Life in the UK: Walking the Dog

Long-time readers will know that the Asia Vus are a very doggy family.  (MrL and I, in fact, co-owned a dog before we got married - true story.)  Over the years, we've always had at least one dog, and often had two.  It stands to reason, then, that we have spent countless hours on that quintessential pastime familiar to dog lovers the world over:  walking the dog.  Here in England, it's no different, except for one thing:  you can go almost anywhere.  

No more boring walks around the block or a loop around the park before heading home.  Here, we walk through woods and fields, across meadows, through blackberry brambles, and past the occasional grazing horse.  We stroll through playing fields, down ancient lanes and up slippery stone steps built into the hillside hundreds of years before we were born.

The brutally steep set of stairs known locally as 'Jacob's Ladder' which leads up from the City Centre to our neighborhood.  Fortunately, there are other - less extreme - alternatives for getting home.
One of the things I like best about living in England is the idea of public access to the countryside.  Coming from a country which is is rife with signs that say things like, 'Private Property' ' No Trespassing!' and "This Property Protected by Smith and Wesson,"  you can understand that, upon moving here, I stuck to sidewalks and parks as a rule of thumb - not a problem, since there seem to be parks everywhere around here.  I saw fields all around me, but it never occurred to me to try to walk through them.

After a few weeks, though, I kept noticing these signs:

They are everywhere, and designate public footpaths - that is, paths or sidewalks that are open to the public.  And I also started noticing these gates, which seemed to show up quite frequently near woods and fields:

This is either a 'slip gate' or a 'kissing gate' depending on who's speaking.

Of course, not knowing where they led - and not knowing whose property they led to - I never entered them, no matter how gorgeous the landscape on the other side might look.

It wasn't until I was chatting with some other dog owners one day when one of them invited me to join a group of them who met in the afternoons in a field which, she explained, was accessible through 'yon slip gate' (that's 'the slip gate over there' for us North Americans) at the rear of some school playing fields ("We have right-of-way through them, you know" Actually, I didn't.  ) 

Well, as they say, that changed everything.

Once I started looking for them, I noticed them everywhere, often in combination with the 'public footpath' signs as shown above.  Often, there is a sign asking you to keep your dogs on a lead and to clean up after them.  Occasionally, there will be a notice warning you that livestock may be present, and once, I saw a reminder not to 'come between a mother and her offspring.' (Duh)

Most of the time, though, it's just you, the dog, and nature, and, since I know I won't be living here forever, I try to really be mindful about how fortunate I am to be able to do this.  It's always a little amazing to me the way people here seem to be able to go about their business so calmly.  I feel like I spend about 50% of my time (or more) either taking pictures, and the other 50% thinking, "I can't believe I'm just walking around in all of this.  It's like a movie." How my neighbors every accomplish anything is sort of a mystery to me, although I suppose if I'd lived here my whole life, I might be equally sanguine about all this gorgeousness, too.

Anyway, for those of you who might have been wondering what things look like in this neck of the woods, I thought I'd share a few photos of one of our favorite walks, which starts with a stroll through the park before you enter a brambly sort of field via the slip gate above:

Following the path, you come out into a little open area, overlooking  southeast Bath and its surroundings:

Past the blackberry brambles:

Into another little patch of woods:

And out on the other side into a surprising little meadow overlooking more houses and more fields.

Apple tree in full blossom

Follow the path uphill through the meadow:

And come to another slip gate:

These gates still freak me out, but I am slowly getting used to them and no longer bark at them.

Which leads into another field at the bottom of the school cricket grounds:

Before we know it, we're leaving the field at the next gate:

Notice that it's a private field with public access.  Love it!
And walking down the street toward home:

MrL joins in on all of our evening walks

One of the houses on the way home

I love houses with names

This stairway leads down to another footpath.  We haven't been here yet, but it looks promising


Stacy Rushton said…
Oh, delightful! I feel like I have just accompanied you and Merlot on a jaunty walk across the countryside! Glad you are taking advantage of all the public footpaths! Make sure to head back that way as summer progresses to pick some brambles. They make the best pie! Some years in Jersey we don't get as many, depending on rain/sun in the growing season, so I mix them with apples for an apple bramble pie. Serve with double cream! Divine.
Beautiful photos.
It wasn't always this way you know - we have something called the Right to Roam which came in 10 years ago or so and expanded the amount of land that people are allowed to walk on, including private land.

here's an article on it:

But there have always been lots of public footpaths, bridleways etc as well in the country. Unlike the US where it only tends to be in parks that you can walk freely around.
MsCaroline said…
Stacy- oh, I'm glad. I'm not a very good photographer, but whenever I take that walk, it kills me that I can't share it with other people - so I did! I will definitely keep the brambles in mind as the season progresses - we used to pick wild blackberries when I lived in VA, and I thought of them immediately when I saw these bushes!

