Everything you need to know about Rights of Way

Earlier this year I was involved with the running of a series of Ordnance Survey map reading workshops across Great Britain. One topic that regularly cropped up was rights of way – where can I go walking? Today on the Ordnance Survey blog I hope to be able to answer that question for you.

When we’re compiling the information for our maps we talk to a variety of other organisations and groups that provide different data-sets to link with the maps. When our surveyors are on the ground, or when our cartographers take information from the aerial photography that our plane has taken, they can’t always tell what the rights of way in that area are. We work with local authorities and national bodies (such as Sustrans and Natural England) to bring the information together for the maps. The maps are as accurate as they can be with the information that we have to hand at the time of the map being printed.

First of all – let’s have a look at the map and see what that tells us. What we’re looking at is the “Communications” section on the map legend. Here we can see the different types of roads and paths and public rights of way.

If you look on the map legend you'll find the rights of way information

If you look on the map legend you’ll find the rights of way information

Let’s work our way through these rights of way and establish what rights we do / don’t have.

  • Footpath – the green dashed line (on OS Explorer Maps) or pink dashed line (on OS Landranger Maps) are footpaths with public right of way. They are legally protected routes that the public can travel along by foot. The local authorities hold and maintain the definitive map of Rights of Way. These are the legal documents for the status and alignment of Rights of Way. Local Authorities pass details of amendments to the definitive map to Ordnance Survey for inclusion in our maps. Footpaths may cross private land and in such cases the footpath must be kept to, the public only have the right to walk along the footpath.  If a landowner wishes to  divert a  public right of way they must obtain a legal order from the local authorities to amend the definitive map. Footpaths are sign posted, usually with yellow or green arrows.
  • Bridleway – as with footpaths the bridleways (as shown in the legend above) are legally protected routes that the public can use on foot or on horseback. Cyclists are permitted to use the bridleways – although through the Countryside Act 1968 there is no obligation to facilitate the cyclists on the routes and they must give way to other users. Bridleways are usually sign posted with blue arrows.
  • Byway open to all traffic – these are open to all forms of traffic – pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists and car and other motor vehicle drivers. These routes are often marked with red arrows.
  • Restricted byway – on these routes there are restrictions on how you can travel the route. You are permitted to use the route on foot, horseback, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. You cannot use any motorised vehicles along this route.
  • Other public access route – these are route that are rights of way, however the exact nature of the routes are unclear and are based on the best information that we have to hand. Prior to setting out on one of these routes – you may want to contact the local highway authority to see if they can advise on any restrictions that there may be.
  • Recreational route – these are trails designated by the local authority and may follow existing public rights of way. They are routes that will be sign posted by the local authority.
  • National Trail / Long distance route – these are long distance routes.  Some are only available for walkers, others may also be open to cyclists and horse riders. They are maintained through funding from Natural England and are sign posted along the route. Each route has a National Trails Officer who is responsible for the coordination of maintenance, improvement and promotion of the route on the ground.
  • Permissive footpath – this footpath takes you over private land and isn’t a right of way. The landowner has granted permission for the route to be used by the public but they also have the right to withdraw that permission if they choose. The path will often be closed for one day a year in order to protect the landowner against any future claims of continuous public right of way. The date(s) the path is closed for should be well signed in the area.
  • Permissive bridleway – as with the permissive footpath above, the route takes you across private land where the landowner has granted permission for the public to use it. They do have the right to withdraw their permission and as above, will probably close the bridleway for one day a year.
  • Traffic free cycle route – this is a designated traffic free cycle route, although not part of the national cycle network.
  • National cycle network – these are national, sign posted cycle routes that are either on road or traffic free (depending on whether the box is filled in or not). These routes are managed by Sustrans.
  • Danger area – this could be a military firing range and the warning notices around the area should be observed and adhered to. You can contact the Ministry of Defence ahead of your trip to find out about access to specific area.
  • Managed access – again, this could be a military firing range and the warning notices around the area should be observed and adhered to. Access is restricted and managed in this area and you can contact the Ministry of Defence ahead of your trip to find out about access to specific area.
  • Open access land (England & Wales) – on maps for England Wales you will notice area that is shaded in yellow. This is open access land and within this area you are free to roam at will. Although there are footpaths and trails running across this land – you do not have to stick to them if you don’t want to. The boundary of the open access land is a tan colour thicker line. In Scotland the situation is different – north of the border you have the right to roam. There may be local restrictions on access – but local signs will instruct you.
  • Right to Roam (Scotland) – The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives the public the right to be on any land for recreational, educational and certain other purposes and to cross the land if exercised responsibly. There may be circumstances where you get permission from the landowners but providing that you are considerate and respectful of the land you’re traversing, you have the right to roam when walking, cycling or horse riding.  You have the right to walk your dog with you – providing the dog(s) are kept under control. You are not permitted on to land for the purposes for hunting, shooting, fishing or using motorised vehicles. From your Ordnance Survey map you will be able to see where land may belong to the National Trust for Scotland, Forestry Commission or Woodland Trust. There may be limited access in some of these area – but local signs will instruct you.

Hopefully that has answered some questions for you on rights of way in Great Britain. If you come across a blocked right of way – your first port of call should be with the Rights of Way Officer (or similar) with the local authority. They will hold the definitive list of the rights of way in that area and should be able to advise or help clear the route.

Now you know where you can and can’t go – I hope you enjoy exploring Great Britain with your Ordnance Survey maps!

