of the rural poor in the nineteenth century, whether looking at the bright or the dark side” (Taplin, p. 42).


…almost total cessation of walking amongst the wealthy. Since the universal use of carriages, for anything I can see, thousands of people might just as well be born without legs at all…It is true, as some of them observed, that they walk in their own grounds; but what grounds, however beautiful, can compensate for the fresh feeling of the heath and the down; for the dim solemnity of the wild wood; for open breezy hills, the winding lane, the sight of rustic cottages by the forest side, the tinkle of the herd or the sheep bell, and all the wild sounds and aspects of earth and heaven, to be met with only in the free regions of nature?

----William Howitt, The Rural Life of England, 1938, Part I, Chapter VIII.


…to and fro between their homes and the scene of their duties, often through deep and lonesome dells, through deep, o’ershadowed lanes by night; by the cross-road, and over the dreary moor: all places of no good character.

                                                ----William Howitt, The Rural Life of England, Part II Chapter V


It was all cross-country going; over fieldpaths and stiles, through spinneys and past villages…The little brother got stones in his shoes, and all their feet felt tired from the rough travelling and the stiff mud which caked their insteps. The mud was a special source of worry to Laura, because she had put on her best boots without asking permission, and knew she would get into trouble about it when she returned.

                        ----Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, Chapter X


In the days of her childhood the footpath over the meadow had been a hard, well-defined track, much used by men going to their fieldwork, by children going blackberrying, nutting or in search of violets or mushrooms, and, on Sunday evenings, by pairs of sweethearts who preferred the seclusion of fields and copses beyond to the more public pathways. The footpath had led to a farmhouse and a couple of cottages, and, to the dwellers in these, it had been not only the way to church and school and market, but also the first stage in every journey. It had led to London, to Queensland and Canada, to the Army depot and the troopship. Wedding and christening parties had footed it merrily, and at least one funeral had passed that way.

                        ----Flora Thompson, Still Glides the Stream, repr. London etc., 1976, Chapter I


Sometimes the garlanders would forsake the road for stiles and footpaths across buttercup meadows…In the ordinary course, country children of that day seldom went beyond their own parish bounds, and this long trek opened up new country to them.

                        ----Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, Chapter XIII


[Couples in Oxfordshire in the 1880s would] …come out of their respective homes and stroll in the same direction, but not together as yet, for that would have been too brazen. As soon as they were out of sight of the windows, they would link up, arm in arm, and saunter along field-paths between the ripening corn, or stand at stiles, whispering and kissing and making love until the dusk deepened and it was time for the girl to go home, for no respectable girl was supposed to be out after ten.

                        ----Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, Chapter XIII


“They set Totty on the top of one of the large stones forming the true Loamshire stile, and waited for the loiterers...the children see a perpetual drama going on in the hedgerows.

            ----the Poyser family going by fieldpaths to church, in George Eliot, Adam Bede, Book I, Chapter XVIII


[Where Fanny waits for Sergeant Troy:] …soon they got into the fields, where there was a right of way towards Little Treby, now following the course of the river, now crossing towards a lane, and now turning into a cart-track through a plantation.

----George Eliot, Felix Holt, Chapter XXVII


(The aspirations to gentility of the family of the Vicar of Wakefield demanded the carriage for going to church so that they may not arrive) all blowzed and red with walking… (although the Vicar himself is content to walk. When they fail to arrive, the Vicar is obliged to look for them, and walks back) by the horse-way, which was five miles round, tho’ the foot-way was but two.

                                                ----Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, Volume I, Chapter X. Bracketed text is from Taplin, p. 46.


From Friston Church down to the Tiger

Path through the field runs to and fro,

Scored with the feet of happy children

Dead men and women of long ago.

                        ----Andrew Young, Friston Church


His sandy way, deep-worn by hasty showers,

O’erarch’d with oaks that form’d fantastic bowers...

Gave inspiration…

                        ----Robert Bloomfield, describing boy going to work in Spring


The lawns were dry in Euston Park;

(Here Truth inspires my tale)

The lonely footpath, still and dark,

Led over hill and dale…


…a short quick step she hears

Come patting close behind. 

                        ----Robert Bloomfield, Rural Tales, The Works, London, 1864, p. 132-3


(Mrs. Morel watches her son Paul on his way to work:)

He had a small, compact body that looked full of life. She felt, as she saw him trudging over the field, that where he determined to go he would get. She thought of William. He would have leaped the fence instead of going round to the stile.

----D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, Chapter I


(About Mr. Morel:)

He loved the early morning, and the walk across the fields. So he appeared at the pit-top, often with a stalk from the hedge between his teeth, which he chewed all day long to keep his mouth moist, down the mine.

