Countryside tips

Some information from authorities:

Below we have also shared our own personal experience and advice that we have found useful to us in the hope that it might be useful to others but we make no claims of authority. Any suggestions for improvements will be gratefully received.

    Respecting landowners

    Most public rights of way are across private land. The right of way permits an unimpeded corridor of access but nothing more: the landowner's private land, property, privacy and livelihood should be respected at all times and if you're walking with a dog, make sure you pick up after your dog and keep it under control at all times. Many landowners go to a great deal of effort to be helpful, adding extra signposts, offering geniunely useful advice and fight a constant battle with encroaching vegetation. The reputation of walkers is in your hands so be a good ambassador.

    Rights of way

    The Ramblers have a good overview of the rules governing rights of way. A couple of additional things we've been asked a few times are listed below.

    Path closures

    If you encounter a path that that has been officially closed for safety reasons, a diversion will normally be shown on the closure sign. Also let us know so we can put a temporary warning on the walk.

    Bypassing obstructions

    If a footpath is obstructed (e.g. blocked by a fallen tree), it is seen as reasonable to depart from the right of way to bypass the obstruction, rejoining it again as soon as possible. However, care should be taken not to cause damage to the landowner’s property (e.g. bending a locked gate by climbing it at the opposite end from the hinges) if doing so.

    The 20 year myth

    There is an urban myth that if a path is not used or 20 years it ceases to become a right of way. THIS IS WRONG. The only way a Public Right of Way can cease to exist is through a legal process known as a Definitive Map Modification Order (DMMO) and a compelling justification must be provided which the Local Authority must agree with.

    The myth arises because the reverse is true (at least in part). For a path that is NOT already a right of way, being in continual use for 20 years can form part of the evidence submitted in making a case for a new public footpath. However this is not automatic: creation of a new public footpath also requires a DMMO and there are a number of processes landowners can use to prevent rights being acrued.

    On the coast

    Cliff edges

    Cliff edges are not fenced in Cornwall and as well as exercising common sense, children and dogs need to be safeguarded. Also be mindful that there are some drops into collapsed caves which are inland of the main cliff edge. Many cliffs are undercut so that the edge is little more than an unsupported layer of turf so standing close to the edge is a very bad idea. Standing beneath cliff edges on the beach below is also dangerous as birds rooting around for insects on the clifftop above can dislodge large stones balanced on the edge. Cliff falls also sometimes occur with little warning.

    Tides

    If you are walking on beaches or along tidal creeks, check tide times on each walk to be aware what the tide is doing so that you don’t get off. In Cornwall, the level of the sea rises around 7 metres in height from low tide to high tide. Consequently many beaches are entirely underwater at high tide. The speed at which the tide comes in follows a sine wave (fastest change is in the middle and slower at the ends) which is why the tide comes in particularly quickly at mid-tide.

    Jellyfish

    Jellyfish are the oldest multi-organ animal and have been around over 500 million years (more than twice as long ago as when the first dinosaurs appeared). Two of the most common jellyfish you're likely to see in Cornwall don't have a sting that is noticeable by humans:

    • Moon Jellyfish - clear jellyfish with 4 pale purple rings; very common
    • Barrel Jellyfish - large cream rubbery bell up to a metre across and 8 thick arms; usually in slightly deeper water and rarely seen on beaches

    Two to watch out for which are common and sting are:

    • Compass Jellyfish, about the size of a grapefruit with brown v-shaped markings around a brown dot in the middle of the bell. This one has a sharp sting, a bit like nettles.
    • Blue Jellyfish - a similar size and also bell-shaped, but with a blue centre. The sting is milder than nettles and doesn't last long, but still noticeable.

    Much less common, but also noteworthy for its nasty sting, is the Lion's Mane Jellyfish which is large (around 50cm across), reddish brown with thick frilled arms and a mass of hair-like tentacles.

    If you are unlucky enough to be stung by a jellyfish, scrape off any stinging sacs stuck to the skin (e.g. with a shell or credit card) and apply ice and take some painkillers. There are old wives tales about urine, alcohol and baking soda being cures; avoid all of these as they are ineffective and likely to make the pain worse. Although vinegar does work in some situations, in others it can activate any unfired stinging cells; NHS advice is therefore to avoid it.

    Portuguese Man O' War

    The Portuguese man o' war resembles a jellyfish but is actually a colony of polyps, specialised into four different roles. Some provide the float and others make up the stinging tentancles which can stretch over 160ft long and catch 100 fish in one day.

    The man o' war is easily recognised by the pasty-shaped float with pink and purple colouring. They are normally found in the open ocean but big Atlantic storms with strong winds can very occasionally drive them onto the Cornish coast.

    It is named after a heavily-armed 18th Century warship as a sting is extremely painful and in rare cases can be fatal.

    Weever fish

    During hot weather, weever fish migrate to Britain from the Mediterranean. They bury themselves in the sand where they are camouflaged, and ambush small fish in shallow water. To protect against predators, they have spines that inject a nerve toxin; if trodden on, this can be very painful. It's therefore a good idea either to wear some form of footwear in the sea or to shuffle your feet through the sand which is more likely to scare away any fish. If you are unlucky enough to tread on a weever, get your foot into hot water as soon as possible as this denatures the venom. Most lifeguards have a kettle on standby (and although its primary purpose might be cups of tea rather than weever stings, they will forego a cuppa in the interests of pain relief).

