Traveling Amid Foot-And-Mouth

carol kopp photo anne hathaway's cottage english tourist site shakespeare connection Stratford-upon-Avon
Carol Kopp
At Stonehenge, near Salisbury, the only visible sign of Britain’s foot-and-mouth crisis is a narrow strip of chemically treated hay across a footpath that leads to the ancient circle of stones.

At Stratford-upon-Avon, tourists can still follow a footpath to the thatched-roof cottage where Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, grew up, although almost everybody takes a bus.

In London, the foot-and-mouth epidemic has never had any impact at all on tourists - or at least it isn’t hurting those who are showing up despite headlines about the crisis. They are still pub-hopping and photographing each other in front of Buckingham Palace, going to plays and touring Westminster Abbey, riding the Egyptian Escalator at Harrod’s and joining the mob at Notting Hill Gate for the Saturday flea market.

The foot-and-mouth crisis is not over yet. In early August, just as the last few areas closed to the public were set to reopen, new reports of foot-and-mouth infection destroyed hopes that the disease had run its course.

But in fact, the crisis never had much relevance to foreign visitors to England.

Early in the summer of 2001, British officials hastened to assure the world – and particularly Americans - that almost all of England’s footpaths had reopened to the public. England was, as Prime Minister Tony Blair plaintively put it, “open for business.”

A Visitor's Guide
For more on touring London and its environs, see this London 2001: Visitor's Guide.

The problem is, most Americans never quite knew what a “footpath” was. There is no precise equivalent in the U.S.

The English countryside is laced with footpaths. Walking along these narrow, pedestrian-only scenic trails, for an afternoon stroll or a week’s holiday, is a time-honored national pastime.

They’re not quite the same as park paths or wilderness trails or sidewalks.

They’re certainly not on the scale of the Appalachian Trail, nor do they have rest stops.

These footpaths wind along coastal cliffs and into valleys, along the edge of school playing fields and right through private country estates and the hearts of villages. They can cut right through modern cul-de-sacs.

Many of the paths were there long befre anything much was built nearby. Others were created more recently so that tourists can see - but not paw - popular national monuments.

And, of course, the footpaths meander past sheep farms, which may be one of the ways that foot-and-mouth disease could be carried from one farm to the next.

Carol Kopp

Last March, as the foot-and-mouth crisis began, thousands of popular footpaths near areas of reported outbreaks were closed to the public, with hefty fines for violations like dog-walking. Even the footpath to Stonehenge, among other national monuments, was closed.

Gradually, throughout the spring and early summer, almost all reopened and have stayed open.

The good news is that the vast majority of footpaths are still, as Tony Blair would put it, “open for business.” And when the line into Westminster Abbey again becomes unbearably long, England’s footpaths are well worth exploring.

Written By CAROL KOPP ©MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved