Access Land, Explore it, Enjoy it

February 16, 2019

I have just spent a pleasant half day walking and exploring the rarely visited western flanks of Whernside. I was only able to complete this lovely walk because in Britain we have a Right to Roam on our country’s Access Land.

Heading up from the col between Kingsdale and Deepdale to the summit, I then kept to the western side of the summit ridge wall and explored the 3 Tarns of Whernside. I returned to the col via the scar overlooking Deepdale, mainly on a sheep track although some of the route was trackless.

Isolated cairn near 3 Tarns on Whernside
Isolated cairn near 3 Tarns on Whernside

Much of the Upland areas of Britain is Access Land. In essence this means you can walk anywhere and not just stick to paths. It is a perfect example of a positive campaign bringing a change of law. Now anyone can enjoy the freedom and fresh air of our upland moors and mountains. However very few walkers even know their rights. Even if they have heard of their right to roam they are still put off by warnings, threats of restrictions and angry landowners.

No need to stick to the path, Access Land all around
No need to stick to the path, Access Land all around

The lack of knowledge on Access laws always surprises me (why it is not part of the National Curriculum is just disappointing).

When I hold Navigation Courses one of the first things I do is ask if anyone knows why the background colour on O/S maps are a different colour (refer to the photo below). Even if people have noticed the colour change very few know what it means. At best those on the course refer to a change from Lowland to Upland areas.  In reality this is a general truth but there is no fixed height change. Even if they have heard of access land they have no idea what it means or the implication for themselves.

1.25,000 scale map of Whernside area showing Access Land
1.25,000 scale map of Whernside area showing Access Land

Not having to stick to paths offers the walker the ‘right to roam’. This may mean rough walking or wet walking but often no worse than an eroded Lakeland path. Over time tracks start appearing on the access land where people (or sheep) have walked repeatedly. For example there is a track on Whernside near the 3 Tarns that leads to a large cairn with fantastic views over Dentdale (see top photo). Many of the Lakeland summits are only accessed by these ‘paths on the ground’ (which can be obvious or faint) as there is no official Right of Way (the green dashed lines on 1.25,000 O/S maps) over the summit.

Exploring the 3 Tarns of Whernside
Exploring the 3 Tarns of Whernside

However most walkers religiously stick to Public Rights of Way even though access land. Often these footpaths do offer the best route and the easiest walking. I must admit though I often prefer breaking away from them and exploring different places, different views and finding other interesting aspects of nature. It is usually more peaceful as well. On my recent Whernside visit I did walk a few hundred metres on the summit ridge and encountered a number of people (the weather was very good). However as soon as I left the official route I never saw a soul. It was great.

Walkers on the summit ridge of Whernside
Walkers on the summit ridge of Whernside

Many walkers will never want to leave official footpaths but for those who do learning suitable navigation skills is very important. Learning to walk on a bearing using a compass over rough ground is necessary but so is an understanding that walls (as an example) and other handrails such as steep streams may provide an uncross able barrier. Reading the detail on a map and understanding the implications is important. All of these skills are taught on the Intermediate Navigation Course created specifically for those wanting to explore off official paths.

Long Presto Intermediate Navigation Course, finding the summit over featureless land.
Long Preston Intermediate Navigation Course, finding the summit over featureless land.

In Scotland the right to roam covers even wider areas with only limited and local restrictions. Anyone heading off to climb the Scottish Munros will find much of their time spent on pathless, rough ground. The ability to navigate safely and with confidence becomes even more relevant here.

However these words are really about encouraging walkers to leave paths and explore the wider area. It is not a scary place and even if you venture off the paths by accident treat it as an adventure, it may be the best bit of the walk (and certainly the most memorable).

Of course the blog also gives a good excuse to show some photos of what was a lovely days walking.

Kingsdale towards Whernside
Kingsdale towards Whernside



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