rights of way

Cherry Allan's picture

Unsurfaced highways shared with motor vehicles

Not all unsurfaced highways are robust enough for use by motor vehicles. Ruts and mud, for example, can make them difficult or impossible for cycling ...
Unsurfaced highway
Headline Messages: 
  • Unsurfaced highways are valuable routes for cycling in the countryside, although their use by recreational motor vehicles and tractors too can compromise enjoyment and make the surface un-rideable.
Key facts: 
  • A byway open to all traffic (BOAT) is open to all classes of traffic including motor vehicles, but is not necessarily maintained to the same standard as an ordinary road. There are some 3,000km of them.
  • An unsurfaced, unclassified road (UUCR) is repairable by the local authority, but access rights may not be clear and subject to dispute. It is ‘unclassified’ because it has not been categorised as an A, B or C road. There are some 9,000km of UUCRs.
  • Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) can be used to stop motor vehicles using BOATs or UUCRs; if repairs are needed, ‘Section 56’ notices can be served on the highway authority.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • CTC accepts that licenced recreational motor vehicles (2 & 4 wheel) have a legal right to use BOATs and UUCRs. 
  • Not all of these highways, however, are robust enough for use by motor vehicles, so they should be managed to avoid stirring up mud and creating ruts.
  • Cyclists and other non-motorised users go to the countryside for quiet recreation. Unmanaged motorised use of unsurfaced highways is incompatible with this, particularly where these vehicles, especially motorcycles, are inadequately silenced. 
  • If, after a reasonable time, voluntary management fails to remedy a damaged highway, or is not implemented, then a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) should be sought to prevent motorised vehicular use.
  • The police should implement robust policies to discourage illegal use by unlicenced and/or unsilenced vehicles.
  • Use by tractors as part of agricultural or forestry practice can also be extremely damaging, and where this occurs the Highway Authority (HA) and landowner/tenant should agree on measures to allow unimpeded use by cycles.
  • Where, following extensive discussions, an HA fails to maintain a highway that is ‘out of repair’, then, if the route is an important link, consideration should be given to serving the authority with a Highways Act section 561 notice requiring them to repair it suitably.   

What is a Boat? A byway open to all traffic is a highway open to all classes of traffic including motor vehicles. It may not be maintained to the same standard as an ordinary road. 

What is an UUCR? An unsurfaced, unclassified road is repairable by the local authority, but access rights may not be clear and subject to dispute. It is ‘unclassified’ because it has not been categorised as an A, B or C road.

Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
February 2015
Cherry Allan's picture

Rights of Way Improvement Plans (England & Wales)

By law, local authorities must develop Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs). The plans are a good way of improving opportunities for cycling off-road...
Headline Messages: 
  • Cycle-friendly Rights of Way Improvement Plans (RoWIPs) can help boost the quantity and quality of routes and open spaces available for cycling in the countryside. They can also help promote them to the public so that more people can enjoy the rights of way network by cycle.
Key facts: 
  • RoWIPs were introduced by s60 of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act (England and Wales) (CROW) 2000 as a means of obliging local authorities to plan to improve access to the countryside.
  • Local Access Forums (LAFs), parish councils and others are involved with the development of ROWIPs.
  • Local authorities had to complete their RoWIPs by November 2007. Fewer than 50% of them met this deadline, although by 2009 virtually all had been published.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • There is currently a considerable, suppressed demand for traffic-free off-road cycling routes, especially close to where people live. Provision for family cycling is particularly poor. RoWIPs offer opportunities to improve off-road cycling provision. To maximise the benefits of cycling, the delivery of RoWIPs should:
    • Be informed by a survey of the off-road cycling network to identify gaps and implement improvements 
    • Promote, sign and maintain routes for cyclists 
  • As resources are likely to be limited, RoWIPs benefit from the input of volunteers working through the Local Access Forum (LAF) and in conjunction with local authority staff.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
February 2015
Cherry Allan's picture

Obstructions and 'out of repair' rights of way (England & Wales)

