One of the very best things about running for fitness is the ability to get off the main roads and find quiet lanes, footpaths, byways. In Jersey, for such a small island we are incredibly blessed with a seemingly endless choice of routes. For a start the network of lanes is mesmerising; I’m forever discovering those which, after 34 years (with a two-year break) I don’t recognise as having been along before. I’m certain there are many more still out there. In addition we have our cliffpaths, not for the faint hearted. There are then reservoirs, the Railway Walk and all manner of tracks, usually unmarked, the better for exploring.
In the rest of Britain there is a long-established network of footpaths and bridleways, usually well-marked. The rights of walkers and other ‘roamers’ were famously championed in 1932 with a mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District. In England and Wales the right to use uncultivated land for recreation was enshrined in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
Eric Walker, adopted and famous Jerseyman, claims in his book Don’t Annoy The Enemy that you can walk on footpaths from Normandy to Spain without seeing a motor car.
But I’ve learnt that my perception about the Republic of Ireland is correct. For all its beauty and attractiveness Ireland never seemed to me to be runner-friendly. Lanes there are but most often they are fraught with traffic. It is pretty difficult to find an hour or two’s quiet running. Neither do there appear to be many rights of way across land. I now learn that there is NO automatic access to privately owned land in Ireland – and only 1% of land is publicly owned. Even traditional walking routes are subject to summary closure by the owners, on a whim. One example I can think of is the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, once freely runnable, now open only to those willing to pay to play golf. The Cliffs of Moher was once freely accessible. Now you’d better get your money ready. It’s no wonder that IMRA (Irish Mountain Running Association) is so popular as it gives people their very best chance of off-roading.
It’s a shabby disgrace and far from the ‘hundred thousand welcomes’ promised to visitors. Will anything change? Not if change is not agitated for. The corrupt Irish political system only moves to change things when money talks. One little thing I’m going to do is send off my €16 and join Keep Ireland Open. Visit their website and together let’s change the world!