Photograph: Albert Bridge from Geograph

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96 Responses

  1. Kevin Reynolds

    Over the years I have had many an altercation the cyclists especially those on Mountain bikes, on public footpaths, even been driven at deliberately. I am sure than the majority do not know than a footpath is exactly that, for walkers only.

    1. Cameron Taylor

      Sorry Kevin, I’m one of those cyclist, (I wouldn’t ride my bike at you!) but I would love to stand and argue with you and watch your colour change! – deep purple would be perfect! I’m also practiced in CPR just in case.
      Now that Albert has stated “although (unless there are any specific local bylaws) it is NOT a criminal offence if you are caught riding a bike or horse along it.”

      Uh! I’m so excited – Bring it on! See you around Kevin! :)

      A balance of understanding and consideration for all is required!

      1. C Spiller

        Actually Cameron in England & Wales it most certainly is an offence to ride a pushbike on the pavement unless you are a child and when necessary the police will and do issue fixed penalty notices which carry a £30 fine. Dispute the fine and you could end up in the magistrates court.

        1. Steven Collier

          Cycling on a pavement is an offence as stated, but cycling on a public footpath (not alongside a road) is not a criminal matter. There isn’t actually anything stating that cycling isn’t allowed, and realistically it’s just as valid as taking a dog, pushchair or wheelchair. The only case related to this declared that a bike was just as valid as these other items.

    2. John Norris

      On what types of routes do I have a right to ride my bike?
      On all the categories of public rights of way except footpaths. It is not an offence to ride on a footpath, but may be a trespass against the landowner. However, it is an offence to ride on a pavement beside a carriageway and also where a traffic regulation order or a bylaw is in place to prohibit cycling.

    3. Lee

      The trouble with this country is people are allways more concerned which what others are doing instead of enjoying what you have, is life really that hard to you that you don’t want someone passing by on a cycle just because there is a rule that say so what diffrence does it make to your life I would really like to know why you are so offended by a cyclist minding his own business having a great time keeping healthy and enjoying our great countryside.

  2. So many different rights of way…. Its amazing you can keep ‘track’ 😉 of them all! Have you ever thought of showing the different types with different symbology?

  3. Kevin Reynolds

    I’ve tried education, the reply is ****** off or they are on there way to the well known Bow Locks!!!!!!
    (Grid reference TQ383824) a set of bi-directional locks in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, on the River Lee Navigation.

  4. Pingback : Rights of Way Reminder on the OS Blog | Whitespider1066

  5. SteveP

    I’ve recently moved to the country from London and have been taking advantage of the local area, mostly by bicycle.

    A couple of questions that I don’t see covered above… First, I assume it is permissible to walk a bicycle (i.e. dismounted) on a footpath? There are some routes where (for whatever reason) recreational bicycle routes avoiding main roads do not quite join up, but connection by footpath exists. So I have been walking my bicycle, much as I do on some unrestricted byways (they being too churned up and unmaintained to actually ride on).

    Second; you say motor vehicles are not permitted on Restricted Byways. Yet in some case, it is obvious that access to homes is provided along a road marked as a Restricted Byway, so I assume this restriction does not apply to everyone. That is, homeowners are allowed to drive a motor vehicle on “their” Restricted Byway”?

    Finally, one local tarred road is marked “Private Road” (with a non-Council sign) but marked by the Council as a Restricted Byway. Again, this is a tarred road (connecting two public tarred roads) so it would appear I can ride my bicycle on this road, but only residents may drive motor vehicles on it?

    There are a few local Restricted Byways with homes on them, some of which connect public roads, so I wonder how their use is governed? If I was visiting a person on that Restricted Byway, could I (a non-resident) drive a car to their home? Quite confusing, actually.

  6. Mike K


    This article might help you to put things into context:


    Makes for some very interesting reading.

    My interpretation of this is that yes you are permitted to walk with a bicyle on a public footpath and I feel that my interpretation is supported by Lord Walle’s judgment in the Crank vs Brooks, 1980 case law quoted.

    It’s also interesting to note even if you were to cycle on a public footpath (not a footway), you are only liable to civil prosecution of trespass by the landowner. This suggests that you can actually ride on a public footpath provided you get the landowners permission, and providing it is not protected by local by-laws.

    Restricted byways are open to access by walkers, people on horseback, and cyclists. The restriction applies to mechanically propelled vehicles. Residents will be able to drive their vehicles along a restricted bridleway because they either own or have rights to through their title deeds or some other agreement with the landowner.


    1. SteveP

      Many thanks for the link and reply – as you say, interesting reading.

      It’s a shame how the various “user groups” (i.e. ramblers, cyclist and horse riders) can’t seem to coexist. I am fortunate to live in a “horsey” area, but unfortunately, I am mostly a cyclist. Local bridleways are often only maintained to a level allowing passage by horses and very determined walkers.

      My only incident in hundreds of miles of riding this year was, ironically, on a road, where a young horse rider turned directly in front of me when his horse decided to investigate a piece of paper on the opposite verge. No harm done, but a potentially dangerous situation had a motor vehicle been involved.

      Thanks again for the added information.

      1. Mike K

        My sentiments exactly! Unfortunatley there doesn’t seem to be too much ‘joined up thinking’ going on between user groups which would allow each and all to benefit in the long run.

