The bane of walkers’ lives is overgrown, impassable paths. We are blessed with many public footpaths in this country, as well as Ordnance Survey and its brilliant maps. Its smartphone app is particularly brilliant; the little red pointer will always tell you where you are and which way you are, well, pointing. This is wonderful for getting you on to unfamiliar paths wending their way through all sorts of new, captivating scenery. But just because the path is marked on the map doesn’t mean it has not turned into a thorny, stingy, dank jungle that you cannot hack your way through. And, disappointingly, OS has not seen fit to offer a helpline or panic button to facilitate instant extraction.
Last week, I was in just such an entanglement on the Gower Peninsula. I was 10 minutes into a day’s walk and already bitten, scratched, wet and greatly annoyed. Why the bloody hell, I demanded of the sheep in the neighbouring field, can’t somebody keep these paths clear? I swear at that precise moment I heard the unmistakable revving of strimmers. Encouraged, I smashed my way through the brambles, over a rotting stile, and stumbled before two strapping, uniformed, begoggled, strimmer-wielding young men. Professional path-clearers! I was beside myself with admiration and considered bunging them a few quid to walk 10 metres ahead of me all day clearing my way.
I thanked them and walked on, reflecting on what a wonderfully satisfying job their business was. When I got out of the woods and on to the lane there were their two immaculate vans, neatly parked up, back to back, with warning signs facing in both directions. I resolved to call them and ask for work experience. I would quite definitely work with them for nothing.
The trouble is, I can’t find any evidence of this company. On the side of their vans it said Pathfinders. I have searched the internet without success. When I walked back that way later, they were long gone. No vans, nor signs, nor blokes, nor distant sound of strimmers. If it hadn’t been for the now joyously clear path I would have wondered if I had dreamed it. If you see them about, working their magic on a neglected path near you, please do me a favour and offer them my services for free.
o Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist