Moving to the countryside: Part 31: dangerous footpaths

While Britain is blessed with many miles of fabulous footpaths, some are extremely dangerous, including this example in Monmouthshire.

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One of the elements that makes Britain great is its multitude of footpaths – Natural England claims that there are 190,000 miles of public rights of ways in England alone. On the face of it, that’s a lot of entry points into the countryside and we can never complain that there’s nowhere to walk.

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Except that some of these rights of way and walkers’ routes are not really walker friendly. I can sympathise with farmers who don’t overly exert themselves to keep paths open through their land when very few people use them. There are plenty of footpaths on my local map that you’d need a machete to negotiate in summer (and a snorkel in winter).

Then there are the paths that seem to have vanished completely. They appear on the map but not on the ground. Lack of use means they’ve been reclaimed by nature. 

Occasionally I’ve found paths deliberately blocked by fences or agricultural rubbish. And that’s pretty shameful behaviour. And then there are paths that go through farmyards – and that’s pretty dim. Surely a route around them would be better?

Walking into danger?

However, the worst paths are those that deliberately put walkers in direct peril for their lives. I have one of the worst within a couple of miles of my house. Called the Usk Valley Walk, it is mostly beautiful and benign, following river and canal for some 50 miles from Brecon to Caerleon just outside Newport.

Benign that is, except when it reaches the village of Llanellen two miles south of Abergavenny. Here the path strikes out, quite unbelievably, onto the A4042 to cross a road bridge over the Usk (below).

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On the other side of the bridge is a pavement all the way to Abergavenny but you can’t reach it unless you brave the bridge. The Usk Valley path continues south along the Usk just behind this blue lorry. But I don’t fancy my chances…

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This bridge is so narrow, cars sometimes struggle to pass each other. There is no space for pavement or walkway and as a walker you cannot see over the hump of the bridge to take evasive action. The speed limit is 40 miles an hour so you are risking your life trying to get across. There are no signs warning there may be people in the road. In the 18 months I have lived here, there have been several car accidents on the bridge and one death. Add walkers to the mix and it won’t be long before there will be more. 

Mike Wagstaff, whose website details the Usk Valley Walk agrees “It’s a big problem which is well acknowledged by Monmouthshire County Council Countryside Department…The only way we could see to avoid the bridge would be to join the canal earlier but that would mean missing out the lovely stretch of river between Chainbridge and Llanellen.”

I contacted Monmouthshire County Council’s Countryside Service who said they were aware of the issue. But they believed that, because the road was an A-road, it was within the remit of the Welsh National Assembly. But they couldn’t be sure. And that’ll be my next line of enquiry. Because expecting walkers to mix it with heavy lorries is going to get messy. 

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Are there any other candidates for most dangerous footpath in Britain?