        By way of example, I had an interesting discussion a few weeks back with a rambler in the Malvern Hills. Myself and few few friends were riding legally on a marked bridleway – he even acknowledged this – but he still felt the need to stop us and read us the riot act for causing damage to the rights of way.

        I couldn’t have agreed more, the bridleways we were on at the time were very churned up, but my argument for this is that if you only allow cyclists/horse-risers and other users access to less than 10% of the total avaliable RoW network, what do you expect?

        If we were allowed access to more of the network then the damage cause would arguably be reduced by virtue of the fact that you’re not conatining all users to a very small portion of the avaliable network and therefore it becomes over-used. Spread out the total use and you give the land more chance to recover, not only that but it might help to keep less used RoW’s from being closed.

        Just a thought!


        1. SteveP

          I recently spent a week cycling in Spain, much of it on the “Via Verde”, which in this case, was a repurposed (abandoned) railway track.

          What a fantastic experience! The right-of-way (shared with walkers, horses and the occasional agricultural vehicle and landowner’s car) was about two metres wide in most areas and covered in a fine, compacted gravel, except in hilly areas and towns, where it was hard-surfaced. In towns and cities it was a clearly-marked trail, and even in the countryside it was well-signed, with directional indicators.

          Quite unlike our mishmash of signage, which in a few miles can vary from excellent (usually where the Council has prohibited something :-) to a fallen-down, neglected footpath sign (which will probably match the condition of the footpath).

          Everyone uses The Netherlands as an example of how “bicycling should be done” but I think that is misleading. It’s not just about bicycles (or horses, or walkers) it’s everyone.

          This Spanish example is more valid and applicable to us as there is a wider mix of urban/rural in both the UK and Spain (than in NL) and solutions (like reusing old rail lines) have to be more creative – and inclusive. Heaven knows we can’t afford to start over.

          We rode after recent heavy rains, but these RoWs are well-maintained. You have to expect that a track used by horses and bicycles will suffer some damage if not properly designed. I tried to ride my bicycle along parts of the Test Way (open to motor vehicles) and the Ridgeway recently, and in both cases, I ended up walking frequently. The areas open to “cars” (4X4s) were so rutted as to be unridable (ruts so deep my pedals fouled the side) while the areas not open to motor vehicles were also uneven and still rutted (from occasional agricultural use) and never repaired/maintained (or just never properly prepared.)

          It’s a bit like riding in London, where a “cycle superhighway” can suddenly dump you into a junction that has no provision for safe cycling. In the countryside, excellent cycle (hiking/horse riding) trails suddenly become impassable.

          Not joined up in so many ways…

    2. Double Jeopardy

      I’m certain that I’ve read that even to wheel a bike on a footpath is not allowed. The potential obstruction caused to passing traffic should be enough to deter any sane person from attempting such an action anyway. The land-owner certainly has the right to ask the offender to leave his property (in the direction from whence he/she came). You’ve already drawn attention to the incoherent mess of myth and fact regarding footpath law (or lore). We have a footpath bisecting our garden. It is our legally registered property. It’s 1.5m wide (by statute) and contains a ‘kissing gate’. One local when challenged while bouncing his bike over my gate announced I was talking rubbish and the path in question was a bridle way! The idea of lifting a pony above his shoulders didn’t cause him to rethink. A recent meeting with the Council Dog Foul people exposed that they had no idea regarding the law as governed dogs and footpaths. Best yet is the Ramblers encouraging people to carry secateurs on their walks – it’s called ‘going equipped’ and it’s against the law – sharp objects concealed about your person while on someone elses property – whatever next!!

      Nice to have the opportunity to air concerns but who can we truly turn to to generate change?

      1. SteveP

        An interesting perspective from a landowner’s side. I agree that hoisting a bike over a gate or stile can be an issue, but so could a backpack. I would think the issue is actual damage and not what is carried. The damage to a footpath from a wheeled bicycle is insignificant, but no doubt some will take the chance and ride, unfortunately.

        As far a secateurs, there is no prohibition on carrying sharp things in the countryside – our laws remain in context and secateurs are necessary because so many landowners fail to maintain their rights-of-way in an effort (perhaps) to discourage use.

        Sometimes a footpath connects two other “bicycle-legal” rights-of-ways, so I see no problem with wheeling (or carrying, if you insist) my bicycle to the next legal riding position. If “passing space” was an issue, it would be illegal to wheel one’s bicycle along the pavement, making use in a city pretty much impossible. Perhaps the law needs to be changed to make it clear bicycles are welcome and their use encouraged.

        As a country-dweller myself, I fear some land-owners buy properties with the full knowledge of rights-of-ways, then set about grumbling and being obstructive. Thank heavens for democracy :-)

        1. Edward

          “Interesting” is the right word, I think as landowner and cyclist.

          Whether a cycle is ‘natural accompaniment’ to a pedestrian hasn’t been tested in the courts (even though several councils advise it isn’t) so if DJ wants change they can try suing the next unfortunate to come by. I don’t fancy their chances though.

          What tickles most is the citing of “going equipped” (for pruning?) – which is an interesting interpretation of an actual offence; (s.25 of the Theft Act 1968) ‘going equipped for stealing, etc.’. It’s nothing to do with shrubbery. You could perhaps claim an offense under ‘possession of a blade or point’, or whenever foliage was actually cut, but I don’t know that many will take you seriously.

    3. Double Jeopardy

      The URL above has been updated to:


      Anybody know if there is a difference between a ‘Public Footpath’ and a ‘Public Right of Way’.

