What’s stopping you? Improving accessibility in the countryside

A scenic green lane in Pewsey Vale, surrounded by lush vegetation and tall grass, suitable for all users. The narrow dirt path winds gently through the verdant landscape, with mature trees and dense foliage providing a serene and shaded environment. The sunlight filters through the leaves, creating dappled patterns on the path. The scene exudes tranquility and natural beauty, inviting walkers to explore and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The bottom-left corner of the image is labeled "Roaming the Paths.

I did a survey………

On a day-to-day basis, I aim to improve accessibility.

I work on projects that improve access for all users. I might have limited resources and only work part-time, but I get it done. Getting all people into the countryside is a passion of mine, and I want to help as many people as possible.

I decided it was time to start seeing if I could apply the same principles where I live (rather than where I work), and running tours specifically aimed at all abilities and needs. I started thinking about easy access routes that would be a good countryside experience.

…… and was disheartened.

I had thought of a couple of routes that were good candidates.

One particular route that has become available in recent years should also be a cracker and ideal for wheeled users.

It was not.

The extremely wet winter and the actions of some very large agricultural equipment had changed the route into one that in places is a challenge for any moderately experienced walker

I was not happy. I was far from happy.

This was partly because I wanted to broaden the offerings of Romaing the Paths, but mostly because I have a genuine and deep desire to give all the opportunity to access the countryside. All is not lost, but it will not be what I had in mind.

A muddy and partially flooded path winds through a lush green landscape. The path has deep tire ruts filled with water, reflecting the surrounding greenery and cloudy sky. Tall grasses and dense foliage line the path, with large trees providing shade and a sense of enclosure. The scene highlights the natural, rugged terrain, presenting a challenge for accessibility. The bottom-left corner of the image is labeled "Roaming the Paths.
A narrow dirt path winds through tall grass and dense vegetation, with stinging nettles encroaching on both sides. The path leads to an open field in the distance, bordered by a wooden gate and fence post. The surrounding area is lush and green, with a mix of trees and shrubs under a partly cloudy sky. A small sign is visible on the fence post, indicating this is part of a managed path. The bottom-left corner of the image is labeled "Roaming the Paths."

Whilst I think I know intrinsically what an easy access route should be, I decided to ask the internet to see what the consensus was, and here it is.

Enhancing Accessibility: Navigating Public Footpaths and Routes in England

Public Rights of Way in England offer a tapestry of scenic trails, historic pathways, and serene nature walks. However, the true essence of these routes is often hindered by accessibility issues that can exclude various groups of people.

Understanding what constitutes an accessible route is paramount, not only for inclusivity but also for promoting environmental and societal benefits. Here I delve into the considerations for making Public Rights of Way accessible, addressing often-overlooked issues, and exploring the broader advantages for the public, the environment, and landowners.

Defining an Accessible Route

An accessible route is one that can be navigated safely and comfortably by people of all ages and abilities, including those with disabilities. Key elements of an accessible route include:

  1. Surface Quality: Firm, stable, and slip-resistant surfaces that accommodate wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
  2. Width and Clearance: Sufficient width to allow passage of mobility aids and companions, with adequate clearance for headroom.
  3. Gradient and Cross Slope: Gentle slopes and minimal cross slopes to prevent difficulty in navigation. This is a crucial factor often overlooked by people who have never used a wheelchair, for instance.
  4. Signage and Wayfinding: Clear, visible signs with information on trail conditions, distances, and accessible features.
  5. Rest Areas: Regularly spaced benches or rest areas for individuals to take breaks. I have had occasion not to bear this in mind, and will in future.
A newly constructed gravel path at Donnington Recreation Ground, bordered by a darker soil area on one side and dense foliage on the other. The path is wide and firm, suitable for easy walking, but terrible for wheels. In the background, a large signboard provides information about the recreation ground. The area is lush and green, with trees providing some shade. The scene is tranquil, suggesting an inviting and accessible route for visitors. The bottom-left corner of the image is labeled "Roaming the Paths."
It looks pretty, but the wheels sink in, and there’s a trip hazard

Often Overlooked Issues

  1. Surface Type: While some surfaces might appear accessible, uneven gravel, mud, or deep sand can be challenging for wheelchairs and individuals with mobility impairments.
  2. Obstacles and Barriers: Natural and man-made barriers such as stiles, gates, and overgrown vegetation can limit access.
  3. Seasonal Variations: Weather conditions can significantly affect the accessibility of routes, making them muddy or icy.
  4. Sensory Considerations: Lack of tactile paths, auditory cues, or visual contrast can hinder individuals with sensory impairments.

Addressing Assumptions and Overcoming Exclusions

Many assumptions are made about the usability of public footpaths that can lead to the exclusion of various groups:

  • Physical Disability: It’s often assumed that rural paths are naturally inaccessible to wheelchair users, leading to a lack of effort in making necessary modifications.
  • Sensory Impairments: Paths are usually designed without considering individuals who are blind, partially sighted, or deaf.
  • Elderly Individuals: The needs of older adults, such as frequent resting points and less strenuous routes, are frequently overlooked.

