Created and maintained by volunteers working with the British Horse Society

Rights of Way

What is a Bridleway?

The Oxford Dictionary definition is a path or track along which horse riders have a right of way.

Similarly a public footpath is a path or track along which there is a right of way on foot.

A definitive bridleway is a bridleway that is recorded on the "Definitive Map"

A definitive byway, is a path or track on which there are recorded .rights also for vehicles, as well as on horse or foot.

Cyclists have also been given the right to use definitive bridleways.

What is the Definitive Map?

The Definitive Map, which every highways authority must maintain, is a record of "Legally Recorded Rights of Way.

However if a path is not shown on the definitive map it does NOT mean that there is not a Right of Way along the path, albeit unrecorded.

Importantly, if path is shown on the Definitive Map as a footpath it does NOT mean that higher rights (eg for horses) do not also exist along the way.

Also many designated bridleways either do not lead anywhere or lead onto an undesignated path/track or designated footpath.

What Paths and Tracks do we ride?

In most parts of the region (as in much of England and Wales) we ride many paths that are not defiinitive briidleways.

On some of these there will be no recorded rights of way, others may be definitive footpaths.

Only paths recorded on the definitive map as bridleways (or byways) are protected in law for horses riders to ride..

Many of the definitive footpaths we ride are wide lanes. It is not illegal as such to ride a horse on a definitive footpath, on which there may be unrecorded bridleway not prohibited as long as the path is suitable and does not cause danger to walkers. At the worst you may be trespassing against the landowner unless there are specific local bylaws forbidding the riding of horses.

How did this very bad situation arise?

It arose when the parish councils were asked to designate footpaths and bridleways on the map. They were often given insufficient guidance or rules to follow, and adjacent parishes often did not appear to consult each other where paths crossed parish boundaries. Hence the situations where paths/bridleways just stop for no apparent reason, or change to footpath.

Another common situation is when the assumption was obviously made that where a bridleway (or footpath) ends at a track that the track was in fact a road and already a right of way. However on the definitive map; that the council holds the status of the track is not defined; hence a serious problem.

Many paths and tracks were just forgotten; and never put on the ;Definitive Map at all.

Although resultant problems do vary from County to County depending on how they drew up the map, the above problems are seen in all counties in some form or other.

Is there a Problem? Is there a Solution?

Yes, only paths on the definitive map are protected in law. Riders may be stopped form using unrecorded paths at any time, often when properties are sold of other factors cause a landowner or local residents to obstruct use of the path, because they are often told by the highways authjority that there is no right of way.

There is a process whereby unrecorded rights of way can be added to the defibitive map. However to record these rights involves a long tedious legal process called a Modification Order; and obtaining evidence. Also see Path Orders

You have the right to use a path that has been freely used for at least 20 years BUT this right is not immediately recognised until proven. Rights can also be proved from historcal documnetary evidence. Neither of these processes is quick or easy.

What is Permissive Access?

Permissive Access is where landowners have given specific permission for individuals, groups or the general public, to access specific land or paths.
The persons or public using the access must be clearly made aware that they are using it on a permissive basis. This can be done by notice or by a statutory declaration to the highways authority. It is important to note that most of the non definitive paths we ride are not permissive, we have never asked and bno permission has ever been given.

Open Access Land - The CROW Act 2000 defined moorland, mountain and heath areas as "Open Access", BUT only on foot.

Before the CROW Act walkers and riders enjoyed free access to many open space areas, this type of access is often referred to as "De Facto Access"

De Facto Access - This type of access is not legally defined as such, but it is well defined on the Ramblers' Website where it is described as follows:
"In some places the landowner may well have tolerated access leading walkers (and riders) to assume they have a right to walk (or ride), because they have always done so. In fact in many such cases the landowner could turn them off at any time. A good example is many of Britain's Beaches."


  1. De Facto Access is very distinct from Permissive Access. Where the De Facto Access has occurred over a long length of time, if it is along a defined path and route, it could be that an unrecorded right of way exists (created either under common law or under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1980.
  2. For open land a right "to wander" cannot be claimed by history of use, only the use of defined paths and routes.
  3. Before the CROW Act both walkers and riders enjoyed De Facto Access in many places on Bodmin Moor. The CROW Act subsequently gave walkers this access by right. However it does not in any way interfere with any continued De Facto Access or any Access by right or unrecorded right on the affected land.
  4. The recent NERC Act has taken away ALL unrecorded rights for motor vehicle access.

2026 Cut Off Date for Historical Unrecorded Rights of Way

The CROW Act - also gave until 2026 for all the historical unrecorded rights of way to be added to the definitive map. The government is currently considering how this can be acheived or amending the legislation.