----D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers


(Paul “finding his core of self and purpose again…on a footpath in the dark” (Taplin, p. 52):)

But yet there was his body, his chest, that leaned against the stile, his hands on the wooden bar. They seemed something.

----D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, Chapter XV


He crossed a field that was all yellow with dandelions, on his way to work, and the bath of glowing gold was something at once so sumptuous and so fresh, that he was glad he was away from his shadowy cathedral.

----D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, Chapter VII


At evening, towards six o’clock, Anna very often went across the lane to the stile, and lifted Ursula over into the field, with a ‘Go and meet Daddy.’ Then Brangwen, coming up the steep round of the hill would see before him on the brow of the path a tiny, tottering, wind-blown little mite…When she was a little older, he would see her recklessly climbing over the bars of the stile, in her red pinafore, swinging in peril and tumbling over, picking herself up and flitting towards him.

----D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, Chapter VII


[I am surprised to] pass from between the hedgerows and find quite a bustle on the other side, a great coming and going of school-children upon bypaths.

                        ----Robert Louis Stevenson, Essay of Travel


[George gets directions to the telegraph office, on the way to which he and Sophie discover their future home, the deserted Big House:] “Go to the stile a-top o’ the Barn field,” said Mary, “and look across Pardons to the next spire. It’s directly under. You can’t miss it – not if you keep to the footpath.”


[Later on: Being a benevolent landowner, George gives orders for the foot-bridge to be well-repaired:]

“Make it oak.”


[Dialogue between George and Sophie:]

D’you see that track by Gale Anstey?” They looked down from the edge of the hanger over a cup-like hollow. People by twos and threes in their Sunday best filed slowly along the paths that connected farm to farm.

“I’ve never seen so many people on our land before,” said Sophie. “Why is it?”

“To show us we musn’t shut up their rights of way.”

“Those cow-tracks we’ve been using cross-lots?” said Sophie forcibly.

“Yes. Any one of ‘em would cost us two thousand pounds each in legal expenses to close.”

“But we don’t want to,” she said.

“The whole community would fight if we did.”

“But it’s our land. We can do what we like.”

“It’s not our land. We’ve only paid for it. We belong to it, and it belongs to the people – our people, they call ‘em.”


…within the three main roads that bounded the blunt triangle of the estate…wheels were not used except for farm work. The footpaths served all other purposes. And though at first they had planned improvements, they had soon fallen in with the customs of their hidden kingdom, and moved about the soft-footed ways by woodland, hedgerow and shaw as freely as the rabbits.

----Rudyard Kipling, An Habitation Enforced in Actions and Reactions


Woods where we hid from the wet,

Stiles where we stayed to be kind.

----Alfred Tennyson, The Window


I walk green pathways, where love waits

To talk in whispers at old gates;

Past stiles – on which I lean, alone –

Carved with the names of lovers gone.

----W.H. Davies, Return to Nature


And in this first field there was more than one path, and the children of the village were often there, and it had something about it of a public nature. John Eames felt that it was by no means a fitting field to say that which he had to say…Then they had come to the second little gate, and beyond that the fields were really fields, and there were stiles instead of wicket-gates, and the business of the day must be begun.

----Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington, Volume II Chapter XXIV.


“We are not helpless young ladies in these parts, nor yet timorous…We can walk about without being afraid of ghosts, robbers, wild bulls, young men, or gypsies. Come the field path, Grace.”

                        ----Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicles of Barset, Volume I Ch. XXXV


[The custom of the ‘sin-eater’ at a funeral was to eat and drink a small offering placed upon the coffin:]

“I give easement and rest now to thee, dear man, that ye walk not over the fields nor down the by-ways. And for thy peace I pawn my own soul.”


[Gideon having struck and thus killed his own father, no sin-eater appears at the funeral. So Gideon takes the burden on himself; however, his sister detects an inappropriate tone for a scapegoat in his voice:]

…when Gideon said, ‘Come not down the lanes nor in our meadows,’ I thought he said it like somebody warning off a trespasser.

                                                ----Mary Webb, Precious Bane, Book I Chapter IV


We sat by the stile of Robin’s Lane

She in a hare and I in a toad.

                                                ----Robert Graves, The Two Witches


Over the meadows

To the little green lane,

That dips to the hay-fields

Of Farmer Grimes.

                                                ----Walter de la Mare, Berries


To-day snow covers all the paths and stiles.

Light through the gateposts, watching the sun rise,

Stealthily brings, on snow’s unprinted aisles,

That erect figure, ferried back with sighs.

----Vernon Watkins, The Pulse and the Shade


Back to the Trent University Trail Studies Unit home page

Last updated by Sarah Gauntlett, April 11, 2007.