Rights of Way

Rights of Way

Public rights of way exist in England & Wales & Scotland but few in Northern Ireland

Picture courtesy of Ricky Cosmos

Rights of Way 

Public Rights of Way

Access to land for walking varies across the countries of the UK.

England & Wales

In England & Wales, there exist public rights of way; footpaths, bridleways and roads. Essentially footpaths and bridleways are highways, and the local authority has a statutory duty to keep them free from obstruction. In most lowland areas, walkers must stick to footpaths and respect private property.

Some footpaths exist that are not 'public', but they are made available by the landowner for public use without creating a 'right' of way. Such paths are called permissive paths.

On Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 maps, public footpaths are shown as dotted red lines, with bridleways being dashed red lines. On OS 1:25,000 maps, public footpaths are shown as dotted green lines, with bridleways as dashed green lines. Permissive paths are shown on Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps as dotted orange lines.

The Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 established Open Access Land, which allow free roaming of land designated as such, which includes much of the upland areas of England & Wales. The next section goes into a little more detail about Open Access Land.


Public rights of way exist in Scotland, but they are not marked on Ordnance Survey maps and most are not sign posted, and there is no statutory obligation on local authorities to maintain a definitive map, as is the case in England & Wales.

However, the Land Reform Act 2003 gave people access to most land and inland waterways, so long as access is responsible. There is a true right to roam, with some exceptions.

See Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Northern Ireland

The access situation in Northern Ireland is not as comprehensive as that in other parts of the UK. There are few public footpaths and no right to roam. However, it is through local arrangements with landowners that access to the countryside is maintained.

See Access to the Countryside Law