A stile is a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps. Stiles are often built in rural areas or along footpaths to allow access to an adjacent field or area separated by a fence, wall or hedge. Unlike a gate, there is no chance of forgetting to close it, and should the stile break, the fence remains intact (livestock cannot escape). However, stiles may well be difficult to use for some disabled people and people with limited mobility.
In the United Kingdom many stiles were built under legal compulsion (see Rights of way in the United Kingdom). For that reason a wide variety of designs exist. Recent changes in UK government policy towards farming has encouraged landowners in upland areas to make their land more available to the public, and this has seen an increase in the number of stiles and an improvement in their overall condition. However, on popular paths, stiles are increasingly replaced by gates or kissing gates - or, where the field is arable, the stile can be removed altogether, as there are no longer any animals to control.
Stiles also sometimes have a 'dog latch' or 'dog gate' to the side of them, which can be lifted to enable a dog to get through (see pictures below).
There is a British Standard that includes stiles BS5709:2006 Gaps Gates & Stiles (ISBN 0 580 48107 7). It says "New structures shall not be stiles unless exceptional circumstances require them".
An alternative form of stile is a squeeze stile, which is commonly used where footpaths cross dry stone walls in England. Instead of climbing over the wall using wooden or stone crossbars, there is a vertical gap in the wall, usually no more than 25cm wide, and usually with stone pillars on either side to protect the structure of the wall. The gap must be narrow enough that any livestock in the fields adjacent to the squeeze stile would not be able to fit through.
In popular culture
- In John Bunyan's allegorical tale The Pilgrim's Progress, there is a stile on the side of the road going into a meadow, which leads to Doubting Castle, home of Giant Despair.
- Stiles are mentioned a great deal in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre.
- In Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, the main character is named Stile, with explicit reference to the fencing structure.
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