Someone, with a lot more time on their hands than I've ever had, once calculated that there are 140,000 miles of public footpaths in England and Wales. I have no idea how they worked it out but you get the impression - plenty of scope for those of us with permanently itchy feet.
Through woodland, alongside fields, across meadows, up mountains, beside the sea, over moors......even through gardens and underneath people's washing lines! And every mile mapped with fanatical accuracy by the Ordnance Survey, which was only set up because Britain feared an invasion - which never came!
I'm not talking here about national trails leading for miles, but little tracks pottering from one village to the next. Though of course there's such a dense network of these paths that anyone with a good map and a little imagination can link them together to make a walk of whatever length is desired.
But how did we come by this marvellous network?
From medieval times up until the mid eighteenth century Britain was mostly farming country. In southern England each village had two or three huge "open fields" which were subdivided into small strips. Each farmer would have many strips dotted around in various parts of the parish. This meant that there had to be paths from the village, where the farms stood, to the outlying fields.
There would also be tracks to neighbouring villages and market towns. Nobody ever did much to maintain any of these tracks and, as most folk travelled on foot, it didn't really matter too much. And, anyway, if one track became impassable you simply used another.
Of course a few people did travel longer distances either on horseback or by stagecoach and those who left an account of their journeys had a great deal to say about the state of the roads.
But things were about to change. The Enclosure Acts consolidated the old strips of land into farms as we know them today. Farmhouses were built outside the villages, if that's where the landholdings happened to be. The multiplicity of old trackways was simplified to create a more modern efficient system of roads. Turnpike trusts were set up to create toll roads; the tolls paying for the upkeep of the roads.
However, England being England, the law upheld the rights of citizens to wander where they had wandered since time immemorial, even if it be over the newly created farmlands. Thus "rights of way" came into being.
And that's all a public footpath is today - a right to pass along a line on the map. There doesn't need to be any actual line on the ground to follow. But no one can block or obstruct a right of way. Stiles and gates mark where the route crosses field boundaries but in between there is often just a faint trod to follow or, if the route is rarely walked, nothing at all on the ground.
Of course sometimes the way will be blocked no matter what the law says. Broken stiles, impassable bramble thickets and bulls in fields can all add to the adventure. But things are improving, at least in this part of the country, as more and more people don their boots of a weekend.
It was this web of ancient trails then that I was making use of to traverse the Suffolk countryside on this fine autumn day. To link it all together you will see that I sometimes had to take to the narrow winding lanes that count as roads in this rural setting. In the next post I'll share with you some of the delightful little churches that lie hidden in the depths of this bucolic maze.