      Still hoping someone will take pity on a poor landowner whose modest garden is bisected by a 1.5m unregulated strip of anarchy. Lord help me if a nettle should intrude on those emptying their dogs in my garden but where is there any law protecting my rights – do I really have to refer myself to Article 8 of the Human Rights Act?

      1. SteveP

        I’m not an expert, but I believe Right of Way is an older term now superseded by others in current legislation. I am aware some councils have not updated signage – perhaps we can get an expert opinion.

  7. Michele Hawkey

    Hi,have recently moved to small cottage in town with private right of way over back of cottage for neighbours access.Thought confirmed with solicitor before purchased that ok to erect small gate to keep springer form wandering into neighbouring gardens.Not locked and is within my boundary.Discussed with neighbour and appeared fine.They’ve lived here for forty yrs and bit set in ways.Obviously not happy with little change and now say not happy with Biggs my springer free to use right of way.He’s not happy at moment and want him to join me front and back garden.Mainly weekends as comes to work with me.Can’t find any info to tell me legally where I stand with him out and about in garden.Shame as he’s extremely friendly.Perhaps you will be kind enough to advise me.Thank you

    1. Gemma

      Unfortunately we cannot advise you on boundary disputes. Boundary disputes can be complex and you may wish to take legal advice.
      You can also contact the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) online boundary dispute helpline.
      Land Registry also provide guidance on:
      how to find out where the boundary of your property is
      how to find out who has responsibility for a boundary fence, wall or hedge
      You might find some helpful contacts on our website FAQs page http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/support/property-boundaries.html
      Thanks, Gemma

  8. Rob

    I live in country side and have done all my life, I love shooting, cycling, dog walking and motorcycles.
    I probably do around 30 miles a week walking dog so get good use of foot paths I also cycle down the same routes and can’t see the harm, my bike actually makes less damage to the ground than me on foot. I’ve been challenged by ramblers with nothing else to do other than find someone to moan at on there walk out I imagine its people like double jeopardy who have nothing else to do with there day other than tell people how bad they are carrying a bike over a gate! What next will he turn to drugs and crime after doing such an act.
    Last thing is ramblers wanting it all to there self, this attitude as brought all this

  9. Rob

    On, I’m happy to see off road motorcyclist riding on foot paths and can’t blame them one bit as they only have around 2% of paths left to go on. So if ramblers wasn’t so Greedy and let everyone Share then there wouldn’t be as much conflict.
    Last thing is to double jeopardy may I recommend you get a hobby,job or move house rather than sitting watching people carry bikes about and then moaning about it

  10. SteveP

    It is fascinating to read all the varying perspectives. As mentioned, I now live in the country. When I bought my property, my solicitor carefully researched any easements, liens, covenants, responsibilities and rights of way which affected it. So – anyone unhappy with the discovery of a public right to access their property should have been aware or may have cause for complaint with their legal advisor.

    I have attempted to cycle on some “unrestricted byways”. One example is the Test Way. It is so rutted from 4X4 use that cycling is impossible. The ruts are two feet deep in places, and it is dangerous to cycle as you fall into the ruts and your pedals become caught up. Now, I also own a 4X4, and have “green laned” a few times. The two activities should not be mutually exclusive. As I understand it, the landowner (council in this case) has a responsibility to maintain access. And ruts two-feet deep does not imply maintenance.

    Similarly, some restricted byways, where no motor vehicles are allowed, are considered by horse riders to be “theirs” and they tolerate (not sure about the horses) or perhaps even appreciate quite overgrown conditions. Brambles and Lycra do not go together :-)

    I think we have to understand that councils have no money and little inclination to maintain these “green” spaces as the majority of the population makes little use of them (unfortunately). Where the responsibility falls on a private landowner, I think it is more clear, but I also understand that despite them having been aware of the public access they would mostly prefer them to go away.

    From the above comments it seems obvious the various users of the countryside find it difficult to be tolerant of other users, but we must work together.

  11. Rob

    That’s an excellent comment Steve p but unfortunately I don’t think you could ever change the view/mentality of 90% of ramblers. That view been I want to walk everywhere and no ones can use the land.

  12. Tony

    “The landowner has the right to divert the public right of way” This is not the case. Only the local highway authority can do this after following the correct, legal procedure.

  13. Blighty

    We have a fp going down our drive. Recently a very aggressive pair of “ramblers” came through shouting their rights and were abusive to our neighbours. We discovered there was a walking festival due to come through our driveway yesterday, about 30 ramblers. Because we found this out in advance we were able to move our horses away from the route. I have asked the council where we stand asking “Ramblers” if there is a “festival” weekend planned could we be informed by a note through our door when they do their reconnaissance four weeks beforehand. This would allow us to turn out the horses away from a mass of Anorak wearing, hat wearing, stick wielding, map waving walkers. If we know about it we can avoid conflict, we won’t be injured turning a blind corner and be greeted by ramblers and they won’t be injured by horses they have spooked. Also our paddocks wouldn’t be trashed because a “festival walk” has spooked the horses. I’m told they have no obligation towards us! One sided or what!

    1. Double Jeopardy

      Sorry to hear of your experience. My response to aggression or abuse on our footpath was to photograph the perps and inform the police. Our pathway is officially registered (LR) to us and it’s my conviction that this grants more ‘natural’ rights and allows that we are less dependent on the Council for remedies.

