I remember one day, when I was supposed to be at school, hanging out at a friends house and watching an episode of Call My Bluff and there was a word that meant something like:

A path that is made (e.g. across a field) by people consistently walking along the same way

For example something like this (updated as some pointed out that my original picture was actually a footpath):


So, it is 15+ years later and I cannot for the life of me remember it so does anyone know what that word is?

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    – Laurel
    Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 18:08

16 Answers 16


You probably heard one of:

  1. Desire line: A path that pedestrians take informally, rather than taking a sidewalk or set route; e.g. a well-worn ribbon of dirt that one sees cutting across a patch of grass, or paths in the snow.
  2. Well-trodden path: Describing a route or path that is frequently used.
  3. Beaten track: A well-populated area or well-trodden path; any busy area.

For it to remain this tantalisingly elusive, I dare say that you heard option numero uno.

  • 2
    I first discovered the term desire line in the book Universal Principles of Design which describes the term as 'Traces or use or wear that indicate preferred methods of interaction with an object or environment (also know as Desire Path)'. More informally I may refer to a desire path as a beaten track or well-trodden path.
    – Ambo100
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 17:44
  • I like "desire line" and there should be no confusion, but I would be a little cautious, as it is also a cartography term A desire line map uses thin straight lines to show how places are linked together. In geography fieldwork they are often used to show the movement of people, for example, commuters travelling to and from work or visitors to a honeypot site (static1.squarespace.com/static/595b7bf678d171084cb4b2b4/t/…)
    – Greybeard
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 22:07

Besides path, pathlet, pathway, and the many things related to ways, tracks, and trails by having those words in their names (such as runway, highway, race track), we still have many possibilities:

(All cited definitions from the OED.)

  • ambage: Circuits, windings, circuitous paths.
  • bridle-path, -road, -way: a path fit for the passage of a horse, but not of vehicles;
  • by-path, bypath: A side path, as opposed to the highroad; a private, retired, or unfrequented path.
  • chare: Local name for a narrow lane, alley, or wynd, in Newcastle and some neighbouring towns; also for some country lanes and field tracks, e.g. the three which converge at Chare ends, by the landing-place on Holy Island.
  • estrade: In the Brazilian rubber trade, a winding path or road connecting a series of trees. Also in Fr. form estrade.
  • fare: A road, track b. spec. The track of a hare or rabbit
  • feute: The traces or track (of an animal).
  • footing: A mark or impression left by the foot; a footprint, or footprints collectively; a trace, track, trail.
  • foot-path, footpath: A path for foot-passengers only.
  • footway: A way or path for foot-passengers only.
  • fostal: (pl. fostalx) The track of a hare. [apparently a contraction of footstall]
  • going: Means of access; a path, road; a passage, gangway (in a church).
  • gutter: A furrow or track made by running water.
  • hag-path: a path through a copse.
  • hollow-way: a way, road, or path, through a defile or cutting.
  • ladel: A little path, by-path.
  • land-way: A way or path over land. A road giving access to land.
  • meanders: pl. Crooked or winding paths (of a maze); labyrinthine passages; windings or convolutions (of a vein, fissure, line, etc.).
  • pad: A path, track; the road, the way.
  • piste: The beaten track of a horse or other animal; the track of a race-course or training-ground. Also in extended use.
  • rack: A (narrow) path or track.
  • rake: A way, path; esp. a rough path over a hill, a narrow path up a clef.
  • ride-way: A bridle-path.
  • roddin, rodding: a path: see sheep-rodding.
  • rut: A (deep) furrow or track made in the ground, esp. in a soft road, by the passage of a wheeled vehicle or vehicles.
  • sithe: A going, journey, path, way.
  • serpentine: A winding path or line.
  • slot: The track or trail of an animal, esp. a deer, as shown by the marks of the foot; sometimes misapplied to the scent of an animal; hence generally, track, trace, or trail.
  • stight: a path.
  • sty: A path or narrow way.
  • switchback: Applied to a railway consisting of a series of steep alternate ascents and descents, on which the train or car runs partly or who lly by the force of gravity, the momentum of each descent carrying it up the succeeding ascent; esp. to such a railway constructed for amusement at a pleasure-resort. Hence transf. of a road having steep alternate ascents and descents. sb. A switchback railway (in either sense); also tran sf. and fig.; applied in N. Amer. to a tight bend on an ascending road or trail.
  • terrie, terry: A trodden path, sometimes a balk or ridge of earth separating fields or allotments.
  • trace: The way or path which anything takes; course, road.
  • trench: A path or track cut through a wood or forest; an alley; a hollow walk. A long and narrow hollow cut out of the ground, a cutting; a ditch, fosse; a deep furrow.
  • traverse: A passage by which one may traverse or cross; a way, pass; a crossing.
  • twitten: A narrow path or passage between two walls or hedges.
  • upgang: An ascent, an upward path or way.

And then there is the adjective:

  • wilsome: Chiefly of a way or path: Leading astray as through wild and desolate regions; hence, desert, lonely and wild; dreary.

Some of those are now rare or obsolete, or restricted to certain dialects or locales.

