Public rights of way are open to everyone. They can be roads, paths or tracks, and can run through towns, countryside or private property.
You have the right to walk along them. Some rights of way are also open to horse riders, cyclists or motorists:
- footpaths - let you go by foot only
- bridleways - let you go by foot, horse or bike
- restricted byways - let you travel by any form of transport that doesn’t have a motor
- byways open to all traffic - let you travel by any form of transport, including cars (though they’re mainly used by walkers and horse riders)
Rights of way in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
You can find rights of way:
- on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps
- in guide books
- on local council websites
- while walking – rights of way are often marked with coloured arrows
Problems in using a right of way
The people who own or maintain the land must keep public rights of way open and useable.
If you have a problem using a right of way - eg an obstruction, poor maintenance or a misleading sign – you should report it to:
- the National Park Authority if it’s in a national park
- the local highway authority – you can contact them through your local council
- the Forestry Commission in woodland
Changing a public right of way
Local councils can:
- make new routes - where they think there’s a need
- get rid of a route - if it can be shown that there’s no longer a need for it, or to prevent crime (eg if it is allowing robbery or drug dealing to take place)
- change the route temporarily or permanently - but only if the new route is just as convenient
Apply to your council if you think a public right of way should be changed or removed.
If you don’t agree with a decision, you can appeal to the Secretary of State.
Rights of way in Scotland
In Scotland, a right of way:
- is any route that people have been able to walk on for at least 20 years
- must link 2 public places, eg a village, church or road
Finding rights of way in Scotland
Scottish local authorities don’t have to signpost or mark a right of way. The charity Scotways helps record and sign routes.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives guidance on how to behave responsibly in the Scottish countryside.