When I set out each morning to feed and check on the animals I don't concentrate on the path I take across a field or up a track, but when I retrace my steps, empty bucket in hand, pleased perhaps with the progress of lambs, weaners or goslings, then I notice the parallel lines in the wet grass stretching away from me, marking where my feet have scuffed through the sward. It's incredibly difficult not to repeat that first journey exactly.
Often as not I have followed a sheep track, one they have made from hay rack to gate, or gate to gate, often with an eccentric meander round a comfortable contour rather than the shortest route. Like a waterway, the sheep tracks have tributaries and forks, where they split and regroup in answer to some internal satnav.
As the grass lengthens the tracks become more confirmed, better defined, a helpful path. The dogs always follow these paths and only go off-roading if distracted by a keen scent.
Last week I walked with friends through their woodland bordering a stretch of river. "Do you walk through here a lot?" I asked, noting the clear narrow mud track that moved us forward between the swathes of bluebells, wild garlic and orchids. "No", they said, "about once a year". The place is left undisturbed to encourage the bountiful flora and fauna. The track was the work of deer, and in the damp undergrowth we could spot lots of sharp hoof prints.
Somehow the tracks made by tractors and digger just don't have the same romance, but even they follow the animal tracks; animal instinct directs across the firmest and driest ground, why wouldn't a driver take heed?