illegal sign on footpath

Throughout England and Wales is an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways providing traffic-free access to the wonderful countryside of Britain, but unfortunately, not all of these rights-of-way are properly maintained. Generally speaking, English counties look after their footpaths much better than their Welsh counterparts, and footpaths around the Home Counties are usually very well-maintained, signposted and waymarked. With a few exceptions - notably in the National Parks and the Gower Peninsula - Welsh footpaths are in a sorry state compared to England, and the county of Carmarthenshire ranks bottom of the pile, and is notorious for the appalling condition of its rights-of-way.

In most parts of Britain, it's possible to select a route from an Ordnance Survey map, and have a good chance of being able to walk that route. The chances of completing a walk of your own choosing in Carmarthenshire are negligible, and in many parts of the county even finding a single path which is fit-for-purpose, is extremely low. Paths are frequently overgrown, signposting and waymarking are rare, barbed wire fences across footpaths are common - almost standard, footbridges are often missing or in a dangerous condition, landowners tell you there is no path anymore or you won't get through. I have had no less than FIVE landowners try to stop me from walking my local footpaths - something which has never happened in any other county. IT REALLY IS THAT BAD.

Blaenau Gwent 85%
Swansea 82%
Cardiff 80%
Pembrokeshire 79%
Denbighshire 72%
Vale of Glamorgan 71%
Ceredigion 59%
Isle of Anglesey 51%
Monmouthshire 51%
Carmarthenshire 41%

Figures obtained 2015/16
West Sussex 98.0%
Devon 93.5%
Gloucestershire 79.2%
Dorset 70.0%
Cheshire 76.9%
Staffordshire 75.0%
North Yorkshire 74.8%
Oxfordshire 74.0%
Shropshire 73.0%
Lancashire 72.0%
Northumberland 72.0%
Derbyshire 71.8%
Durham 71.3%
Monmouthshire 65%
Pembrokeshire 64.0%
Cumbria 52.2%
Herefordshire 48%
Cornwall 39.0%
Gwynedd 37.0%
Powys 37.0%
Carmarthenshire 31%

The table on the left shows the figures I've been able to obtain from other Welsh counties, showing the percentage of rights-of-way which are classed as easy-to-use. The figure of 41% for Carmarthenshire (even if it were true - which I doubt) is averaged out over the whole county. Paths in the south and east of the county (and obviously the coast path) are generally in a better condition. To the north and west, the figure is probably below 20%.

The table on the right (which was obviously compiled at a different time), I've found on the internet and lists a selection of English and Welsh counties. No prizes for guessing which county is bottom of the pile!

The council's favoured excuse is that they have enough footpaths to reach Aberdeen and back, but a glance at an Ordnance Survey map reveals that the density of rights-of-way in Carmarthenshire is no greater than in other Welsh counties, who are able to keep the majority of their footpaths in reasonable condition. The official "discover Carmarthenshire" website once made some outlandish claims like "a walker's paradise", "a hiking hotspot" and "some of the finest walking terrain around" - all completely untrue. Now it just lists about 26 set walks (most of which are well used routes like the coastal path) and attempts are made to keep these routes usable. They give a good map of the area showing the local paths and the route they want you to take, but should you try to short-cut onto any of the other footpaths, you're likely to find the same problems - overgrown paths, barbed wire fences and no waymarking. Despite the fact that Carmarthenshire has one of the lowest percentages of usable footpaths, the Carmarthenshire Visitor Guide [leaflet] states : "In Carmarthenshire there is no better way to get around"!

I have lived in many parts of England and Wales, and not only have I encountered more problems in this county than everywhere else combined, but the problems here are on a totally different scale. My advice to any intending walker therefore, is simple :

Don't come to Carmarthenshire

You will regret it.

If you do (foolishly) try to walk Carmarthenshire's footpaths, you'll need a map of at least 1:25000 scale (and be extremely good at map-reading), but be warned; many paths are not open due to unresolved legal issues. Some others have been diverted from the line shown on OS maps, but the council rarely waymark the new route or remove old signage!

You'll also need a pair of secateurs to cut overgrowth around stiles and preferably a stick to thrash nettles and brambles - you'll meet plenty of these. A pair of wire-cutters to deal with barbed wire fences would also be useful. You are legally allowed to remove sufficient of an obstruction in order to pass, but only resort to cutting fences if you can't easily get past and you're 100% certain you're in the right place.

Where should you walk?
Anglesey FootpathHow it should be - a footpath on Anglesey

Gower : Footpaths are very well maintained and waymarked, for many you won't even need a map to follow them.

Pembrokeshire : Most paths within the National Park are very well maintained, signposted and waymarked - those outside the Park not so good. Exceptional scenery and a good choice for walking.