      Dog Control Orders can be used to limit the number of dogs in the care of one person – perhaps it could be extended to include the number of ramblers allowed in a group. BTW did you know the name for a group of ramblers is an ‘affray’ :-)

      1. Blighty

        That’s a good idea about restricting group size. I will look into it. I spoke with the council and asked if I could put a sign up saying please do not spook our horses, spooked horses can be unpredictable. But he said I couldn’t as it may put people off entering the property and it makes our horses out to be a danger. Our horses are very placid, but any horse would react to a mass of people or an “affray” walking towards them. I for one don’t want to get injured, but it seems my safety and that of my horses is of no importance. All I get back is “Because they can.” If they got injured I am sure they would not hesitate to take legal action and all for a situation that was caused by them “because they can.”

  14. SteveP

    I have been following this post and again wonder if somehow people purchase property without knowing that a public footpath crosses it. If so, I would think the original solicitors were remiss in not informing them of such. Otherwise, it seems a bit like buying a house beside a motorway and then complaining of traffic noise.

    Surely a landowner has a responsibility to be safe and protect the public, so locating any potential danger close to a “public right-of-way” would be at best inconsiderate?

  15. Double Jeopardy

    Hi Steve
    Of course we all knew before we purchased our properties that ROW’s etc existed. What we couldn’t anticipate is that some of those taking advantage of the privilege are often surly and bad-mannered. They can also, in numbers, be intimidating. Remember Blighty’s neighbours encountered ‘aggression’ and ‘abuse’. Footpath rights do not mean that landowners have to put up with behaviour which would not be tolerated in the village pub – they miscreants would be ‘barred’.

    1. Cameron

      “Calm down its only a horse!” – I eat them every day!

      “taking advantage of the privilege” – Its not a privilege its a “right” as in the description “Right of way!”

      “encountered ‘aggression’ and ‘abuse’” We only have Blightys version!
      You get bad tempered people everywhere, take a look on the roads (me for one, having to drive passed a horse and I’m sure there will be one or two replying to this!)- And I bet if the truth be known! the situation wasnt helped by Blighty!

      A balance of understanding and consideration for all is required! Nah! :)

      1. Blighty

        Cameron, you do only have my version of events, however I was left physically shaking after having a stick wielded at me. Our neighbour (two miles away)encountered the same group. They knocked at her door and demanded to know where the path was. She had no idea as they had only recently moved in. This was taken as her not allowing them to walk the path. Everytime she told them that they could, but she had no idea where it was she was accused of trying to stop them. It got so bad that one of the men in the group apologised for the female ramblers behaviour. These problems have only existed since the “right to roam” act of 2005 and many of the out buildings have been in existence long before this act. I also don’t think it’s good practice that our gate was left open and livestock escaped, then they dammed the river with rocks and tree branches to mark the crossing. the environment agency work hard to keep water courses free flowing.

        1. Cameron

          I’m sorry Blighty for your experience, I would not wish it upon anyone! However it is not the fault of the “right to roam act” or “footpaths”, or “rambles”. If you or your neighbour where abused, assaulted or experience criminal damage then the correct thing to do is to report it to the the police! I dont think it fair that you blame “walkers” in general.
          Where is the footpath in question? I’ll organise a walk so that we can have a better understanding of the footpath in question!

          1. Blighty

            Cameron, thank you for your response. We have no problem with “walkers” in general, in fact we are keen walkers ourselves and maintain and clear footpaths when necessary. We like to think we are polite and respectful to others. A young couple came through last year and asked if it was ok to use the path, they were staying with neighbours. We showed them where the path was, but explained after such a wet year it was very boggy, they didn’t go far and came back. Because it was so wet the tractor couldn’t cut the hedges, so we did it by hand. Our bad experience was with one group only and we know you can’t tar everyone with the same brush. Next time though I will be prepared, just in case they want to behave in the same ill mannered way.

  16. I’m very new to walking & map reading and apologies the basic nature of this question. I’ve noticed a double-dotted black line on OS maps which doesn’t seem to appear anywhere in the legend. Can anyone explain this please?

  17. David Eaton

    Hi All, can anyone tell me if I ca re-route a bridal path across my land, Im happy for the path to pass over my property, but it would be an really useful if I could move it by about three meter’s
    This small section links a main road to lane/Byway but cars, lorries and vans park on the bridal path restricting the view along the main road, if I can move the Bridal path closer to the lane I could put a curb and grass area in to establish a visability splay that would not get parked on, there has already nearly been two nast accidents there because of lack of
    clear view along the lane exit,

      1. David Eaton

        Hi Gemma thanks for that, Yes I agree that would be my first port of call, except that it was the local Authority that made me remove the raised grass area that allowed the view of the road by preventing vehicles parking there,:-(
        Thank anyway Gemma,

  18. SteveP

    The local Council was petitioned (? unsure of the process, which probably involves £ and lawyers) to move a footpath as a new property owner wanted to build a stables and didn’t want the footpath passing between their house and stables (fear of horse spooking, etc.). There was considerable local opposition and they were unsuccessful. However, your request sounds reasonable and your Council may look upon it more favourably.

    If people are parking vehicles on a bridle path, then you should ask the Council to enforce restrictions against doing so. You could probably assist by taking photographs and documenting times and dates. This would also assist/support your request for the location to be modified.

