Hailing from a rural environment, I grew up surrounded by “No Trespassing” signs. Stuck on the sides of trees, fences, and any other available surfaces, these private property markers remind me of home and the outdoors whenever I see them. During my time in Bath, I have gone hiking and walking many times along its scenic canal and hill paths, yet something has always stood out to me: the lack of “No Trespassing” signage.
These paths in and around Bath frequently cut through farmers’ fields pastures, and on multiple occasions I have wondered why any person engaged in agriculture would want random hikers traipsing through their lands. The answer lies in the Rights of Way. Walking and hiking are central components to British countryside activities, and have been for hundreds of years. Blocking people from engaging in something that they have enjoyed for years, and which does not cause harm to others, was not logical to the British government. Instead, the Rights of Way establish that nearly all privately owned, open lands must be accessible for those wishing to walk or hike on them. Even fenced lands must have a gate to allow for this purpose.
There are caveats to this law, but it is generally acceptable to stroll across any field in pursuit of a good, countryside walk. Aside from the traditional aspects of this right, I believe that it also points to the slightly more trusting nature of British folk. As long as those exercising their right are doing so without harming the land (or livestock, as is frequently the case), then there is no reason to keep people from enjoying a pleasant weekend hike. The British trust each other not to abuse these rights, and to treat each other and each other’s property in a kind manner.
This has led me to explore historical and cultural treasures such as Iron Age hill forts, replica castles dating from the 1700’s, and the wide array of livestock which now inhabit these locales. I have developed a greater appreciation for the land and its history, as well as the people who live here. Their willingness to share and trust others has resulted in a greater awareness of British history and values, not just for temporary residents such as myself, but for generations to come.