Public Rights Of Way and Permissive Paths - ScoutHelp

Types of public rights of way

There are three types of public right of way:

  • If the highway is a footpath it may be used for walking.
  • If the highway is a bridleway it may be used for riding or leading a horse, as well as for walking. Cycling is also permitted, providing the cyclists give way to riders and pedestrians. Driving a horse-drawn vehicle is not permitted.
  • A byway open to all traffic (usually called a ‘byway’) is used for walking, riding, leading a horse or cycling.

There is also a right to use any kind of wheeled vehicle, including motor cars and horse-drawn vehicles.

Some rights of way are recorded under the old term, ‘roads used as public paths’ (‘RUPPs’). The law is not clear about what rights exist over RUPPs and they are now being reclassified as ‘restricted byways’. In the meantime, you have the same rights on a RUPP as you have on a bridleway, but there may be uncertainty about whether you can take a vehicle.

Rights of way are recorded on ‘definitive maps’ kept by highway authorities, that is, county councils and unitary authorities. They are also shown on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps, Outdoor Leisure maps and Land-ranger maps.

Disputes can sometimes arise over whether a right of way has been correctly recorded. Should a bridleway, for example, have been recorded as a byway with access for motor vehicles? A definitive map may not always tell the whole story. Other rights of way may exist which are not yet shown on the map for the area.

Sometimes the land manager will allow special uses over a right of way. If you see a motor vehicle on a footpath or bridleway, the driver might well have the land manager’s permission (see Permissive paths below). You will sometimes meet farmers on public rights of way, going about their daily work with a tractor or driving livestock.

Wheelchairs and motorised buggies used by people with disabilities are not classified as vehicles. You may take one along any public right of way, although in practice this will not always be possible.

How you can use public rights of way

You are allowed to stop for a while - to admire the view, take a photograph, make a sketch, eat a picnic, or simply to rest - providing you stay on the way and don’t cause an obstruction. You can take items that are regarded as ‘usual accompaniment’, for example, a backpack, binoculars, camera, a dog (under close control), pram or pushchair or a wheelchair. However, if you do anything that is not reasonably part of your journey (such as deliberately disturbing people or animals), you may be regarded as a trespasser. All the normal regulations that apply to any other highway must also be observed on rights of way. For example, a vehicle that is used on a byway must still be taxed and insured.

Permissive paths

A land manager may let you use paths and tracks that are not public rights of way. These are called ‘permissive paths’. You don’t have a statutory right to use them and they are not covered by rights of way legislation. Often there will be a notice at either end of the route explaining this and setting out any conditions the owner has set. You may find, for example, that use is restricted to daylight hours, that dogs are banned entirely, or that the path may be moved or closed at certain times. There may also be a notice saying that the owner does not wish the path to be dedicated as a right of way.

If an agreement has been made between the land manager and the local authority then the authority might be willing to take up any problems that you encounter with the owner, although they are not obliged to do so. Similarly, if the land manager is receiving a grant to allow people to use the path, then the grant-aiding body should be willing to take up a complaint on your behalf. If this is not the case, then you should take up any problems directly with the land manager.