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Lost ways lost forever?

Judy Brown

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Lost WaysMarpleThe British Horse SocietyThe Ramblerseak and Northern Footpaths Society. PNFS

Lost ways are paths, tracks, unclassified roads and alleyways which have been used for many years but have never had legal status as rights of way. They could be, for example, farm tracks, ancient packhorse routes, or roads across parkland; they may once have led to mills or quarries long disused; or they may be ginnels running behind rows of terraced town houses. These old routes must be identified before the cut-off date of 1 January 2026 or risk being lost to public use forever. 

Losing them could affect anyone who likes to walk, ride or cycle in the countryside or who takes shortcuts along the alleys linking streets and parks in their town. Without legal recognition, paths could be blocked at any time. This could mean cutting off access to safe, traffic-free routes for walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, who would then have to use busier roads instead. 

Lost Ways

There are thought to be thousands of unrecorded rights of way in England and Wales. Many were left off the definitive maps that county councils drew up in the 1950s. This was often because councils weren’t clear about the status of minor roads and tracks. They relied on what parish councils told them, and many parish councils were dominated by landowners who didn’t want to encourage ordinary folk to roam their estates. Now landowners and path users alike want to clarify their rights and responsibilities, and have less than eight years to do so.

The British Horse Society and The Ramblers are running a national campaign called Project 2026 to protect lost ways. One local scheme, Derbyshire 2026, is led by volunteers from the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society. PNFS, has been working since 1894 to keep footpaths open and is drawing up an interactive online map showing old paths or tracks that are not yet recognised as public rights of way. Linked to each path on the map is a page listing whatever has been found out about it so far. Places they are currently investigating include Black Hill near Whaley Moor; an old Salt Way at Rainow; and paths around Tegg’s Nose near Macclesfield Forest. 

If you’d like to help identify lost ways, PNFS would be delighted to hear from you. They would be keen to hear of any paths you think may qualify, and grateful for any facts you can discover about paths that are already on the Derbyshire 2026 map. This detective work is crucial, as a lost way can only be recognised as a public right of way if there is written evidence that it was in use before 1949. Such evidence could come from historical documents such as old tithe maps, photographs, plans or title deeds. For example, where a land owner has sold plots of land for quarrying or building, the plans may show mysterious tracks crossing the site, which don’t appear on modern Ordnance Survey maps. You can hunt out such clues in county record offices or on the National Archives website. Anything you discover can go on the Derbyshire 2026 map. If you’d like to get involved in the lost ways project, start by visiting http://www.bhsaccess.org.uk/dobbin/Project2026.php?id=eastmidlands/2026Derbyshire or email lwpnfs@gmail.com for help or advice.