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Uploaded on Aug 22, 2009

In England and Wales the public has a legally protected right to "pass and repass" (i.e. walk) on footpaths, bridleways and other routes which have the status of a public right of way. Footpaths typically pass over private land, but if they are public rights of way they are public highways with the same protection in law as other highways, such as trunk roads.

Public rights of way originated in common law, but are now regulated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. These rights have occasionally resulted in conflicts between walkers and landowners, most notably in the case of Nicholas van Hoogstraten. The rights and obligations of farmers who cultivate crops in fields crossed by public footpaths are now specified in the law.

Walkers can also use permissive paths, where the public does not have a legal right to walk, but where the landowner has granted permission for them to walk.

Walkers long campaigned for the right to roam, that is access to privately owned uncultivated land. In 1932 the mass trespass of Kinder Scout had a far-reaching impact. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 created the concept of designated Open Country, where access agreements were negotiated with landowners.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave walkers a conditional right to access most areas of uncultivated land.

In Scotland the public have the right to use any defined route over which the public has been able to pass unhindered for at least 20 years. However, local authorities are not required to maintain and signpost public rights of way as they are in England and Wales.

The public have traditionally been allowed unhindered access to open countryside. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 formalised and extended this right, by creating a general presumption of access to all land.

Recent court cases have seen the rights that walkers seek to protect limited. The most noteworthy case, Ann Gloag v Perth and Kinross Council and the Ramblers Association, saw an area around her home - defined as the curtilage - placed off limits to walkers.

Long distance paths are created by linking public footpaths, other rights of way and sometimes permissive paths to form a continuous walking route, usually linear but sometimes circular. They are usually waymarked. Guidebooks have been published to most long distance paths, and the most popular paths have attracted local industries providing accommodation and other support services.

15 paths in England and Wales have the status of National Trails, which attract government financial support. 4 paths in Scotland have the similar status of Long Distance Routes.

The first long distance path was the Pennine Way, first proposed by Tom Stephenson in 1935 and finally opened in 1965.

The United Kingdom offers a wide variety of ascents, from gentle rolling lowland hills to some very exposed routes in the moorlands and mountains. The term climbing is used for the activity of tackling the more technically difficult ways of getting up hills involving rock climbing while "hillwalking" refers to the easier routes.

Some summits require climbing skills, and many hillwalkers will become proficient in scrambling. In Britain, the term "mountaineering" tends to be reserved for expeditions abroad to ranges such as the Alps, or for serious domestic hillwalking, typically in winter, with additional equipment such as ice axe and crampons, or for routes requiring rock climbing skills such as the traverse of the Cuillin ridge. The British Mountaineering Council provides more information on this topic.[4]

Navigation and map-reading skills are essential, as conditions of poor visibility can arise unexpectedly at any time due to the variability of British weather and the risk of rain, low cloud, fog or the onset of darkness. In some areas it is common for there to be no waymarked path to follow. It is unwise to venture out into the hills without navigation skills, an Ordnance Survey map or walk guidebook, and a compass. In most areas proper walking-boots are essential, and hillwalkers should always have good weatherproof clothing, including spare warm clothes and in mountainous areas a survival bag in case an accident forces a prolonged, and possibly overnight, halt. Food and water should also be carried, along with an emergency whistle, torch/flashlight (and spare batteries) and first aid kit. A fully charged mobile phone is useful (where reception permits) and walkers should let someone know their route and estimated time of return or arrival ("eta").


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