Walking: a wealth of signs

Published 3 April 2013. Last updated 22 February 2020

If you’ve driven down a road in, say, the last 40 years, you can’t but help notice that road signs are all the same style. Someone decided this would be sensible; that having to learn a new a new symbol for Give Way when you cross the border between Devon and Cornwall would be frankly lunacy. Having one would be far more sensible. Even directional signs are of the same look and feel. That way everyone knows what the signs look like; everyone knows what to expect.

Yet as soon as you head out for a walk, that consistency all ends. When it comes to hiking signs can change completely in the matter of metres yet alone when you cross the boundary of Cumbria and North Yorkshire. There are a bewildering array of footpath sign styles.

Perhaps the most common is the old “wooden fingerpost”. Tough. Sturdy. Difficult for bored teenagers to disrupt by turning the fingers round.

A Southern Upland Way waymark near a wind farm

Then there’s the wooden stake in the ground. Discrete yes. Highly visible? Sometimes.

Up in North Yorkshire they have a variety on the stake – a metal pole in green. Very clear when in a grassy field…

A Ridgeway signpost

National Trails at least have the acorn although how its applied varies greatly.

A South Downs Way fingerpost

For example, on the South Downs Way they seem to prefer putting the acorn in a multi-coloured arrow where the arrow colour denotes path type. Anyone know what blue is then?

Dales Way waymark

Lets not forget those infuriatingly small circular discs that are attached to wooden posts, signs or sometimes just shoved on a tree trunk.

A Wandle Trail footpath sign made out of metal

Then there’s the road sign style, often used in more urban settings.

'South Downs' footpath sign

And sometimes they might have a person walking to denote the fact that it’s a path!

Footpath sign in Kent

Kent goes one step further with this frankly odd shaped guy. I’ll be walking around the county like him in future.

Footpath sign painted on tarmac, with very curved legs

Although that’s absolutely nothing compared with Mr Bendy Legs, seen on the tarmac of a path on a walking route in Greater London.

A completely blank signpost

Some signs can be highly useful whilst others can be more challenging. Most people may this completely blank fingerpost was just a mistake by the people erecting it, but actually it’s a prototype for a new sign that projects destinations right on to your retina!

A very small Pennine Way signpost, with the author next to it for scale

Finding other signs is like playing a game of Where’s Wally?

A skiing and walking sign in Norway

If you ever thought Britain had a bewildering array of signs on footpaths, then marvel at this one spotted whilst I was on holiday in Switzerland. The Swiss actually seemed to have a very consistent footpath style sign system but this one was a mystery to me. Eskimos and skiers should take caution? Beware of small children holding spears? Mind the dog? No good asking me…

A signpost with two fingers both directing people to Ulvik but in different directions

One thing missing from most footpath signs is where they’re going, but as this sign in Norway shows, even when you have that information it might not be very useful.

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