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Rights of way - what are my rights?
This page outlines your rights on public rights of way - where you can go, the different types of rights of way and who can use them.
A public right of way is a way over which the public has a right to "pass and repass", whether or not the land is privately owned.
On all types of public right of way you can take a pushchair or wheelchair if the path is suitable, although many are across farmland so may have an uneven surface and may have gates or stiles. You can also take a dog, but it must be kept under close control, especially when near livestock. You are also allowed to picnic on public rights of way, but remember to take your litter home.
If you come across an illegal obstruction (see rights of way - enforcement page for more information on obstructions) then you have the right to take a short deviation around it or remove it as much as is necessary to get past.
You are not allowed to ride a horse or a bicycle on a footpath (this is a trespass against the landowner). It is an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 to drive a motor vehicle on a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway.
Types of public rights of way
Cycle routes are routes over which there is a public right of way on pedal cycle and possibly also on foot. Cycle tracks as such are not recorded on the Definitive Map, but can be found on the Sustrans website.
Permissive routes are routes (usually footpaths or bridleways) where the landowner is happy for people to walk or ride, but does not intend them to become public rights of way. Many permissive routes are created as part of the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, administered by Natural England. Details of these routes are available on the Natural England website.
Other routes with public access
Other routes with public access are shown on OS maps as a line of green dots. These may be permissive routes, or minor roads such as UURs (Unclassified Unsurfaced Roads, formerly known as Unclassified County Roads) which have at least footpath (and possibly higher) rights. UURs are highways, but, like all highways, exactly which rights exist over them is not clear, as there is no equivalent to the Definitive Map in terms of defining status for roads. Sometimes these routes are referred to as "green lanes", especially if they are unsurfaced, however, this term has no legal meaning.
Private rights of way
Private rights of way. Sometimes public rights of way follow roads and tracks that are otherwise private. For example a public footpath may run along a farm road - in this case the public has a right to use the road on foot, even though the farmer and others may have the right to use it with a motor vehicle.
Open access land
Open access land is open country (mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land) designated under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, where you have the right to roam on foot. See our open access page for more information.
Using the network
Ordnance survey (OS) Explorer maps (and Explorer OL maps for the National Parks) are the best maps to take when using the rights of way network. They are readily available and can be purchased at bookshops and outdoor shops. At 1:25,000 scale, these maps not only show the public rights of way but also important landscape features such as field boundaries to help you find your way.
On OS maps:
a green dotted line indicates a public footpath
Open access land is shown by yellow shading.
All public rights of way should be signposted where they leave a road. North Yorkshire County Council has an ongoing programme of replacing missing and broken signposts. If you notice a broken or missing signpost you can report it using our online report form.
Where rights of way are difficult to follow the route is sometimes indicated with waymarks. Waymarks not only help walkers and other users find their way, but can also help farmers and landowners by keeping path users on the correct line and preventing them from accidentally trespassing onto private land.
It wouldn't be possible or desirable to waymark every right of way, so we recommend that you always take an OS map with you.
Where you can go
Using the rights of way network and an OS map to plan your route the possibilities are endless!
If you want some inspiration you can try our Walks and rides guides webpage. We have a number of circular walks leaflets covering the county, as well as all the walks and cycle rides that have been featured in the NY Times over the past couple of years.
There are also some long-distance and national trails that cross the county if you want to try a longer route. See our Rights of way - long distance routes page. If you'd like to join a group to explore the public rights of way network in North Yorkshire you could try the following contacts:
In North Yorkshire we currently have four towns which have signed up to the community-led Walkers are Welcome Town Network - these are Pickering, Richmond, Leyburn and Pateley Bridge. Otley, just outside the county, is one too.
Accessible Countryside for Everyone provides information on walks, countryside and green spaces which are accessible to those using wheelchairs, mobility scooters, pushchairs and buggies.
The Countryside Code
When using the public rights of way network please remember that the countryside is where farmers, foresters and others earn their living. Please use your rights responsibly and with respect and consideration for their livelihood.
Always follow the Countryside Code; Respect - Protect - Enjoy.
Download our Public rights of way - using the network in North Yorkshire [6mb] [pdf] leaflet.