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.