Desire Paths

I was introduced to the concept of desire paths by the Gentle Author of Spitalfields.

He’s writing in the city, noting the allure of choosing your own route, “where the given paths fail and [how] the multitude of walkers reveal the footpath which best takes them where they need to go.”

A little like this traveller I spotted at London’s King’s Cross station some years ago …And the shoppers in Edinburgh – who are so eager for their destination that they barge across the grass allocated for trees …Or – perhaps worse – make ugly tracks over the newly-planted grassy slopes of Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens …Even in the countryside round us we see a wide range of desire paths. You just have to get to the sea as quickly as possible, don’t you?And, when access to Norham Castle is barred by English Heritage in the winter months, why – folk just walk round the gate and climb over the wall …The desire path by the side of Lindisfarne Castle some years ago was a complete mystery …Because it ran closely parallel to the much more comfortable stepped path provided by the National Trust. Are humans just pig-heads about this sort of thing?Far, far more fascinating, I think, are the desire paths of nature. When water forces its way into new channels … The well-worn tracks of cattle over the landscape …Sheep  – like cattle – find a favourite route and stick to it …I wonder if it is dogs or deer who have made this track down to the River Tweed?Some tracks into the woods and fields are so slight as to be barely visible …But some animal has seen or smelt something worth investigating in this field …It’s the apples on this tree growing so very close to the east coast railway line that have drawn people over the wall … Sadly this won’t be possible for much longer as railway authorities are putting new protective fencing along the railway line. Is it naughty of me to smile to see that it isn’t indestructible? On these same seacliffs beside the railway, young motorcyclists joyously ride over the rough grass, leaving tracks and paths like the cattle and sheep …Perhaps my favourite desire path is that made by our beloved cat, Ilsa, here surveying her private domain …There is a clear path into the grass …Sometimes only her tail gives her presence away …She’ll come out gradually …Before giving you her happy smile – she doesn’t mind because it’s you who’ve come to talk …In so much of our walking about this countryside we find slight tracks and indentations – not exactly desire paths as such, though all leading to a desired point. To the very tip of the cliff near St Abbs …Over the summer machair on Holy Island …And – invitingly -on a gently sloping hillside in the Cheviots …Which calls to mind this beautiful poem by Spanish poet, Antonio Machado …

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.
Translated from the Spanish by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney.



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Lost - and found.

12 thoughts on “Desire Paths”

    1. Actually it was entirely by chance that I posted this on Valentine’s day! These are thoughts that have been in my mind for some time – and continue to fascinate me whenever we’re out and about. I wonder if you have some good Desire Paths around you …?


      1. Yes, we have lots! The closest is my route from garden gate across the grass to the hens and on the farm where walkers cut the corners of fields and deer cross ditches from one field to another.
        I often wonder why planners can’t see that people are going to take the shortest path and at least put in some stepping stones. We all do it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Well, this got lost in a swath of emails…not a path! I see deer trails in the woods and sometimes follow them. I have been wanting to ask you, do you know of Charlie Mackesy? He was born in your neck of the woods and wrote the most delightful book: The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. Here is his Instagram site.
    I have read this book ??? many times and feel so connected to the Boy and the Mole.


      1. so glad to hear it 🙂 No walkies today, -5C which isn’t a problem but with the wind it is -12C
        will get out early tomorrow before the wind starts…-14C but without wind it will be fine.
        be well and thank you for your wonderful posts.


  2. During my Uni days this concept came up in urban space studies, as an indication of poor design. Humans will go the easiest route – it’s not about being pig-headed, it’s an animal instinct we have to cut a corner across the grass. And once we can see someone else has done it, we follow. Also, I just shared a poem by this same author yesterday, that I dug out of a journal from years ago:
    Has my heart gone to sleep?

    Have the beehives of my dreams
    stopped working, the waterwheel 
    of my mind run dry, 
    scoops turning empty,
    only shadows inside?

    No, my heart is not asleep.
    It is awake, wide awake.
    Not asleep, not dreaming —
    its eyes are opened wide
    watching distant signals, listening
    on the rim of vast silence.


    1. I know I’ve cheated a little in my interpretation of Desire paths – tracks that animals make aren’t really the same as those paths humans leave when rushing from one point to another – whatever the urban designer wanted them to do. Fascinating revelations of the human psyche.
      I do love this Machado poem – I don’t know it, so it’s a real treat to be given it here – thank you 🙂


  3. Really missing your blog. Hope you are okay and a warm hug from Brisbane, Australia x

    On Sun, 13 Feb 2022 at 9:50 pm, something from seaview <> wrote:

    kaydeerouge posted: “I was introduced to the concept of desire paths by > the Gentle Author of Spitalfields. He’s writing in the city, noting the > allure of choosing your own route, “where the given paths fail and [how] > the multitude of walkers reveal the footpath which best ” >


    1. Awww – thank you so very much for your lovely comment, Avie 🙂 Yes, all very well here! I have been in two minds over my blog – it’s so long since I posted that I was wondering whether to drop the blog altogether. But I do have several blog topics in mind, and thanks to your lovely comment, I feel inspired to get on and write them! Watch this space! 🙂


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