    1. David Eaton

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks, yes good point I guess they have a responsibility to ensure the bridal path is kept clear and open,
      And yes photo’s would help,
      Thanks buddy, good plan, Im on it,



  19. Maja

    Can anyone clarify a question that has been puzzling me for a while – I know what are footpaths / bridleways etc from the OS maps but the statement on the key that the representation on the map of any other road is no evidence of a right of way confuses me. Generally larger roads – down to yellow on the map are fairly clearly open to the public but I am never sure what the situation with white roads is – there are many locally that I know are open to all and equally many are private drives. How can you tell from a map what you are allowed to go down and what not?!

    1. Gemma

      Hi Maja

      Thanks for the questions, it’s a good one. The maps record the features on the ground, but won’t tell you whether a road is private or public. When it comes to private roads, it’s a case that you would need to follow local signage on the ground informing you of private property and whether or not you have access.

      Many thanks

      1. SteveP

        And of course you can contact or visit the local Council’s Rights-of-way officer to determine the status of roads and byways, etc. In my experience, there does appear to be a certain reticence to communicate fully via email – this is (I suspect) because some routes have an official status which is not clear on purpose.

        For example, I know of one road which provides access to a council-provided nature trail parking area, but then is signed “no vehicular traffic” further on. However, that is not a “legal” sign, and that road provides access to several houses and then connects with another road further on. Its status is actually “unrestricted byway” but the homeowners fear it being used as a “rat run” so the Council allows the “no vehicular traffic” sign (probably installed by the home owners) to remain. They *are* very large and expensive homes :-)

        The best thing to do is a arrange a visit to the Council offices and ask. You will often find local signage that is deliberately obfuscating. Does a road with a “no public footpath” sign mean it is private? Perhaps.

        There is also a sign near me on a restricted byway, which is crossed by a footpath. On a Council signpost identifying both is a large added-on (non-council) sign which states “Footpath only – no horses”. Obviously, some landowner, tired of horses mucking up his footpaths, has (illegally?) added an additional sign to the Council’s. But it is confusing, as the restricted byway is, of course, open to horse riders. The added sign only refers to the crossing footpath.

  20. Cassie

    Could you please let me know how to apply for “Continuous public right of way”
    We have a situation where the public have regularly used a footpath/track over private land leading to “Open Access Land” on a daily basis for well over 30 years and have never been stopped by the landowner for doing this, and the track has never been closed off to the public.
    However the gamekeeper is now advising the landowner to close the track stopping the public from accessing “Open Access Land” via this track.
    Members of the public using this track stay on the pathway and are not a nuisance to wildlife, there are no farm animals until Open Access is reached.
    Thank you

    1. Gemma

      Hi Cassie

      Ordnance Survey are responsible for collecting data on the features on the ground and representing it on our maps, but I’m afraid we are not involved in designating rights of way. We would advise that you contact your local authority to discuss this.

      Kind regards

  21. Margaret

    Help! we have a 300m driveway leading to our house which has a public footpath on it. At the top of the drive by the house it leads through a stile into an open field where the footpath continues. We are frequently plagued with cyclists often in large groups cycling up and down our drive at speed. There have been several near misses with cars, pedestrians and pushchairs as the drive is not straight so limited visibility.We have had gates hacked down, council signs prised off and I get verbal abuse and threats if I challenge them. The council and the police do not seem interested even when damage is done. The council are quick to complain if landowners don’t maintain footpaths but aren’t interested if it’s the other way round. Any suggestions please?

    1. Double Jeopardy

      You need more facts. If a public footpath exists along your drive then it is likely the granted width is specified in the Definitive Map. Our pet footpath is 1.5m wide and any excursion beyond that width is a theoretical trespass. Who owns the driveway? A footpath is for feet – bicycles are a trespass. To the gent who challenged the legal outcome I say take the YOB (youth on bike) to Court (small claims) – the probable outcome will be a token (say £1.00) fine for obstruction or churning the path surface, BUT the Judge will also probably award costs against the YOB which will include your £70 Court Fee. The problem is trying to educate these people before such action is necessary. I have no legal training but then neither do the YOBs :-)

  22. Dom

    Well what can one say after reading everyone’s comments? It all reminds me of the bickering you see in the Commons. Only joking guys (and ladies)’ but it’s pretty plain and simple . I,m a keen mountain biker and walker and whenever I,m along a right of way in the country find it’s always good practice to be polite and respectful of others and on the numerous occasions of been shouted at by a rambler or horse rider I avoid all confrontation and just wish the person a nice day and continue my pleasurable experience. If we all stood there and argued we,d be wasting our precious time in the pursuit we are doing and to top it all no- one would be in the right or wrong. Bit of a chicken and the egg scenario but as we all would wish wouldn,t it be nice if we came along a path and just greeted each other in passing and went about our business with no anger or disposition?. You should try it sometime it actually makes you feel good. I wish all the best to everyone and hope you all enjoy the love of our great countryside. Be respectful guys and most of all be polite

  23. Does anyone have a link to the legislation concerning cycling on public footpaths? I’ve read lots of discussion about what is and isn’t legal, but no direct quotes from any legal documents?. What are these laws called and what do they actually state about bicycles on footpaths?

  24. Catherine Smith

    Hi, I live in what was once a farmhouse, my neighbour being a contract farmer. My property is land-locked by my neighbours land, but we do have certain access rights and quasi-easements. Until 3 years ago we were able to cross from our property across my neighbours field via a “footpath” (which is marked as a footpath on our property title deeds). Because of a fall-out with our neighbours they have blocked our access across this footpath and try to block other access even though our property deeds state that when the property was divided into two properties, what the single property had enjoyed and beneffited from, would also be enjoyed and be of benefit to the two properties. Can my neighbour legally stop us using this footpath?

