Your right to roam with public rights of way

Did you know, we show over 220,000 km of public rights of way on our maps? Approximately 170,000 km of these are footpaths and 40,000 km are bridleways. Over 4,600 km are National Trails and 30,900 km are recreational routes!

One thing we’re often asked about is when someone has followed a public right of way shown on our map and found no visible footpath on the ground. Why is this? Public rights of way information is sent to us by local authorities, and a right of way doesn’t necessarily mean a footpath on the ground. We’re also often asked about blocked or overgrown rights of way. These need to be reported to your local authority too and, if any changes on our maps are required, they will pass that information along.

We also map rights of way permissive footpaths and bridleways as well as byways. And, if you don’t know the key differences or symbols of each of the types, you’re in the right place to find out!

We know the number of different symbols for public rights of way may get confusing, so we have broken down each type for you. Please note, these symbols are taken from our 1:25000 (Explorer) and/or 1:50000 (Landranger) mapping.


The green dashed line (on OS Explorer maps) or pink dashed line (on OS Landranger maps) are footpaths with a public right of way. They are legally protected routes that the public may use by foot. Local authorities hold and maintain the definitive map of Rights of Way in their area and these are the legal documents for the status and alignment of rights of way. If an amendment is required, we rely on Local Authorities to pass this on to us so we can then revise our maps. Footpaths may cross private land, and in such cases the footpath must be kept to as 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 their local authority. Footpaths are usually signposted with yellow or green arrows.


As with footpaths, bridleways are legally protected routes that the public can use on foot or on horseback. While cyclists are permitted to use bridleways, the Countryside Act 1968 states there is no obligation to facilitate cyclists on the routes and they must give way to other users. Bridleways are usually signposted 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 routes with public access

These are accessible by the public and either join the above rights of way together or suggest how rights of way can be accessed from nearby roads. Their exact nature and accessibility may be unclear so, prior to using one of these routes, you may want to contact the local highway authority to see if they can advise you on any restrictions.

Recreational route

These are routes created by local authorities, Government agencies or volunteer organisations. They mainly follow existing rights of way and are signposted typically by whichever organisation created the route. If the route is also an existing right of way it will be maintained by a local authority. Any sections that are not part of existing rights of way may be maintained by the corresponding organisation. Local authorities give us permission to show these routes, but they may not actively promote the routes or give them priority over other rights of way.

National Trail and Scotland’s Great Trails

These are longer distance routes and are maintained and signposted through funding from public bodies. Some are only available for walkers while others may also be open to cyclists and horse riders. Each route has a National Trails Officer who is responsible for the coordination of maintenance, improvement and promotion of the route from the ground. They are shown as per recreational routes with either an acorn symbol (for England and Wales) or a thistle symbol (for Scotland) on 1:25000 Explorer mapping.

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 to protect the landowner against any future claims of continuous public right of way. The date(s) the path is closed should be well signposted in the area.

Permissive bridleway

As with the permissive footpath, a permissive bridleway takes you across private land where the landowner has granted permission for the public to use it. They also have the right to withdraw their permission and will likely close the bridleway for one day each year as above. Permissive footpaths and bridleways are only shown on 1:25000 Explorer mapping.

Traffic free cycle route
  • Traffic free off-road cycle route

This is a designated traffic free cycle route. On 1:50000 Landranger mapping, only signposted national or regional off-road routes are shown which are managed by Sustrans. These are represented by green circles and a national (magenta) or regional (blue) cycle network number.

On 1:25000 Explorer mapping, off-road cycle routes are depicted with orange dots (provided they’re not coincident with a road, bridleway, permissive bridleway, byway open to all traffic or restricted byway). Those that are part of the National Cycle Network or are a national route have the addition of a red network number.

  • On-road cycle route

Only national routes which are signposted and managed by Sustrans are shown on our mapping. On 1:50000 Landranger mapping, they’re shown with green dots and a network number as above. On 1:25000 Explorer mapping, on-road national cycle routes are shown only with a solid red box.

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 a specific area.

Managed access

Again, this could be a military firing range and the warning notices around the area should be followed. Access is restricted and managed in this area and similarly, you can contact the Ministry of Defence to find out about access to a specific area.

Open access land (England & Wales)

On our 1:25000 maps for England and Wales, some areas are shaded in yellow. This is open access land and within this area, you are free to roam. On 1:50000 Landranger mapping this is shown with a purple banding which includes symbols to differentiate between land owned by the National Trust, Forest Commission and Natural Resources Wales. Although there are footpaths and trails running across this land, you do not have to stick to them if you don’t want to.

Coastal margin

This is access land associated with the England Coast Path which, by its very nature, is sometimes steep, unstable and may not be readily accessible. The areas have a pink half-moon boundary on 1:25000 maps with a pale pink tint. Look out for local signage regarding access restrictions related to private property, cropped land and areas of marsh and mudflats.

Right to Roam (Scotland)

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives the public the right to be on or cross any land for recreational, educational and other named purposes. There may be circumstances where you get permission from the landowners but, providing 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 too providing they’re kept under control. You are not permitted on any land for hunting, shooting, fishing or using motorised vehicles. From your OS 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. In addition, access land owned by the National Trust, Forest Commission or Woodland Trust will have purple band and appropriate symbol.

If you come across a blocked right of way, your first port of call should be the Rights of Way Officer (or similar) at the relevant 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. Then, if required, they will contact us so we can update our maps.

Now you know where you can and can’t go – have fun exploring Great Britain with our maps!

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20 Responses

  1. I visited this site to find out whether cyclists are within their rights to ride on the SW Coastal Path, marked as a ‘recreational route’ on OS maps, and find that you’ve ducked the issue! Cyclists frequently ignore existing clear-cut prohibitions (such as not riding on urban pavements), and will take advantage of any uncertainty over their ‘rights’ – surely their prohibition from two foot wide rough paths inches from sheer drops ought to be made crystal clear, before unwary walkers are seriously injured, or worse.

    1. Steve C

      Ha, not a cyclist then Sean?
      Don’t lump us all together…. Me and my pals never ignore prohibitions – my interest is similar to yours however, we fancy cycling what is permissible of the SW Coastal path – so would like to know…

  2. Becky

    I am currently researching Bridleways and have spotted a couple of lanes which were shown in 1890 but not in current maps.
    I wondered if horses are allowed down lanes as well as bridleways?

  3. Can someone explain the paths that are the same dashes as a bridalway but instead of being pink they are black, for example on the tops of mountains in Wales

    1. Jocelyn

      Brian, thanks for your query. Magenta dashed lines indicate a bridle way (a public right of way). Black dashed lines indicate a footpath (a physical feature on the ground). There may be permission granted by the land owner for members of the public to use this footpath, but there isn’t a public right of way present. Hope this helps, Jocelyn

  4. Max Christian

    In my area, around Stockport, there are many paths marked as green dashed lines on the OS Explorer maps that are not rights of way according to the local authority’s definitive (online) map. They used to be open to walkers nonetheless but recently many landowners have been closing them off. How come there is confusion around whether these green dashed lines mean rights of way, with even this official OS blog post saying they “are footpaths with a public right of way”?

    1. Gemma

      Hi Max

      Rights of way are managed by the Local Authority, who will advise us any amendments, which we will then include in the next revision of our paper mapping products. Our Explorer mapping depicts Public Rights of Way with green dashed lines as you say. Of course, Rights of way are liable to change and may not be clearly defined on the ground (there doesn’t need to be a physical path on the ground for a public right of way to exist). You can always check with the relevant local authority for the latest information. If there is a conflict between our mapping and the Local Authority’s Definitive Map, the Definitive Map should take precedent.

      As Rights of Way are managed by the Local Authority, any changes/errors should be reported to them and they will then instruct us to update our map to reflect changes to the Rights of Way.

