Public Rights of Way

Article Summary

A public right of way differs from a private right of way in that it benefits the public at large rather than an adjoining property owner, and it is not created by Deed. Evidence of a public right of way is not deduced from Land Registry documents, but from environmental reports and maps, such as the council's definitive map, the access land maps (CROW), neighbourhood reports, etc. This article discusses the various public rights of way and provides links to our Rights of Way Search, which provides copies of the public rights of way documents as well as Land Registry documents relating to private rights of way.

A Right of Way Search is a product of various Land Registry Title documents and of various Environmental Reports and Maps.

The search consists of the following documents:

  • Title Register and Title Plan for the land having the benefit of the Right of Way
  • Title Register and Title Plan for the land having the burden of the Right of Way
  • Associated Documents and Deed Plans for each of the above properties
  • Lease and Lease Plan for one of the properties, if applicable
  • Neighbourhood Environment Report with Rights of Way Map
  • CROW Map

Rights of Way Search

Public Rights of Way

A Public right of way affects the general citizenship as opposed to adjoining land owners who may benefit or be burdened by a private right of way. Because so many citizens can be involved in public rights of way disputes, the issues may be far wider than with private rights of way.

In the case of a public right of way a member of the public may pass along it at any time of his choosing. The right will be restricted according to the type of right of way it is, e.g. a footpath is limited to its use by foot only.

Each council in England and Wales has a highway authority whose job it is to keep records of public highways and their classification type. Many of these authorities have been classed as surveying authorities and prepare definitive maps. These are legal records of rights of way that exist at a specified date. They have a duty to ensure the rights of way are maintained properly and do not become overgrown or blocked off, either deliberately or naturally.

Ordnance Survey use data obtained from definitive maps. These maps are usually accompanied by a definitive statement which offers a detailed description of each right recorded, including limitations and restrictions affecting the right of way such as its minimum width.

The data in definitive maps is regarded by the law as conclusive of the state of a right of way. Members of the public can inspect these maps, some of which are on line; others can be inspected by calling to see your local authority.

Please refer to our Private Rights of Way article for more information.


Members of the public may walk along footpaths. A footpath may be surfaced or it may be a rough track; either way, passage along it is by foot only, so that bicycles and horses are prohibited from using it. Where a footpath crosses a field it is still permissible to plough the field but a path at least 1 metre wide must be made within 14 days of ploughing. Where a path keeps to the side of a field it must never be ploughed.

A footpath is generally signed with the use of wooden posts, signs or waymarks.

A footpath can be diverted on application under s257 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, where its existence causes problems for the land owner.


A bridleway can be used by members of the public for walking upon, cycling upon or horse riding upon. They were originally created for the use of horse riders.

They are indicated on Ordnance Survey maps with long green dashes (1:2500) or long pink dashes (1:5000). Long orange dashed lines indicate a permissive bridle way (the land owner permits the right even though there is no statutory rights of way).

A bridleway is also known as a bridle path, a horse riding path, a horse trail, equestrian trail, or a bridle road.

Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs)

This is a vehicular right of way. Pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists are also allowed to use them. Most BOATs are roughly surfaced tracks leading across open countryside, often marked with red arrows on a metal or plastic disc, or by red painted spots on wooden posts or tree trunks.

BOATs are regulated by the United Kingdom Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. Only a small percentage (2%) of unsurfaced highways are BOATs. The remainder are footpaths or bridleways.

Green Lanes

A green lane is the same as a Byway Open to All Traffic. This is a nick-name given to them by off-road drivers.

Restricted Byways

This is a recent classification of path created by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. It provides for the passage of all traffic that is not mechanical propelled, e.g. by foot, cycle, horse, cart or carriage.

Permissive Paths

This type of path does not have any legal status. It is a path allowed by the land owner ensuing upon an agreement with the local authority or other countryside authority such as the Forestry Commission. Permissive paths are way-marked with signs and placards.

It is open to a landowner to divert or stop a permissive path if he wishes so to do, and the public are not afforded the right to object. Most permissive paths are restricted to use by foot only.

Local authorities normally agree permissive paths in order to link sections of a long distance footpath, which negates the necessity of using major highways between sections of the path.

Right of Way with No Visible Path

This type of path is the right to cross over land from one end to the other, generally in a straight line between way-marks or stiles. From spring to autumn the outline of a path can generally be made out by the impression of footprints or compressed grass.

Open Access Land

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 created open access land. Most of it is found in upland areas and often over common land. Access is by foot only. The entire designated area is accessible although it can only be entered into from certain designated entry points.

Access may be restricted during certain times of the year, because of lambing and breeding.

A common name for the use of access land is the right or freedom to roam. As mentioned above, most of this land will be on mountain sides, moors, heath and down and will be used by walkers, runners, dog walkers, bird watchers, and climbers. There is no right to take game from the land nor to use bicycles, horses or vehicles.

Not all open land is Open Access Land. Some of it has been excepted from registration in order to protect the privacy and rights of people working or living on it. If access is granted it is usually limited to a footpath passing through it.

It is possible for a landowner to close access to their land for up to 28 days a year, for reasons of public safety and land management.

Rights of Way Search

The Rights of Way Search provides Land Registry documents detailing all private rights of way that affect the property having the benefit of and the property having the burden of the right of way, and also provides Environmental documents that detail public rights of way.


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Boundary Search

The Boundary Dispute Search provides copies of all available Land Registry documents for the properties on each side of the boundary, together with details of common law presumptions that will apply where there is no evidence to the contrary.


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Parking Space Disputes

Parking Dispute searches provide details of all registered documents that contain references to parking spaces, drives, etc, whether on street or off street


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