Ceredigion : A very hilly county - most footpaths near the coast are in good condition, those away from the coast not so good, but the route is usually evident on the ground.

Anglesey : A very picturesque county, not hilly or mountainous but rarely flat. Nearly all of its footpaths are signposted from the roads with good stiles and gates - although a few have a little overgrowth. I would definitely recommend this county.

Gwynedd : Another county which looks after its footpaths and is a good choice for walking. Most paths signposted with gates and stiles where they should be. Hilly terrain towards the west becoming mountainous to the east.

Have you any experience of walking in Carmarthenshire?
If you've tried walking A ROUTE OF YOUR OWN CHOOSING
(selected from a map), please add your own comments here.

What others say - Websites

From :

Late in June I spent nearly a week near Carmarthen. I thought I'd get to know some footpaths local to where I was staying. I was in for a rude awakening: my first serious walk had the following issues:
First footpath, signposted from road. Disappears into someone's garden after about 50 metres. Subsequent enquiries led me to understand that this is indeed its route, but no-one uses it, and the sign was only erected after the occupants of the house tried to have the path re-routed.
Second footpath. Not signed, but led along a nice track along the edge of a field. On crossing a bridge it disappeared. Close consultation of the 25k map suggested it could only go through another garden. This time with a large number of barking dogs. There was someone in the neighbouring garden and I asked about the footpath. "Oh, yes someone came along three years ago looking for it". Indeed the footpath went through the garden, the owners of the house were aware of this and had let people through in the past. I opted not to bother: where would the next obstruction be.
Third footpath. Signed from the road, an obvious path, perhaps even more of an old bridleway. In decent condition. Things looking up.
Fourth footpath. Off the latter path. Started well going through a delightful woodland: with many coppice stools of hazel and evidence of bluebells. At the point where it should have left the wood the path petered out. There was quite a deep stream, a barbed wire fence and a dense thicket of brambles on the other side. Eventually I found a way through, but it took perhaps 20 minutes looking for a decent place. Once through I attracted the attention of horses in the field which was probably not on the footpath. There was a blocked gate which I climbed and the remaining part of the presumed line of the path was through a very rushy field overgrown with thistles. A newish barn and hard standing were located at the point where the path should have reached the road, surrounded by an electric fence.
Fifth footpath. This was shown crossing the valley from an old farmstead. Two parallel tracks led to the farm. An ominous sign was when a middle-aged couple in a BMW asked if they could "help me". The farm had been converted to a house and several bungalows had been built on the site of the outbuildings. They were owners of the former stables, but had never heard of a footpath: and "surely if it existed their solicitor would have told them". I had a search around, and found something which looked vaguely viable at the end of a field. Extensive stands of Himalayan Balsam should have warned me that what looked like dried earth was more likely to have been some kind of slurry. I beat a retreat. Needless to say after attempting a round walk I succeeded in mainly walking along country lanes: perfectly pleasant in themselves, but not what I wanted. After this experience I really lost heart and changed my plans for the rest of the week.

From :

By the time I had clambered out of my last Valley, I was in Carmarthenshire, pleasant if unspectacular rolling countryside, let down by the (in my experience) unprecedentedly appalling state of the footpaths.

When I did resume my walk, I quickly discovered that the state of the footpaths in this county was pretty ropey. They haven't improved. If you're lucky, you get a sign at the roadside, but after that you are pretty much on your own. Stiles are often rotten or broken, waymarks are almost non-existent, and conditions underfoot are frequently horrendous. To cross Carmarthenshire on foot, it helps to be willing and able to climb gates and fences, and where the footpath has disappeared altogether it's good to be handy with a map and willing to trespass. If [a path] is, say, near a farm, or in any other way inconvenient, a conspiracy of silence comes into play. The council don't mark it, there are no stiles or gates, and the landowner simply denies its existence.

From :

Having tried to walk the footpaths around Abercorran [a farm north-west of Laugharne], it is not so much the fact that there are no right of way signs on the paths, but the fact that the paths are impassable. Hedges are overgrown, paths are blocked and various earthworks force you to walk through streams. Walkers face many obstacles in Carmarthenshire, with missing footpath signs, paths blocked, and landowners preventing walkers crossing their land. It is great to see that there have been big efforts to open up new stretches of path with the opening of the Wales Coast Path, and no doubt Carmarthenshire Council's footpath team have been busy getting this open. However, now is the time to look at all the footpaths across the county and help make Carmarthenshire a destination for walkers. Landowners have as much obligation to keep paths accessible as the council do. Neighbouring Pembrokeshire do it so well, it puts Carmarthenshire to shame.