    Other Wildlife

    Snakes

    Adders are easily identified by the pretty diamond pattern along their backs. Also known as vipers, these are Britain's only venomous snake. Adders are a protected species, are not aggressive, and generally only bite if trodden on or picked up (unsupervised dogs or children may attempt the latter).

    In the rare event of a bite, medication attention should be sought immediately. The smaller body sizes of young children or small dogs means the same amount of venom will have a greater effect in these cases. Although a bite is painful, no-one has died from an adder bite in over 20 years and the highest risk is to those with pre-existing conditions or allergies.

    Livestock

    The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers regarding livestock and we've added a little more to this from feedback by the local Countryside team:

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way round the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow just walk on quietly.

    Cow behaviour

    Headys Farm have produced a video demonstrating how young cattle react to different types of human behaviour:

    Bulls

    You shouldn’t find a mature dairy breed bull in a field containing a footpath as this is illegal. Bulls under 10 months are permitted. Mature bulls from beef breeds are also permitted but only if they are accompanied with cows or heifers. The farmer can also be liable under Health and Safety legislation in making the judgement call that the animals do not pose a danger to the public.

    Many bulls, especially within a herd, are placid and far more interested in juicy grass than walkers so you should not automatically assume that every bull is a psychotic killing machine. In some cases it will be possible to cross the field without a problem.

    However, there are occasionally situations where curious calves can draw the herd towards walkers or wind up a bull so the behaviour within the herd should be noted when entering a field. Similarly the presence of a dog might provoke defensive behavior. If, after observation, the situation looks unsafe, an alternative route should be sought.

    Reporting an incident

    If there is an attack or dangerous incident, we suggest reporting this to the landowner if it is obvious where they are located, and to the Local Authority Countryside Team (countryside@cormacltd.co.uk, or 0300 1234 202 in an emergency) who are able both to follow up with the landowner and to escalate further where appropriate.

    Are there likely to be animals hiding over the brow of the hill?

    Look out for animal poo in the field to see how fresh it looks - this is a good indicator of how recently animals were there and the type of animal too.

    Closing gates

    Although it's obvious that you should ensure any gates that you open, you also close, what about gates you find that are already open?

    If the gate is fully open then leave it alone as it may well be providing livestock access to a water supply, and by closing it you could end up killing them.

    If the gate is ajar or swinging loose and not wedged or tied open then it's likely that the gate was left open by accident (possibly by another group of walkers). Properly closing the offending gate behind you will not only bring joy to the landowner but you can feel good about saving lives in a car swerving to avoid a cow in the road.

    Tied gates

    Gates on public rights of way are normally not locked or tied shut, but farmers may occasionally need to do so to prevent animals from manipulating the latches or in the sad cases where walkers have repeatedly left gates open. If a gate is tied shut and straightforward to untie and retie, then do so, leaving it as you found it. In cases where opening the gate is nontrivial and thus it is necessary to climb the gate, ensure you climb next to the hinges to reduce the risk of bending the gate.

    Crops

    In fields with crops where the footpath doesn't run along the edge, if there is a well-trodden path then follow this to avoid trampling any more of the crops. If there appears to be no path through the crops then you do have a right to walk through the crop but stick as close as possible to the line of the path to avoid damaging any more of the crop than strictly necessary. Alternatively, you can follow around the edges of the field to avoid trudging though the crop.

    Water and mud

    The combination of the Great British Weather and a tonne of cow balanced on stilt-like legs can result in some muddy tracks and gateways to navigate, ideally without sinking below the level of your walking boots (or wellies in extreme cases!). Some suggestions for avoiding liquid-filled socks are:

    • Know your enemy: use a stick as a dipstick to assess how deep the mud is. A lake of extremely unpromising liquid mud may only turn out be a couple of inches deep.
    • If there are any rocks nestling in the mud, these are usually a good bet to stand on. Generally they would have already sunk if they weren't on fairly solid ground.
    • Clumps of grass have a root system that means you’re less likely to sink than in areas with no vegetation.
    • Where there are wheel ruts, the bottoms of the ruts are often the firmest ground, having been compressed under several tonnes of tractor. However, ruts filled with deep water are best avoided as mud will have washed in with the water so the overall depth will be hard to estimate.

    In wet weather, water running off the fields can find a path or track that has been worn by many travellers and adopt this lowest point as a watercourse. If you find yourself walking on a path or track that a stream is running along, it's often best to walk along the watercourse which is likely to have a stony bed. The edges are often soft mud, where you are more likely to sink.

    Where we've encountered walks with particularly epic mud or flooding that seems to be a likely most winters, we've added a warning to the walk. If you find any others that look like they are not just a one-off then let us know and we'll add a note to these too.

    Jargon buster

    • waymark - an arrow (usually yellow which means "public footpath") that points which way the footpath goes. Often on dedicated posts but sometimes on gates, stiles etc.
    • bridleway - like a footpath but horseriding is also permitted on it. Marked with blue waymark arrows. Nothing to do with weddings.
    • byway - effectively a road but with a surface not maintained to highway standards. All motor vehicles are allowed on it (if brave enough) as well as horses. Marked with red waymark arrows.
    • trig. point - concrete pillar on the top of a hill used by map surveyors
    • daymark - structure on land visible from the sea that is used for navigation - the daytime equivalent of a lighthouse
    • cairn - man-made pile of rocks (many in Cornwall date back to prehistoric times).
    • leat - a man-made watercourse, like a mini-canal. Normally used to bring water from a stream to a waterwheel to power a mill or mine pump.

    Learning more

    • Headys Farm do some really informative videos on facebook and twitter about what goes on at a typical farm and why.