Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's the Cotswold Way and Who Owns It?

We're Really Doing This! 

The Cotswold Way was created by members of the Ramblers’ Association in partnership with The Cotswolds AONB (Area Of Natural Beauty) in 1970. It consists of the joining of existing segments of public footpaths to create a 102 mile long distance route. In England and Wales a public footpath is a path on which the public have a legally protected right of way to travel on foot across privately owned lands. Public footpaths can form a dense network of short paths, offering a choice of routes to many different destinations.

By comparison the Appalachian Trail is 2200 +/- miles. The Long Trail in VT is 273 Miles. 

I was just thinking, how is it this trail exists?

I was once told that there is no true privately owned land in England, that all land belongs to the Monarchy and a house or building on it is merely leased for a lifetime. You buy your house in Norristown, keep it in your family for generations, and you have to give it back to Lord Norris's great, great to the nth grandson after 99 years. 

When William the Conqueror claimed sovereignty over England in 1066, he confiscated the property of the English landowners. He then granted land to his lords and to the dispossessed Englishmen as he wanted in exchange for their loyalty and promises of military and other services. From the time of the Domesday Book there has been no ownership of real estate that is independent of any superior landlord, today England's landlord is Queen Elizabeth (actually related to William!). I love her. In order to legitimize this notion of the Crown's over-riding lordship, a law was adopted that all land titles were held by the King's subjects only as a result of a royal grant, which could be retracted at any time if need be.

Don't Try To Read It Unless You know Latin

By the way, the Domesday Book is a manuscript completed in 1086 that records a great survey of  England and parts of Wales. The survey was carried out for our friend, William the Conqueror. William sent men out all over England to find out what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock, and what it was worth so he knew which ones to take. It's proof of pedigree to be able to make claims to the Doomsday Book, like our “My family came over on the Mayflower 400 years later, so there!”.
 Kings liked redistributing other people's stuff. 

So who owns the land in England if not the property owner? Some old titled families still own large parcels of land in London or the countryside. For example, Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster is London’s wealthiest landlord. He and his family own around 300 acres of land, including some of London’s most exclusive addresses. The buildings on that land are leased, long term, but the land the buildings are on are owned by His Grace Gerry. 
The 8th Earl of Cadogan comes a close second. Cadogan Estates is associated with the area around Cadogan Square, Sloane Street and  Chelsea. His family's origins date back to Sir Hans Sloane, the eighteenth century scientist, who purchased what was then known as the manor of Chelsea in 1712. That was a smart speculative purchase!
I never do get a definitive answer to my question about the right of ways and how come we can use them. The British dont know and they don't care. It's taken for granted the same way we have a Walgreens on every corner. 

What is known is people always used these highways and they became the public way by common agreement and need. They are the most direct distance from one important place to another. It is probable that most footpaths in the UK are hundreds of years old or more. 
One of the joys for me walking there is the knowledge that I am walking where the original travelers who made these paths have walked. Like sitting in an antique chair. There’s a continuity of humanity and I am a small part of that. These people were Iron Age nomads, medieval monks, Roman soldiers, pilgrims, gypsies and local villagers taking the most efficient and shortest route to their destination be it war, the market, employment or church. I’m just another set of feet in the footpath chain. That makes me special. That I can still do this in England is a gift.  

Factoid: Before the 17th century highways were rarely described as roads. An early use of the word "road" occurred in 1617 when the route from Rotherham to Whiston was described as "the Auncient Rode way or London way for carryers". Up to that time "way" was universal and persists to this day in combination with "motor", "high", "bridle" or "by" in legal definitions. The word "way" derived from Old Saxon "weg". The word "road" derived from Old English "ridan" meaning "to ride".

The Countryside Act of 1968 provided for the erection and maintenance of signposts along footpaths, bridleways and byways.  It stated “….at every point where a footpath, bridleway or byway leaves a metalled road the highway authority shall ….erect and maintain a signpost

Let’s hope that’s true!

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