From :

Carmarthenshire’s public footpath network is in danger of falling by the wayside following claims that maintenance is being ignored and legal ‘accessibility’ issues are growing on an annual basis. Between June 2018 and December 2021, the number of outstanding maintenance issues had grown significantly from 1,300 to 1,800 while the number of outstanding legal issues had increased from 576 to 848. “But sadly the network here in Carmarthenshire is not in the best state of health. The last survey, which was in 2018, showed that less than half of the paths were open, accessible and signed and since then we know that the problem has grown enormously.”

What others say - Comments

Name : Matthew
Date : 24/12/2019
After recently moving from Pembrokeshire to (near) Meidrim in Carmarthenshire, and formerly enjoying many regular inland and coastal walks there, I was pretty shocked at the state of the footpaths in and around this area. Around Meidrim alone, despite being advertised on its community council website as a favourite holiday hotspot for walkers, every single footpath I've attempted has issues, ranging from rotten (and dangerous) stiles, overgrown stiles, pathways abruptly ending at thick hedgerows or barbed wire fences, pathways leading into gardens etc. I have yet to complete a route in its entirety and I still find myself driving to various locations in north and south Pembrokeshire to enjoy a decent walk (and consequently spending money in rural hospitality businesses there). I have also lived in Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, and have never encountered these issues. I thought care and the importance of rights of way was a national interest across the board, and took this for granted, until I moved to Carmarthenshire. Landowners and the local authority (in cases where complaints haven't been followed up) should also be aware that there is a case for legal liability should an accident or injury occur (for example, a rotten stile or footbridge collapsing). Landowners are required by law to maintain and make safe the rights of way crossing their land.
Name : Meidrim Community News
Carmarthenshire is fast becoming known as a "national disgrace" for the state of its public rights of way, being one of the worst performing in both England and Wales as people are advised on various public forums and groups to continue on to Pembrokeshire or Ceredigion.

Carmarthenshire Footpaths Gallery

These are NOT just isolated problems; they are typical of what you'll find if you're foolish enough to attempt walking in this county. All of these problems have been reported. A few have been resolved, but according to a former Rights-of-Way officer at Carmarthenshire Council reporting such issues is "petty" and "wasting their time".

If you try following footpaths in Carmarthenshire, you'll very likely end up lost, somewhere like this. All trace of a path has disappeared, waymarking is non-existent, conditions underfoot are muddy and there are barbed wire fences where there should be a stile. Is this a path in the middle of nowhere? No - it's just a mile from the offices of the council's Rights-of-Way department!
blocked footpath

The path goes straight ahead!

"In Carmarthenshire there is no better way to get around". [From Carmarthenshire Visitor Guide]
blocked footpath

Where the footpath meets the road, there should be a stile, but here you get a barbed wire fence and a hedge instead.
illegal sign on footpath

Another illegal sign on a footpath
illegal sign

Another illegal sign. It IS a Right of Way
pont abraham

Pont Abraham Services (end of M4). If you need to stretch your legs (or your dog's) after a long motorway drive, try footpath 33/48 at the entrance to the service area. The path (which is not sign-posted) descends the buttress of the river bridge (on the right) and continues along the overgrown river bank.

"Some of the finest walking terrain around."
footpath obstruction

A thick hedge across a path near Bancycapel
blocked footpath

A barbed wire fence and a ditch must be crossed to continue on this path

Shortly after following this muddy path down a field, it disappears altogether
river crossing

The footpath crosses the river, but there's no bridge and a few barbed wire fences to climb
path junction

A choice of paths. Both are overgrown and impassable.
kissing gate

Spot the kissing gate! It's buried in the hedgerow, and just for good measure, there are barbed wire fences on both sides
missing footbridge

An overgrown stile leads to one of Carmarthenshire's many missing footbridges
SWTRA footpath

At Nantycaws on the A48. The South Wales Trunk Road Agent should keep footpaths clear within their boundaries, but in Carmarthenshire they don't bother.
Llanllwni footpath

A typical Carmarthenshire footpath - note cattle trough next to stile, 'Beware Bull' sign on gate (there is no bull) and heavily overgrown track.
Footpath sign

Footpath signs are an endangered species in Carmarthenshire. This one's pointing at an impenetrable hedge
sleeper bridge

This 'footbridge' near Meidrim is a double-length railway sleeper, which has rotted right through lengthwise. It could be easily replaced by stepping stones, but (according to the council) these have 'Health and Safety issues'!

Note the 'Footpath' sign and waymarking arrow on a (recently cleared) stile. So what's wrong? This path was diverted months ago and doesn't go this way anymore!
footpath obstruction

Crossing one of SEVEN barbed wire fences on this path
Footpath overgrowth

Unusually for Carmarthenshire there is actually a waymarking arrow, but the track ahead is overgrown and impassable!
Obstruction on Public Highway

Beat This! This is County Road U2083. You are legally allowed to drive along it (although you'd need a 4x4), but the landowner has blocked it with a padlocked gate!
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