I am a keen walker and when I moved to the United States ago to take up my position as Artist-in-Residence at Thomas More College, I immediately started to investigate the local country walks. I lived Nashua, a town in New Hampshire, very close to its southern border with Massachussetts. Both are beautiful states and there are state and national parks with developed paths within striking distance of here. These are very different from the British country walks that I am used to however. The countryside in Britain is almost all farmland of some description. So whereas in the US, as a general principle, the state and national parks aim to present man with a ‘wilderness’, that is countryside unaffected by man, the British national parks preserve a traditionally farmed landscape.
Creating a network of walks across privately owned farms is possible in Britain because in this respect the attitude to private ownership of land is different in England to that in the US. In England there are public rights of way across private land which the landowner is obliged by law to maintain. In return, the public is expected to respect the land and the farmer’s crops and animals and stick to the path. There are many thousands of miles of public footpath across private land. This is a system which would be impossible to police effectively, yet it works. On the whole the farmers happily keep the paths open and maintain them for the benefit of walkers, and the whole the public respects the farmers’ land, crops and animals. So although backed up by law, it is founded mainly on mutual trust and respect. It is working example of the good that arises when individuals go beyond a strict interpretation of the law and create a covenantal approach for the benefit of the common good.
As a result, everyone in Britain has the chance to see firsthand how man can cultivate and work the land for benefit of all of us. This goes further than simple recreation. For those who wish to accept it, there is profound lesson to be learnt. Creating the possibility for all people to come into direct contact with land that has been worked by man beautifully will teach us that man is capable of working productively with the land in harmony with it. This counters the false idea that man’s activity is (Read More)