    1. Hi Catherine

      Thanks for your question, but unfortunately we cannot advise you on boundary disputes. Boundary disputes can be complex and you may wish to take legal advice. You can contact the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) online boundary dispute helpline and Land Registry also provide guidance on how to find out where the boundary of your property is and how to find out who has responsibility for a boundary fence, wall or hedge. There are more links and details on our website: http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/support/property-boundaries.html

      Thanks, Gemma

  25. Catherine Smith

    Thanks for your reply, but I’m not really wanting to know about boundary lines so much as the footpath across my neighbours field marked on the house deeds. There are quite a few of these footpaths and tracks leading to fields in the area where we live. Do we have access across farmland where there are marked footpaths?

    1. Hi Catherine

      As in the article above, we display existing footpaths on our maps and the key goes some way to explaining access and use, however, we cannot advise on specific ownership and access to routes, we are only recording the features shown on the ground. You may wish to contact your local authority or the Land Registry to find out more about ownership and access rights.

      Many thanks

  26. Paul

    Morning all. A query on behalf of both myself and another horse riding friend:

    Centred around SD 925 106 are plenty of green diamond “Recreational routes.” This map legend, http://www.magazine.ordnancesurveyleisure.co.uk/magazine/tsimages/editorial/outdoor-skills/ROW-Legend-web.jpg tells you what type of path it is, but doesn’t imply what sort of rights of way people have. It appears to follow old moorland roads, but what I’m trying to find out is if it’s open to horses. If I can get my friend onto these paths and off the road, the three of us (including the horse!) will be much more happier!

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Paul
      From the look of the paths around that area, these are designated as footpaths that are also a recreational route, with short green dashes rather than the long green dashes that would designate a bridleway, so you probably cannot ride on them. However, it’s your local authority that controls local footpaths and bridleways and designates which are which, so they are going to be the best people to contact to confirm the current situation or to request changes.

  27. kimberley

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you so much, However I am encountering problems
    with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot subscribe to it.

    Is there anybody getting similar RSS issues? Anybody who knows the solution can you kindly respond?

  28. David Berwick

    I would like to know as a horse rider do quad bikers have the right to block off bridlepaths and do quad bikers come under cyclist laws.

    1. Dan

      Quad bikes are motorised vehicles and generally do not have rights to restricted byways/bridleways. I say generally because there are some exceptions. Check with your council, and if they have no right to be there take their registration plate details and report them. Responsible motorised vehicle users do not condone the illegal use of restricted byways or bridleways.

  29. Jane

    Near to our estate is an area of land owned by a builder which has been left to go wild, hence it has become a wonderful area for wildlife. We and our neighbours have been walking all over this land for more than 40 years. There are 2 confirmed public rights of way around the outside, but many paths inside have become established over the years. The builder has now fenced the area off (excluding the 2 rights of way). Do we have acquired rights because we have been walking this land for so long without any restrictions applied by the landowner?

  30. Cathy

    I have noticed on the OS maps that there are gravel or dirt roads listed as “tracks”. What is the right of access to those?

    1. Hi Cathy. We will show a path or track where one exists, but this does not mean there is any public right of way on it. If a right exists, it will be shown with the appropriate public right of way marking which will show how it is allowed to be used. In Scotland and other areas of open access land, you would be able to use these at footpaths, but not for horses, bikes or vehicles.

  31. Elizabeth Russell

    What is the law regarding access over private property in the dark to enter a right of way. Elizabeth, in Scotland

  32. Elizabeth Russell,Scotland

    Gemma, my question was if someone wants to access a right of way and to do so have to walk through private property are they allowed to do so in the dark. Although I have asked this question to people in authority I still have not been answered. The walkers when asked what they are in someone’s drive in the dark use very floury language and say they can do as they like.Elizabeth.

    1. Hi Elizabeth

      I’m afraid I can only reiterate the points made below and in the article.The local authorities hold and maintain the definitive map of Rights of Way. These are the legal documents for the status and alignment of Rights of Way. Local Authorities pass details of amendments to the definitive map to Ordnance Survey for inclusion in our maps. Footpaths may cross private land and in such cases the footpath must be kept to, the public only have the right to walk along the footpath. If a landowner wishes to divert a public right of way they must obtain a legal order from the local authorities to amend the definitive map.

      If you need any further clarification on a specific area, you would need to contact the relevant local authority.

      Many thanks

  33. Lyn Jenkins

    What if a Local Authority has NEVER added any public Rights of Way to its Definitive Map since 1966. What would you say?
    The public paths may be listed in the STATEMENT accompanying the Definitive Map, whilst no Rights of Way have been actually drawn on the Definitive Map itself. The latter is a legal document, of course.

    So, should public Rights of Way be added to the Definitive Map, as SOON AS POSSIBLE ?

    1. Hi Lyn

      All information on Rights of Way are passed to us by the local authorities to be added onto our maps. I’m not quite sure I understand your point – but if you think there are Rights of Way missing from our maps, you can contact our customer services team on 03456 050505 or customerservices@ordnancesurvey.co.uk and they can look into it for you. Beyond that, if you think your local authority aren’t releasing Rights of Way data, you would need to contact them direct to raise this.

