Rights of Way and Access

A quick guide to rights of way for cyclists

Types of rights Of way

Maps shows many types of roads, tracks and paths, but don't make it clear exactly what rights of way you can use. Here's a list of the main types of rights of way you may encounter, and if you can ride them or not:

  • A Roads are marked with in dark green for trunk roads, and dark red for other A roads on Landranger maps. On Explorer maps both types are marked in dark red. You probably don't want to ride on these roads as they tend to be busy.
  • B Roads are marked in brown on both types of map.
  • Unclassifed Roads (typically country lanes) are marked in yellow on both types of map.
  • White Roads. Additionally, there will be roads marked in white (with a solid border) on both types of map. In urban areas these will be small residential streets (which you can legally ride on). In rural areas, these are usually access roads to farms and buildings, and are not usually public rights of way, unless also marked by some other symbol.
  • By Ways Open to All Traffic (BOATs). These are usually marked on Explorer maps as a series of green dots, and on Landranger maps as a series of red dots, or they also be marked as a series of dashed lines with a tick on both sides of the dash of the line, which  is coloured green on Explorer maps and red on Landranger maps. You are legally allowed to ride on these, as they are actually public highways, although in some cases there may be restrictions limiting the right of way to motorised traffic. They are sometimes called 'green lanes' as they are often farm tracks, or grassy tracks across fields, rather than roads surfaced with 'blacktop' tarmac. Directional arrows on way marks, and signs will be coloured red for this type of access.
  • Bridleways (BW). These are the mainstay of off-road riding, and are marked as a series of dashes in either green on Explorer maps, or red on Landranger maps. The surface can be anything, as the symbol merely shows a right of way, not the condition of the actual right of way. Additionally Explorer maps will show permissive bridleways which are a special sort of right of way, where the landowner has given permission (which could be revoked) for it to be used as a public right of way. These are marked in brown rather than green. On waymark signs with a coloured arrow, bridleways will be marked in blue, sometimes with a yellow background. 
  • Footpaths (FP). Marked as a series of green dotted lines on Explorer maps and red dotted lines on Landranger maps. And not a legal right of way for bikes! These will be marked with a yellow arrow on waymarking signs. There is a legal grey area with footpaths, as you can walk with your bike on a footpath.
  • Other paths and tracks. The map may show a lightly dotted line marking a path, but unless there is also a symbol to show it as a right of way, it's not a legitimate right of way. You may also see double lines with a dotted border. These are usually private access roads, and are not public rights of way, unless there are other symbols showing a right of way, such as a footpath, or bridleway.

There are also some oddities, which are rights of way which don't fall into any of the other categories.

  • Roads Used As Public Paths (also called RUPPs). These are marked with a dashed line, just like a bridleway, but with a tick sticking out alternate sides on each dash. The line is coloured green on Explorer maps and red on Landranger maps. These are legitimate rights of way for cyclists. These are gradually being reclassifed into one of the other possible classifications, so they are rare on modern maps.
  • Restricted Byways. A recently introducted type of right of way, which is open to non motorised traffic, but not motorised traffic. These are often former BOATs which have become restricted to vehicles following problems. Confusingly, these share the same symbol as a BOAT.
  • Cycle Paths. Certain surfaced cycle tracks are marked with an alternating dots and dashes in green on Explorer maps, and as a series of green dots on Landranger maps. The cycleway between Whitby and Scarborough and other off-road parts of the National Cycle Network use this symbol.
  • Off road cycle tracks. Unsurfaced cycle route are marked on the map as a series of brown dots on Explorer maps, and are not usually shown on Landranger maps. Examples would include the moorland sections of the moors to sea cycle route, or man made cycle trails in places like Dalby forest.

Access land, which is open to walkers under the recent Countryside and Rights of Way act is show as yellow shaded areas on Explorer maps. Unfortunately the access permission does not extend to mountain bikes.

Forestry Commission land is show with a purple border on Explorer maps. There is no specific right of way, although the Forestry Commission permits cyclists to use suitably tracks within the land they manage. There's some ambiguity in what that means, but generally, any surfaced track on forestry commission land is fair game.

Right of way problems

Blocked rights of way

Sometimes a right of way may become impassable either through natural processes such as erosion or the growth of vegetation, or very rarely by deliberate attempts to block the right of way. If this happens, the local rights of way officer should be able to work with the landowner to take corrective action to restore the right of way.

Other Problems

There may be other problems with rights of way: There are rules relating to the minimum width that must be given for different types of right of way which pass through fields planted with crops, and how wide a margin must be left between ploughed or cultivated area of a field and the field boundary, where the bridleway runs along the field edge. Additionally, if a right of way passes across a field, and that field is ploughed, the route must be reinstated within 14 days. Sadly these rules, which are defined in law in the Highways Act of 1990, are frequently ignored, and many times you may find yourself attempting to squeeze along a tiny grass strip between a hedge and a muddy ploughed field, or pushing your bike through waist-high crops with absolutely no sign of a path.

Minimum widths of rights of way

Footpath Bridleway BOAT
Cross field path 1.0 metres 2 metres 3 metres
Field edge path 1.5 metres 3 metres 3 metres

Who is responsible for rights of way?

Usually the landowner is responsible for rights of way such as footpaths and bridleways which pass across his or her land. Highways (which can include BOATs) are the responsibility of the local highways department. It's best to approach somebody in local government about any problems, as they will know the procedure to take the matter further.

The rules governing who is the responsible authority for a particular right of way are complex.

  • In National Parks: the National Park is responsible for bridleways, footpaths and RUPPs, but the highways department of the local authority is responsible for BOATs and other highways. In the area this website covers, the North York Moors National Park is responsible for rights of way within the North York Moors National Park, except for public highways which falls to the North Yorkshire Council Highways Department.
  • Outside of National Parks, rights of way will be the responsibility of the local unity authority. For rural areas, it will usually be the local county council, except in urban areas, which are then the responsibility of the local town council. As working out exactly which authority is responsible is quite complex, it's best to contact the relevant county council rights of way department, who will then direct you to the relevant authority. For the area covered by this guide, this will be either North Yorkshire County Council, or the East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

Changes to Rights of Way

Rights of way are always changing. Some get diverted, some get removed, and sometimes new rights of way are created. The latest copy of the relevant OS map is a good place to start, but it's worth remembering there is a time lag of several years between a right of way being created, and it appearing on the map. The actual waymarking will often change before the map does, so keep an eye out for new signs. The more determined can also look around the website of the relevant local authority to ferret out new rights of way. If you do happen to find something you think is really useful, please let us know, and I'll see if it can be incorporated in a route. If you notice a right of way you use is planned to be downgraded (there will be planning notices put up at either end of the particular path), it's worth kicking up a fuss, by contacting IMBA, or the CTC, who may be able to help. As well as these public rights of way, DEFRA encourage the creation of new, permissive rights of way on agricultural land. A listing of these can be found on the DEFRA countrywalks website. Most of these new rights of way are of limited scope, but sometimes these can be used to link up other rights of way to open up new places to ride. 

Need a map?

AQUA3 logo

Buy Aqua 3 Ordnance Survey maps, save money, and help support this site.

North York Moors-Western Area
Moorland routes to the west of Pickering
North York Moors-Eastern Area
Moorland routes to the east of Pickering
Howardian Hills & Malton
Routes in the Howardian Hills and Wolds

Special Offer Buy both North York Moors maps & get a 36% discount

Digital mapping

Memory Map North York Moors digital mapping.

Further Reading