  • 4
    this is the only answer with obscure enough words for "Call my Bluff" imho
    – jk.
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 14:49
  • 2
    @jk. Off the top of my head, the rarer candidates include: ambage, chare, estrade, feute, fostal, ladel, rack, rake, roddin, rodding, sithe, stight, sty, terrie, terry, twitten, upgang.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 15:23
  • 1
    Words on this list that I have EVER heard used as words for a path: bridle path, footpath. A couple of others I've heard with quite different definitions. I've heard "serpentine" as an adjective for something winding and twisting, which would include "serpentine path", but also, e.g., "serpentine belt" for a rubber belt in a car that twists around multiple pulleys. Oh, and you define "switchback" in terms of railroads, yes, I've heard that usage, but nothing to do with paths that people or animals would walk on.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 13:58
  • 1
    Well, it's a new term for me. I was a pretty avid hiker as a kid, 40 years ago, and I don't recall ever hearing the term applied to hiking trails. Maybe I'm just forgetting, maybe it's new, maybe it's peculiar to some parts of the country (I grew up in New York, most of my hiking was in New England), etc etc. I'm not saying you're wrong, I was just trying to say that I question how many of the words on the list are actually in common use.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 20:38
  • 1
    "Bridle path" reminds me of a street sign I saw in White Plains, NY 30 years ago, near a country club with stables: "Bridal Path".
    – Phil Perry
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 16:20

In the trail maintenance community, it's called a "social trail" but that's only relevant when there's a maintained trail from which it branches.


They are called desire paths (also desire lines, social trails, goat tracks, bootleg trails, or intention lines).

The philosopher Gaston Bachelard called them les chemins du désir (pathways of desire), so that's one possible origin of the term.

  • 1
    Is this a UK term? I've never heard this in the US. If someone hear talked about a "desire path", my first thought would be that it was a place where teenagers go to make out.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 14:00

Some paths as shown are called cowpaths. For some discussion of cowpath and calf-path see Laure's answer to a previous question. I've heard deer trail in conversation much more frequently than cowpath, but deer trails usually are less obvious than the trail shown in the photo.

  • 3
    Maybe it was too obvious? I'm wondering why no one has suggested footpath.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 1:55
  • I'm surprised – anyone want to venture a guess why cowpath seems to be so rare in dictionaries? (I'm not arguing with this answer; I just expected it to be more widespread.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 9:22
  • Yes, it's a footpath, but the point here is that it deviates (is a shortcut) from the formal path that the property owner wants you to use (which would also appear to be a paved footpath). Very common around schools and college campuses.
    – Phil Perry
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 16:23
  • Generally a deer trail is assumed to actually have been made by deer. I've never seen it used in any other context Commented Mar 16, 2018 at 12:45
  • @theforestecologist, I've seen several "deer trails" that apparently were made by elk (wapiti) rather than by deer, and others apparently made by people missing the usual path because of snow cover. Commented Mar 27, 2018 at 3:10

Following Andrew Leach's comment, I did some strategic searching in the OED and came up with trackway:

A path beaten by the feet of passers, a track; also, an ancient British roadway, a ridgeway.

I don't know if that's obscure enough to be the word sought here, but it has the right definition.


social path - I came across the term when editing trail guides for National Parks and National Forests. Social paths appear near switchbacks - some people are impatient with a gradual gain. It's also used by some landscape designers.


The question of UK rights of way is a legally complex matter, but I’d have thought the path shown in the picture was simply a public footpath. Other routes are variously known as public bridleways, restricted byways, byways open to all traffic, permissive paths, and a few others. Full descriptions can be seen on the Ramblers Association website.

  • Thanks for the answer! I improved the question with a better picture of what I meant (you are right, that was probably more than likely a public footpath)
    – kmp
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 11:32

From Home Ground:

A close look at any city park or green will typically reveal footpaths that break away from paved walks, trails that countless pedestrians have worn into the grass. Such a trail is a desire path: the route people have chosen to take across an open place, marking a human pattern on a landscape. "A 'desire path' is what hikers or walkers have worn thin through finding a better way, or a shortcut, to a desired place," writes Mary Morris in Acts of God. Today, many planning agencies make use of such patterns when designing a public space. They first clear the land and then, after a few weeks or months, examine the ground for evidence of a human trail before choosing where to lay the path. – Lan Samantha Chang


There is a single word for "trodden pathway" in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English - "drung"

drung n. also drang, drong, drang.' A narrow lane or passage between houses, fenced gardens, etc. 1972 MURRAY 29 There are 'drungs' (lanes) and roads shooting off in all directions from the main artery. 1983 Daily News 14 June, p. 14 The once quiet drung [Maunder's Lane], located off Torbay Road at the top of Coaker's Hill [is to undergo major upgrading]. 1988 GOSSE 4 This wharf was located in a small cove at the end of a fairly wide drung, known as Dock Lane.

I don't think this is the word you want though! I think that it's an architectural or legal term (somewhat like "curtilage") that you're looking for, but unfortunately I can't remember it either. I too remember hearing it years ago in the UK (perhaps on Call My Bluff) and also it was used by an architect friend.


One not yet mentioned is the "trampled path". In studying Biology, we had to assess footfall by looking at square-metre quadrants of grassed areas. Areas with highly-trampled regions were deemed "well-walked" or, as mentioned before, cowpaths, deerpaths or, quite simply, the beaten path.


There's another term I've heard these referred to (about 20 years ago in London) but I can't remember it.

Researching it I came across lust lines, which is just a derivative of desire lines, but has nicer alliteration. This isn't quite what I remember, but is definitely closer.

I found this first in the hidden comments of a spectator article:

I've heard them referred to as lust lines in certain parks of London.

enter image description here


Pathway: trodden path seems too obvious.


I've been thinking of exactly the same thing recently. The word that keeps coming into my mind is a 'weird' or a 'weirdway'

I believe in the UK councils used this to describe these people made paths. I can't find any evidence of this term being correct though (try googling that term!)- its just what my brain thinks it was. Maybe it will spark something in your own recollection though?


When I took horticulture, my professor called this a desire line.


Desire Path:

A path created by natural means, simply because it is the “shortest or most easily navigated” way.


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