      Kind regards

  34. Fiona McKenzie

    Eventually after a year or so of other dog walkers/ walkers complaining about the state of rights of way around our area, I stopped moaning and took action. Found the rights of way folk in the council and started communicating. Have had a couple of successes but on the whole a poor service. The worst incident was in September when contractors completely ploughed up a stretch of a very well used public right of way. As we know this is completely against public guidance no 5 and though landowners are allowed 14 days to reinstate it, we reported it (the council will take at least two weeks to respond). Also took photographs! Then the rains came and as it is on a slope, it became a quagmire. Eventually the council came out and photographed it and a letter went off. Again after chasing it up I got the reply ‘ the landowner says his contractors are adament that they did not disturb the right of way’! Many emails back to try to get this sorted, to no avail, it is like walking up a mud bath and we the public are the ones losing out. We even offered to pay for gravel to be laid down and the rights of way officers said he would suggest it to the landowner. Now he tells me he may get round to writing that letter before Christmas. I have forwarded to customer quality asking them to look at priorities and help with this. Last email basically told me budgets are cut for rights of way so things will take longer and nothing further can be done. Do we have any options or are we stuck in the mud!!!

  35. RichB

    If I want to ride a Mountain Unicycle (a Muni) on a bridleway, is that allowed? The countryside act 1968 only talks about bicycles. So, are single wheeled, or even tricycles allowed?

    1. Hi Rich

      Thanks for sending in such an interesting question! A commonsense approach makes us think that unicycles should be included along with bicycles, but you would need to check with your relevant local authority to be sure of that fact. Do let us know the response – and happy unicycling!

      Thanks, Gemma

  36. Erin

    Today I was out on my horse and going up a bridle path that crossed someone’s land, the lady that owns the field told me not to go on it because it would leave footprints on her lawn(because of the weather) despite the fact that it was a designated bridle path, I was refused access and I was not allowed to go on the path!

    Is she allowed to deny access or am I entitled to go on the path ?

    Please help !

    1. Hi Erin

      I think the best thing to do would be to contact your local authority’s Rights of Way Officer. That way you’ll first be able to confirm the latest permissions for the path, and then if it is a bridleway that you should have been able to access, put in a complaint about your refusal of access for the officer to then raise with the landowner.

      Kind regards

  37. Maxine

    I lived on a lane that has now been deemed a restricted byway – whilst I accept this means there is generally no public access by motorised vehicle I am informed that as a landowner I have a right of access to my property. Is this correct?

    1. To drive over a byway is an offence, but there are exemptions (or easements). Have a look at Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and see if any of the ones there cover you. There is a wide exemption for ‘lawful authority’ that may be useful. The best place to call is your local council, and ask for their Public Rights of Way Officer.

  38. Pingback : Where can I ride off the road? | Osbornes Cycle Injuries

  39. Dom

    I,m at a total loss. Is it against the law to ride a mountain bike on a footpath right of way? Come on Gemma just a simple yes or no answer please:)

    1. In general, in England and Wales, you cannot ride on a footpath, as that’s designated for walking only. You can ride on a Bridleway, a Byway open to all traffic or a Restricted Byway. It is further compounded in that local byelaws can adjust this, but then the local council will generally erect signs advising of the permitted use.

      I’ll see if we can write a more complete answer as its own blog!

  40. Andy

    out side my house I have a joint right of way my question is can I stop the public and neighbours parking on this for a long period of time ?

    1. Hi Andy

      Thanks for the question, I think you’d need to speak to the Rights of Way officer at your local council to find out about that one though.

      Thanks, Gemma

  41. sean armstrong

    I live in Scotland and was wondering if it were legal to metal detect on unused bridle paths, i have been told it,s okay but i am still hesitant to do so, can anyone please advise ?

  42. Siobhan

    Hi. There is a footpath marked on the OS map which is unusable because It crosses a large drainage ditch, across which there is no footbridge. The field on the other side of the ditch is currently full of crops, with no footpath marked. The other end of the path (which is possibly in a different authority area) has a similar access problem, ie another ditch with no means of crossing.

    The path doesn’t appear to be marked on the local definitive map. Does this mean the OS map is wrong, or could the council have missed it ? I guess they might say no-one uses it, but the reality is, no-one can use it because there is no means of crossing the ditch !

    1. Hi Siobhan

      Thanks for getting in touch. Public rights of way information, as depicted on our current mapping, is obtained from copies of the Definitive Maps which local authorities produce and supply to us. These maps are the legal record detailing classification and alignment of the public rights of way record. It would be worth contacting your local authority first to check their position on the path and then they can let us know if anything has changed.

      Thanks, Gemma

  43. Rob

    What I the situation with running events along public footpaths and bridleways.? My understanding is that there is nothing to prevent this. Do land owners over who’s land a public footpath passes have the right to issue a licence and charge the organisers of such events a fee for a running event to pass along a public footpath that passes over their land? If an organiser refuses to pay the land owner his tax does the land owner have any redress n law?

    1. Hi Rob

      It would be best to check with the relevant local authority as your first port of call and they can advise you on this one.

      Thanks, Gemma

  44. Maria

    Hello. I live on a road that is unadopted. How can I check if it is a public right of way. Currently it is used by the public but I want to determine if this is actually permissable. Many thanks

    1. Hi Maria

      The best people to check with are your local authority as they’ll have the latest information on the public rights of way in your area.

      Thanks, Gemma

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