Few things have been more precious to people during this seemingly endless third pandemic lockdown than our precious chance to walk in the countryside close to home. 

Lots of studies have shown that walking is one of the finest exercises of all to improve both physical and mental health, and – especially important at the present time – to boost immune systems. So, a regular walk of a few miles, even in the middle of winter, is the best possible prevention against infection.

An ancient footpath across Woodhouse Moor, central Leeds which once led to a medieval corn mill on Meanwood Beck.. This path now forms part of the Meanwood Trail to Adel and Golden Acre Park.

But where should we go to walk?  Government advice could not be clearer. We should not be driving miles into our National Parks or to popular beauty spots with crowded and congested car parks and eroded footpaths, but staying within walking distance or a very short travelling distance from home.

There’s no need to travel far. Wherever you live in Yorkshire there’s wonderful footpaths and bridleways to explore close to your front doorstep.

The only trouble is that as people have not been able to travel abroad or to areas such as the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, many local beauty spots and popular circular walks from car parks have become damaged and eroded, in some cases the damage spreading ever wider as people avoid the muddy places and trample fields.

So a little careful planning is needed.  If you pick up an Ordnance Survey Explorer map that covers the area where you live, you’ll probably find, close to home, a marvellous network of beautiful footpaths, some of which rarely get used, waiting for you.

And what wonderful places they connect. All over our region there are networks of ancient routes, linking farms and hamlets, villages, and towns. The Pennines  are crossed by miles of packhorse ways, many of them stone-flagged, once used to carry cloth and produce to markets in Halifax or Leeds. The Wolds have miles of green tracks along their summits, attractive for walkers, riders and cyclists alike. Canal towpaths and riverbanks are wonderful level walking routes, perfect for the less energetic and there are some fine paths and trails along old railway lines. Even around our larger town and cities, there are endless fascinating routes to be searched out, often linking parks, cemeteries, woodland and open spaces, leading out into and through the local greenbelt.

But if you want to go just a little further afield, instead of using the car, why not take a local bus or train to just three or four miles away from where you live, and work out ways of walking back home – in many cases using little used tracks and paths, or even quiet lanes.  Everywhere there is something to see and enjoy – wildflowers, hedgerows, woodland and birdlife. There is also history – old mills, churches and chapels, mills, old quarries and even mines which have been reclaimed by nature into sometimes lovely areas of self-sown scrubby woodland, and old farms which still flourish even on the edge of a city.

One very successful local Yorkshire author, Chris Goddard, who lives in Hebden Bridge, specialises in producing books with beautifully drawn footpath maps of less well-known areas like West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire’s moors or woodlands, as well as linear trails in areas again served by local buses and trains. Chris is finding that more people are discovering what lies, not in far-away beauty spots, but in their local neighbourhood. Not surprisingly, Chris has found that demand for his walking maps and books has soared during the pandemic. You can check them out and buy them on-line at www.gritstonecoop.co.uk

But the message is simple. Wherever you live in the ancient counties of Yorkshire, you are close to beautiful walking. No need to join the crowds at overused beauty spots. Get out and walk local.

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