Bridleways and byways need to be kept clear of obstructions and in a good state of repair, so that cyclists can enjoy their off-road rides...
Headline Messages: 
  • Obstructions, poor surfaces, bad drainage and rank vegetation often make the bridleway and byway network in lowland England and Wales difficult for cyclists to use and can even force them to abandon rides. It also puts people off the healthy and enjoyable activity of riding in the countryside.
Key facts: 
  • Rights of way (RoW) include footpaths, bridleways, byways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOATs).
  • By law, highway authorities must ensure that their RoW are maintained in a state appropriate for the sort of traffic reasonably expected to use them. If they don’t, members of the public can use section 56 of the Highways Act 1980 (HA1980) to force them to act.
  • Landowners must remove unlawful obstructions, and highway authorities have to ensure that RoW are not obstructed. If an authority fails to do this, members of the public can use sections 130A-D (HA1980) to compel them to take action.
  • If an authority can prove that it has taken reasonable care to "secure that the part of the highway to which the action relates was not dangerous to traffic", it has a statutory defence under section 58 (HA1980) in the event of claims made against them.
  • Highways authorities do not have to do anything to facilitate the use of bridleways by cyclists. Byways and restricted byways, however, should be maintained for cycle use. 
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Highway authorities should prioritise bridleways, byways, restricted byways and unsurfaced unclassified roads in their rights of way management and maintenance regimes. This is because these are multi-user routes, available to cyclists, horse riders and walkers. 
  • Hedgerow legislation should be strengthened to prevent the removal of field boundaries alongside bridleways, as the bridleway then becomes ‘cross field’ and may be ploughed. 
  • Where cross field paths are regularly ploughed, an uncultivated headland alternative should be made available.
  • Highway authorities should make sure that rights of way that go through fields are clearly signed to stop users encountering any obstructions that are not on the path.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
January 2015
Cherry Allan's picture

Local Access Forums (England & Wales)

Local Access Forums (set up by local authorities to bring together people and groups interested in public rights of way) should work towards developing the network for cycling...
Cyclists in the countryside
Headline Messages: 
  • Effective Local Access Forums (LAFs) have the potential to maximise the benefits of the Rights of Way (RoW) network for both recreational and day-to-day travel.
  • With cyclists’ interests represented on them, LAFs can also help make sure that the network is developed, maintained and promoted with cycling in mind. Easily accessible motor-traffic free routes for cycling in the countryside not only provide local people and visitors with an enjoyable leisure activity, but also encourage them to take advantage of the health benefits it offers.
Key facts: 
  • Local Highway Authorities and National Parks have to set up Local Access Forums by law under the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. Members are not allowed to represent an organisation, but should be able to represent their interests knowledgeably.
  • In 2013/14, there were 86 active LAFs in England, with almost a thousand members between them. 29 LAFs were originally set up in Wales.
  • In 2013/14, English LAFs were involved in at least 83 cycle projects, 69 ‘multi-user routes’ and 41 ‘Paths for Communities’ schemes.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Cycling interests should be represented on all LAFs. 
  • Local authorities should be receptive and responsive to LAF recommendations on:
    •  amendments to the definitive map and on processing them in a timely fashion, to the benefit of off-road cyclists 
    •  the promotion and signing of the RoW network and other opportunities for off-road cycling 
    •  the proper maintenance of byways, bridleways and un-surfaced unclassified roads o the removal of obstructions. 
  • LAFs should promote off-road cycling as a healthy and enjoyable activity, particularly to families and young people. 
  •  LAFs should adopt, implement and promote CTC’s key Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP) priorities
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
January 2015
Cherry Allan's picture

Changing the status of rights of way (England & Wales)

Find out why it's important to open up more of the rights of way network for cycling, what the legal process is and how it needs improving...
Cyclists riding off-road
Headline Messages: 
  • The Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales is extremely fragmented, and there is an urgent need to fill in the gaps to make it more attractive for healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities such as cycling. This can be done through a legal process involving ‘Orders’.
Key facts: 
  • Only around 22% of the public rights of way in England and Wales is available to cyclists.
  • Statutory Orders can be used to expand the network of paths legally available for cycling in the countryside. Different types of Orders can: modify an authority’s definitive map and statement of pubic rights of way in the case of errors or omissions; create, extinguish or divert rights of way; or regulate or prohibit cycling or motor traffic on the highway.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 

Map Modification Orders (MMOs)

  • Highway authorities should make resources available to ensure that the definitive map accurately represents the full bridleway and byway network before the ‘cut off date’ of 1 January 2026.
  • CTC will normally oppose moves to downgrade or delete bridleways and byways, and support upgrading or creating them.
  • As the current system is overly resource-intensive, the Government and its agencies should take steps to develop and implement more effective ways of making and confirming Orders.

