AN URGENT campaign is under way to uncover Bolton’s hidden footpaths.

SAIQA CHAUDHARI reports on the Don’t Lose Your Way Campaign, which launches this September with Bolton Ramblers leading the way locally.

MORE than 180 miles of paths criss-cross the borough, with some opening up some of the North West’s most stunning countryside for people to enjoy.

However, miles of public footpaths are said to be unrecorded — and if they are not put on the map by January 1, 2026, they will be lost for ever.

Rediscovering lost paths will open up the borough to more people to enjoy on foot, say Bolton Ramblers who are joining ramblers groups across the country to take part in Don’t Lose Your Way campaign.

“If we are aware of any paths which have been lost then we will, where appropriate, make applications to have them reinstated,” said Malcolm Deaville, chairman of Bolton Ramblers, “There are 140,000 miles of rights of way in this country, but it is estimated that 10,000 miles are unrecorded — the ones that have been lost.”

The network of paths used today have evolved over centuries with many dating back to medieval times or even earlier. They link villages, hamlets, roads and towns — describing how past generations travelled to the pub, field or shops reflecting, say The Ramblers, “the changing patterns of human interaction with the landscape”.

Members of Bolton Ramblers — which last year celebrated its 50th anniversary — were recently filmed on television investigating a lost path near Rumworth Lodge.

It has been discovered by Jack Cornish, leader of the Don’t Lose Your Way Campaign, who pored over old maps of Manchester. It was found that in the early 1900s a path linked the communities of Chew Moor and Ladybridge.

The path crossed just south of Rumworth Lodge Reservoir from Beaumont Road to Seddon Fold, which is shown on 1907 and 1961 OS maps but then disappears off the map.

Today, the path seems to suddenly stop — but has actually been lost under marshland.

Malcolm believes there are much better paths which are lost but could be documented once more.

He said: “It’s very important to record these paths, where, from my point of view, it is practical to do so. Sometimes it is not practical, as possibly for this path, but more often than not I think it is.”

“The path would have linked Chew Moor to the mills of Bolton,”he added, “I always thought it was just for the anglers going down to the lodge, that is its use now — but fact it did go straight across.”

Bolton Ramblers press officer Judith Heale added: “I just can’t get over the fact there was a Chew Moor community and there was a Ladybridge community — and suddenly they were cut off.”

She added: “Finding these paths opens up the countryside because they will encourage more people to use them and they will become more aware of the countryside and will not want it destroyed.

“Apart from the aspects of health, I think this important for the historical aspect.”

Judith said: “I think we have got a lot of lost paths because we had these little communities, and especially because of the motorways in the North West which will have sliced through a whole lot of paths.”

Many footpaths were lost simply because landowners defined where the paths were — and because they didn’t want them on their land they were not put on the map.

Judith said: “It was back in 1949 when it was decided there should be these definitive maps.

“It was totally piecemeal because some people just didn’t want them because either they were going to be expensive or intrude on their land.”

She said development of towns and cities led to more paths being lost because buildings, factories and roads were simply built over them.

The Ramblers are currently campaigning to have the deadline for paths to be added to the map extended to 2031 because of the amount of work required in applying for the footpaths to be reinstated.

Bolton Ramblers are hoping there will be support locally to uncover historic lost paths, especially given the Beelines’ movement — which is designed to create a city-region-wide cycling and walking network made up of more than 1,000 miles of routes. The ‘Beelines’ network has been developed with all 10 Greater Manchester local authorities.

Malcolm said: “We want the public to report the paths which they know about but are not on the map, but are walked on. You have to establish that the path has been used regularly over a period of time so that you can show there is a need for it.”

Specialists such as archivists or students are welcome to help with the project.

The Postcode Lottery has funded an officer in the North West to focus on the campaign.

“Once on the map, the path has to be maintained by the landowner, but we do help with the maintenance of it,” said Malcolm.

Judith added: “I don’t think that farmers etc should be worried about ramblers and rights of way, because when people get to a field, we look for a path, if the path is there we will stick to it. My brother who has a holding said he doesn’t like ramblers as he thinks they are going to walk across his field. I said he should signpost the path, and when I went to see him he had — and had no problems since.”