The City public, cheated of their countryside walks on the outskirts of the town, impatiently turn to the less enclosed parts of England for that free passage of foot denied them at home. The Surrey Downs, Exmoor, the Welsh Hills, Dartmoor, Malvern, the Peak country, the English Lake District are sought after. But unless, as in the case of the Malvern Hills, some strict Bill has been obtained to protect the people in their wanderings; and to prevent enclosure and a general shut-out of the public, it is certain that each year what the tourist is in quest of he will less and less find. The occupiers of land in these parts are on the alert—not without reason; for the town-bred man, even if he is educated, cannot apparently understand that gates were meant to be shut to as well as opened. Foolish and wanton mischief—more of thoughtlessness than malice—is done to the farmer’s land and the woodman’s plantation; the rare wild flowers are taken up by the roots wholesale; ferns disappear from whole tracts of country side. And all because these strangers, as they use the old rights of way, forget the old rights of courtesy and care for other men’s property as they pass over it. So the landowners in these be-touristed parts are on the alert, and the inhabitants of a country side are made to suffer for the suns of the strangers. (p. 377)….
Of course, much of the illegal closing of footpaths proceeds from the entire ignorance both on the side of the landlord and the public as to the law upon the matter. Let us glance at such law as at present exists in the matter of footpaths. But first let us bear in mind that a footpath, as much as a carriage-road, cart-road, bridle-path, footway, driftway, causeway, or churchway, is by the eye of the law looked upon as a highway. Let us remember also that the public, though they can claim no atom of the soil, nor even have contributed to the maintenance of a path—nay, though the path may be dangerous or impassable in bad weather—can still claim, after sufficient user, such as shall amount to public dedication, a right of highway that is inalienable, except by legal process. (pp. 378-379)….
But a better time, it is believed, is coming. Public feeling is being roused. Within the past four years a National Footpath Preservation Society, with an office in Essex Street, Strand, has been set afloat, and footpath societies at Birmingham, Henley-on-Thames, Kendal, Lancaster, Llandudno, Reading, Stockton, Keswick and Carlisle have been inaugurated. So far as can be learned these societies have been framed in no hostile spirit to the owners of private property. They appear to have realized how just are the complaints of the proprietors or tenants of the soil against trespassers of the pathways, and they seem determined, whilst they uphold the rights of the public, to remember that private rights must be regarded, and to be anti-trespass societies as well as path-preservation societies. (p. 382)….
Doubtless, also, it is felt that the laws of trespass need amending. Rights of passage across private property lay heavy responsibilities upon those who enjoy them. These responsibilities are not enough realized. Private leave to pass over land at the will of a landowner is too often confounded with public right of passage. At this time of day it would seem specially needful to safe-guard the legitimate rights of the landowner. But the public have definite rights also. And it would appear that the public must be empowered by some speedier, less personal, less intricate, and less expensive method to vindicate on national grounds their national rights against the path-stopper and the road-side waste encroachment alike, or one of the chiefest charms of pleasant England will cease to be. (p. 386)
(Contemporary Review, 50 (September 1886), 373-86)