Public Path Orders (PPOs)

  • The needs of residents, landowners and businesses should be sympathetically considered whenever they want to make reasonable diversions around residential properties or farm buildings, or alter the line of a path so that it goes round the edge of field (headland), rather than across it (cross field).
  • If, however, the diversion means that cyclists would suffer a loss of amenity, or usability (e.g. longer and/or steeper routes, poorer surfaces etc), CTC is unlikely to support the proposal.
  • CTC will, however, normally oppose any proposed downgrades (e.g. downgrading a bridleway to a footpath that cyclists can no longer use).

Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs)

  • Wherever possible, CTC will liaise with highway authorities to seek alternative solutions to TROs on byways, bridleways or unsurfaced roads.
  • CTC will normally oppose any regular renewal of a temporary TRO, because remedies to deal with the problem in question should be the priority.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
November 2014
Cherry Allan's picture

Public Footpaths (England & Wales)

Cycling on footpaths is not a legal right, but many are entirely suitable and form good links. Opening them up to cyclists would enhance the network of motor-traffic free routes...
Footpath and Bridleway
Headline Messages: 
  • Opening up much more of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales would be of enormous benefit for the healthy and environmentally-friendly activity of cycling, both for recreation and day-to-day travel.
  • Whether a legal right exists to cycle on a RoW does not necessarily relate to how suitable it is. Many footpaths are better for cycling than many bridleways (see photo above) – but, in law, cyclists are only permitted to use the latter. From a cyclist’s point of view, therefore, this often makes the RoW network incoherent, illogical and frustrating. This is a problem that can only be sorted out through legal reforms and political will.
  • Even within the current laws, though, there are many ways in which local authorities could open up more paths for cycling.
Key facts: 
  • Cycling is legally permitted on less than a quarter (22%) of the Rights of Way network in England and Wales; in contrast, Scotland’s Land Reform Act (2003) opened up most of the  Scottish countryside to cyclists, as long as they abide by an access code.
  • England has 146,000 km of public footpaths, and Wales over 26,000 km. These are mostly rural rights of way specifically restricted to pedestrians and the right to walk along them is legally protected. If most English footpaths were opened up for cycling, it could more than triple the mileage currently available to cyclists in the countryside.
  • Unless the landowner permits it, cycling on a footpath in England and Wales normally constitutes trespass, making it a civil but not a criminal matter. A local by-law or Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) covering a particular footpath, however, can make it an offence.
  • Although there is no legal right to cycle on footpaths, some are regularly used by cyclists. If enough cyclists use a footpath in this way without the landowner challenging them for (usually) 20 years, then a restricted byway may be claimed through ‘presumed rights’ under s31 of the 1980 Highways Act.
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • The public footpath network offers the only realistic option for providing significantly more off-road routes to meet current and future demands. The Scottish Land Reform Act (2003) gave cyclists lawful access to most countryside in Scotland. Its success suggests that public footpaths in England and Wales could be similarly opened to cyclists as a simple remedy to overcome the lack of off-road routes for cyclists and the fragmented nature of the available route network.
  • Rights of way laws should be amended to permit cycling on footpaths with few limited exceptions only where there are clear location-specific reasons not to do so (e.g. where the increased use of the path would create significant environmental or safety hazards).
  • Conflict on rights of way between cyclists and pedestrians is often more perceived than real. It can be mitigated by good design.
  • CTC believes that it is acceptable for cyclists to use footpaths, provided they do so in a manner which respects the safety of other path users and their peaceful enjoyment of the outdoors, and with regard for the environment and its ecology. These are the circumstances in which CTC believes it is acceptable for cyclists to ride on footpaths:
    • Where the surface and width of the path make it eminently suitable for safe cycling without causing disturbance or risk to pedestrians; or
    • Where the path is lightly used, such that the likelihood of disturbance or risk to pedestrians is minimal; or
    • Where a path is unlikely to attract such high levels of cycling that it will cause environmental damage (notably erosion); or
    • Where there is a reasonable belief that the footpath in question might already carry higher rights, for example: where there is historic evidence (e.g. through enclosure award maps) demonstrating past use either by horses or by vehicles; where the path is shown on OS maps as an ‘Other Road with Public Access’ (ORPA), indicating an assumption that higher rights may exist; where there is regular use by equestrians, motor vehicles and/or by other cyclists
  • Where the relevant landowner is a public body or a charity and/or accepts or appears to accept use of the path by cyclists.
  • Except where the landowner has expressly permitted cycle use, CTC does not generally support the use of footpaths by larger groups of cyclists – particularly as part of an organised event – as this is more likely to generate complaints.
  • In suitable urban situations and where footpaths would form convenient links for cyclists, councils should seek to revoke cycling restrictions and prohibitions.
  • Councils should stringently assess the impact of ‘gating orders’ on cycling and prioritise alternatives where a public footpath forms a convenient through route.
  • There is good evidence, although no direct case law, to support the view that pushing a cycle on a footpath is not illegal. The presence of obstacles such as stiles should not be considered a deterrent to a footpath’s use by cyclists.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
December 2014
Cherry Allan's picture