      Many thanks

      1. Max Christian

        Hi Gemma, really appreciate your reply, thanks! But round here about half of the of the paths shown as green dashed lines by the OS are not rights of way recognised by the local authority. For example, most of the paths in Lyme Park are shown as green dashed lines on the OS map, but almost none are rights of way according to the local authority. Unless the local authority recently got rid of most of our rights of way, that can’t be the explanation.

        1. Jocelyn

          Max, comparing at our latest 1:25 000 scale mapping with what is shown on the local authority’s website (https://maps.cheshireeast.gov.uk/ce/webmapping), we appear to be showing the footpaths around Lyme Park (SK12 2NX) correctly. We also depict other routes which are not Rights of Way here, such as recreational routes (green diamonds), and permissive footpaths (orange dashed lines) – see page 2 of the map legend at https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/documents/25k-raster-legend.pdf for what these different features are. If you would like to raise specific paths that you believe are depicted incorrectly on our mapping, please provide grid references and/or annotated images to customerservices@os.uk and we can investigate and advise further. Hope this helps, Jocelyn

  5. Bob Goddard

    OS seems to be releasing as much data as they can to download, but I cannot see any foot or bridal path info in any of the GIS data downloads. Is there any intention to make this info available, specifically the OS OpenMap Local vector?

    1. Gemma

      Hi Bob

      No, we haven’t released the Rights of Way information as open data. This information is created by the local authorities across Britain and many councils have themselves released their Rights of Way routes as derived data which can be obtained from their own websites.

      Many thanks

      1. Sam Hill

        I have been looking at local OS map on ramblers website and there are lots of tracks around my house that have brown dotted and dashed lines. I can’t seem to find what the rights are to these roads.

        1. Jocelyn

          Sam, if it’s our 1:25 000 scale (Explorer) mapping you’re looking at, these sound like permissive footpaths or bridleways (dashed lines) and traffic-free cycle routes (dots) – see page 2 of this mapping legend: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/documents/25k-raster-legend.pdf.
          However, if you happen to be near certain Ministry of Defence areas in South Dorset, these could be range walks and roads – see page 6 of the legend. If neither of these seem to be what you’re looking at, please get back to us via customerservices@os.uk with further details of the location in question and either an image or confirmation of the mapping scale/style. Hope this helps, Jocelyn

    1. Jocelyn

      Duncan, no they are physical tracks on the ground. Rights of way are only shown on our Explorer and Landranger mapping shown by either green or magenta dashed lines. Hope this helps, Jocelyn

  6. George

    On My OS map 1:25 at Roedean Bottom, near Roedean School in East Sussex I have a path depicted with long orange dashes (permissive bridleway) with 3 short green lines (public right of way) in between each one. Can you tell me what this means?

    1. Gemma

      Hi George

      The symbols represent a permissive bridleway coincident with a public right of way footpath. As they follow the same alignment they are displayed in this pattern 3 short green dash then 1 long orange dash.

      Many thanks, Gemma

  7. Rob

    I think I’m about to ask a question that many have on thier minds and am a little hesitant to ask, but here goes…

    As a walker and rider, over the years I’ve come across many maps (Particularly those in National areas of beauty/national parks) with paths that are marked with small black singular dashed lines (1:25,000 scale). As I understand it, these paths are indeed paths, but are not rights of way. What does this mean for the walking/riding communities respectively? Who is/isn’t legally allowed on these paths? Some are very popular and makes me wonder what I can/can’t do on them. I have certainly seen forums online, suggesting there is no reason not to take anything on to them, as long as you’re not creating “Damage” (A very subjective term) and are polite and curtious to those around you.
    Can anyone here make the answer clear for me? Thanks

    1. Jocelyn

      Rob, thanks for getting touch. All the rights of way data we display is provided to us from local authorities. We’d recommend getting in touch with your local authority’s Rights of Way officer as they can provide the latest information and can advise of the restrictions in that area. Many thanks, Jocelyn

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