To overcome these exclusions:

  • Inclusive Design: Engage with diverse user groups during the planning and design phase to understand their needs.
  • Funding and Support: Leverage government and charitable funding to improve path infrastructure.
  • Regular Maintenance: Ensure ongoing maintenance to keep paths clear of obstructions and in good condition.
Not good for anyone
A rough, but level, compacted gravel path stretches ahead, bordered by dense greenery and wildflowers. The path, composed of variously sized stones and pebbles, winds gently uphill, creating a natural and rustic trail through the lush landscape. The foliage on either side is dense, with a mix of grasses, bushes, and small trees under a cloudy sky. The scene is peaceful, emphasizing the rugged yet serene nature of this countryside path. The bottom-left corner of the image is labeled "Roaming the Paths."
Lumpy, but surprisingly good

Broader Benefits of Accessible Routes

  1. Public Health and Wellbeing: Accessible paths encourage more people to engage in physical activity, reducing health issues and improving mental well-being.
  2. Environmental Gains: Well-maintained paths can incorporate features that enhance biodiversity, such as wildflower planting, hedgerow conservation, and habitat creation.
  3. Economic Benefits: Accessible routes can boost local economies by attracting tourists, which supports local businesses.
  4. Social Inclusion: Promoting accessibility fosters a more inclusive society where everyone can participate in outdoor activities.

Benefits for Landowners

  1. Better Public Behaviour: Clear, accessible routes can reduce instances of trespassing and damage to private land. When paths are well-signposted and maintained, the public is more likely to respect boundaries.
  2. Funding Opportunities: Landowners can access various funding streams aimed at promoting accessibility and environmental conservation.
  3. Grants and Subsidies can be obtained for path improvements and biodiversity projects.
  4. Community Engagement: By collaborating with local communities and accessibility groups, landowners can build positive relationships and gain support for conservation efforts.
A section of an old stone pathway composed of irregularly shaped, flat stones, closely fitted together with small gaps filled with soil and sparse grass. The path is bordered by a grassy area, transitioning from the stone surface to natural ground. The stones are weathered and slightly uneven, indicating historical or traditional construction methods. The image captures the rustic and enduring nature of the stone pathway, illustrating its surprisingly good condition for walking. The scene reflects a blend of human craftsmanship and natural elements.
Stacked stones. Very durable, and surprisingly good for all users when done expertly.


Creating accessible public footpaths and routes in England is a multifaceted task that requires consideration of diverse needs and continuous effort.

By addressing often-overlooked issues and challenging assumptions, we can ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, can enjoy the beauty of our natural landscapes. The benefits of such initiatives extend beyond individual enjoyment, fostering environmental stewardship, public health, and community cohesion.

For landowners, this also translates into better-managed lands, funding opportunities, and enhanced public relations. Ultimately, making our paths accessible is a step towards a more inclusive, healthier, and environmentally sustainable society.

What next?

Well, I have devised another route, but in my mind, it’s not as satisfactory. It has good levels of wildlife, especially for its location – both plants and birds – but it’s not proper out in the countryside.

The image shows two people walking on a lush, green bridleway surrounded by dense foliage and trees. The path is grassy and narrow, with the individuals walking away from the camera. One person is wearing a red shirt, and the other is in a purple shirt. A dog is walking alongside them. The setting appears to be a serene, natural environment, ideal for a peaceful walk.
A beautiful location to visit, but challenging access

On a personal level, I do not have the time and resources to dedicate to getting this route up to standard.

I would like to help the Parish Council, but I fear that they are not adequately motivated as they might not quite understand that it is possible to get these things done, and the enormous benefit to the community.

I believe there might be similar issues with the landowner. Some landowners take great pride in their public image. They will take every possible opportunity to educate the public and positively represent the farming community. The Ramsbury Estate is a good example, but then they have a strong, high-quality brand they want to enhance and protect.

Possible Solution

The best solution I believe might be if individuals or groups with accessibility needs form an association, then they could apply pressure where it is most beneficial.

If such a group were to form, I would with some considerable enthusiasm offer advice and consultancy to enable them to achieve the best methods of creating accessible routes for all people in the countryside.

If this is of interest to you, please feel free to drop me a line.

The image shows a scenic bridleway bordered by lush, green foliage and trees, creating a natural archway framing the view ahead. Beyond the arch, there is an open field with gentle hills visible in the distance, bathed in soft sunlight. The path is grassy and slightly overgrown, leading the viewer's eye towards the tranquil, rural landscape beyond. The overall scene exudes a sense of peace and natural beauty.
A beautiful view across the Vale of Pewsey

Roaming the Paths newsletter

News of new events, offers and other exciting stuff
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!