Bridleways, byways and cycle tracks (England & Wales)

Closing the gaps for cycling in public rights of way and improving maintenance and signing, would encourage more people to cycle off-road...
Cyclist riding off-road
Headline Messages: 
  • The right to cycle on some public rights of way (RoW) but not others does not necessarily relate to their suitability. While cyclists have the right to (bi)cycle on bridleways and byways, many of them are unsuitable; on the other hand, cyclists are not automatically allowed to ride along footpaths, many of which are perfectly fine for cycling.
  • The suppressed demand for good traffic-free cycling routes for both recreational and utility use is considerable, but much of the RoW network is best suited to mountainbiking. More people could enjoy off-road cycling if the network were expanded, more coherent, and better maintained and signed. This needs concerted action from local and national government, plus reform to RoW law.
Key facts: 
  • Cyclists have a right to ride on bridleways, byways and restricted byways, which make up around 22% of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales.
  • The rest consists of footpaths, where cyclists have no right to ride. 
CTC View (formal statement of CTC's policy): 
  • Improvements and additions to the bridleways and byways network would enhance the opportunities for motor traffic-free cycling, particularly for families and casual cyclists.
  • National government should review RoW law to enhance cycling opportunities by, for example:
  • following the lead of Scotland’s Land Reform Act 2003, which gave cyclists lawful access to most countryside in Scotland;
  • simplifying the legal process for converting footpaths to cycle tracks.
  • Highway authorities should fulfil their duties under existing legislation to make sure that the potential of the RoW network is fully realised for both recreational and utility cyclists.
  • Cycle racing on bridleways should be permitted by law, subject to appropriate consultation and regulation.
  • While signing from roads onto the RoW network is now reasonably acceptable, waymarking of the network itself needs improving.
  • Highway authorities should not only fulfil their legal duties to maintain byways and bridleways, but should also carry out maintenance programmes to ensure that they are rideable.
Download full campaigns briefing: 
Publication Date: 
November 2014
colinpalmer's picture

Book review: Rights of Way: Restoring the Record (by Sarah Bucks & Phil Wadey)

Rights of way (ROW) in England & Wales could offer so much more for cyclists and others - but official records don't do it justice. 'Rights of Way: Restoring the Record' reveals how to use evidence to prove or disprove the existence of ROW. Reviewed by Colin Palmer, CTC's Off-road Adviser.
A cyclist on a right of way

Although we already have some 32,000 km of bridleways and byways in England & Wales available for recreational or utility cycling, the network is, in reality, much, much larger.

However, unless we do something about it, off-road cyclists could lose out on the chance to convert all these fragments into a coherent network of useable circular rides.

The problem is that the wider network of legal cycle routes is either unrecorded, or under-recorded as a footpath, denying their use on the saddle.

Cherry Allan's picture

Respond to the Government's consultation English rights-of-way legislation

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' consultation on the processes for recording, diverting and extinguishing public rights of way (England) is a chance to suggest ways to make it easier for cyclists to engage with the system and help open more of the countryside for cycling.
This footpath is a metalled road, but the bridleway is a muddy trail!

Why do cyclists need to respond to this consultation?

At the moment, the system for recording, diverting and extinguishing public rights of way in England is extremely bureaucratic, but the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (Defra) consultation on the processes involved is a good opportunity to press for the changes that will help enhance the experience of cycling in the countryside.

Cherry Allan's picture

Developing new paths for cycling in the countryside

Do you ride - or want to ride - on a particular path, but can't tell whether you're allowed to do so? Does your favourite bridleway suddenly turn into a footpath and you wish it didn't? Do you want to do something about it? Read on...
Riding off-road


How to tell where cycling's legal

  • Footpaths are open to walkers only (yellow waymarkings)
  • Bridleways are open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists (blue waymarkings)
  • Restricted byways are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders and horse drawn vehicles (plum waymarkings)
  • Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) are open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders, horse-drawn vehicles and motor vehicles (red waymarkings).

A list of all recorded public rights of way i

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