NVG- Thanks for the link! Actually, it was watching a BBC documentary on the Pennine way a couple weeks ago that got me thinking about the whole public footpath thing. My neighbor had even told me about how some of the people he knows always kept a pair of wire cutters in their pockets to cut fences as they came across them. What strikes me is that there seems to be something of a social covenant whereby everyone in England agrees to live in a more compressed space so that there is more open land for everyone to enjoy together. Or at least it seems that way compared to the US! When I see all this 'empty' space I walk through with the dog, all I can think is that in the US they would have turned it into car parks or Wal Marts or single-family houses with enormous backyards. I love the idea that there's all this gorgeous countryside for everyone to enjoy!
Nance said…
Bless your heart! I am so glad that this wasn't a sort of jaded, smug, smirky, "Here is my dog walk now, Poor Americans. Because England, you know."

(Not that you are ever snotty.)

I am glad that you are in awe and thrilled and still wearing Tourist Eyes when you write these posts. There is no way that anyone could not be impressed, coming there as a stranger and seeing all of that ancient beauty, and being able to walk amid it as a daily routine. I could feel your identical emotion immediately.

Merlot must be quite hale and hearty to walk such a distance and on such terrain! The other Boston I know would have been tuckered less than halfway. Her short legs just can't go very long.
MsCaroline said…
Nance - oh, good, I would hate to ever come across that way (smug and smirky, I mean.) And I seriously doubt I will ever be jaded with any of this. I am constantly stumbling across things that just blow me away, and I do, occasionally, have to suppress the desire to grab people and shake them, while screaming, " appreciate this!!!" If frequent moving does nothing else for you, it definitely makes you appreciate things around you - I'm always very conscious of the fact that everything around me is temporary. I like the term, "Tourist Eyes' - because that's exactly what they are - and will probably remain, because I think I'd have to live here for a lifetime to get complacent about any of it! As far as Merlot is concerned, it is largely due to her that my rambles take me so far and wide. She is a ball of energy (young Bosties, at least, tend to be quite active) and would probably drive me crazy if I didn't walk her a few miles every day. The one you know must be a little older and calmer - I can only look forward to that day!
Expat mum said…
How gorgeous. I'm so jealous. Here in Chicago, although we have lots of big parks, dogs aren't allowed off the leash. I have to have my dog go to a doggy day care three times a week to get her run around in.
MsCaroline said…
EM: I'm surprised there aren't any dog parks near you! They were becoming quite a thing in the US when we left - at least in the south and southwest. I have to say, I'm trying to appreciate this as much as possible while I can, because it's not likely that the next place we move (whether back to the US or somewhere else overseas) will provide this sort of doggie paradise.
What lovely photos! I feel like I've just been for a walk through the English countryside, when in reality I haven't left my chair, at my desk, at the top of a tower, overlooking the desert!
Trish said…
Thanks for sharing your dog walk - just lovely. I adore the photo of Jacob's Ladder too.
BavarianSojourn said…
Lovely post C. Beautiful pictures too - love the kissing gate! Owning a dog is such a social thing too isn't it? My aunt has a dog in London, within a year of owning it, she had a firm circle of friends who she holidays with years later! :D
I am so glad you are enjoying life in the UK (most of the time I hope!). I do really want you to come up here and I know I am at the risk of sounding stalkerish or boring. I just think you would like it.
MsCaroline said…
Circles: Thank you so much, although there have been quite a few cold days in the last few months when I would have given anything to trade places with you!

Trish - Thank you - but I should point out that, whilst Jacob's Ladder looks charming, it is a brruuuutal climb! I have only done it 2 or 3 times, even though I keep saying that doing it daily would be an excellent workout.

Emma - Merlot is terrified of the gates, but she tolerates them because they usually mean an off-lead experience. ; ) You're right about dog ownership being social, though; I have met so many lovely, lovely people in my rambles. I was worried since this is our first move when I didn't have a child in school (and the built-in social connections that come with that) but having a dog has taken care of that problem!

Elizabeth - oh yes, I am enjoying the UK, and haven't got a single 'stalkerish' vibe yet - never fear, will be heading north(northwest?) as soon as our schedule permits, and I am positive I will like it. We've had nonstop company (well, with a 2-week break in there) almost since moving in - and more on the way. Whilst it's lovely that everyone wants to visit us, I have to say it's been a bit draining. This is our first weekend NOT spent out of town in 5 weeks!
Wow! I hadn't realised you had been so blessed with company. We get similar phases when we have people in the house or in the holiday cottage and it is lovely that people want to come but does leave you with no time for the more ordinary bits of life. Hope you have a lovely summer lined up!

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