When using the public rights of way network, it is necessary to follow certain guidelines to avoid conflict with other users, as well as local residents and landowners.
Public rights of way are routes where there is a legal right to pass and re-pass, and cover a wide spectrum of actual ground conditions; from formally surfaced tracks to undefined ground.
The existence of a right of way does not mean that the physical path will actually be suitable to all potential users. This is not necessarily an error, but part of the history of the route. There are some bridleways that are too steep for horses to use or too boggy for cyclists, as well as some footpaths that are too uneven for wheelchairs or pushchairs.
Similarly, although it is legal to use a vehicle on a byway open to all traffic, the surface does not have to be suitable for a car and many historic byways are too narrow for a modern car to pass along. Therefore it is important to assess the natural condition of the route, taking care and being prepared to take an alternative if necessary.
Dogs are permitted on rights of way under close control.
You should always pick up after your dog, and keep them on the right of way.
When passing through livestock, it is preferable to keep your dog on a short lead so that the livestock is not disturbed. This also applies on the moorland between 31 March and 31 July to protect ground-nesting birds.
You should be aware that it is an offence to allow your dog to chase or attack livestock and that a farmer may legally shoot any dog that is attacking or chasing livestock without compensating the owner of the dog.
Mobility scooters, such as Trampers, can also be used on public rights of way where they do not cause damage, although on many routes this may not be physically possible. These should not be ridden faster than 4 mph.
Mini-motos are miniature motorbikes that are suitable for one person to sit on. These are not permitted on any public rights of way including byways open to all traffic, on roads or other public places.
On byways open to all traffic, vehicles are permitted. However, as a class of public highway, all the usual rules of the road apply and drivers must be in possession of a valid driving license, insurance, the vehicle must have a valid MOT etc. Underage drivers, untaxed vehicles, etc. are not allowed to use any public rights of way.
Cyclists' right to use a bridleway is subject to the condition that they give way to other users.
On all public rights of way cyclists, like everyone else, have a responsibility to ride in a manner that is not causing a danger or nuisance to other users, to local residents or to landowners.
Some routes have a natural surface and these can vary with location, the weather conditions and the seasons, while others follow historical or recently surfaced tracks or paths. This creates a great variation in the types and standards of surface.
There are public paths across rough boggy ground, and stony tracks in the upland areas; elsewhere there are paths across muddy fields and along agricultural access tracks and through woodlands. Even the semi urban paths which are sometimes tarmacked or stone surfaced are usually unlit and are not constructed to the same standard as pavements.
Users should assess the general state of the path and take appropriate care.
On a natural surface there are often holes that an inattentive user could put a foot down or tree roots, rocks, etc. to trip over. Users should expect to find such features and take appropriate care.
The Council will work to ensure that hidden or unexpected hazards are rectified, a tree root across an unsurfaced woodland path would be acceptable but a piece of metal sticking out of a concrete path would not be.
It is strongly recommended that users carry a suitable map and ensure that you are able to use it.
Public rights of way are usually marked where they leave the roads and have way markers along the route, but do not expect to be able to follow the route entirely reliant on way markers. You should expect to require a map to follow the route.
Many public rights of way cross farmland including fields where livestock are present.
- In general this presents no problem but there are simple precautions that can be taken:
- make sure that you know where your exit point from the field is
- do not walk between young calves and their mothers
- do not let your dog chase the cattle but be ready to let it off the lead or put it down if cattle approach (do not pick it up or hold it close when cattle approach)
- do not run away but move to the exit point (or back to the entry point) carefully.
Remember that cattle are often inquisitive and rarely aggressive.
Risk and personal liability
It is the responsibility of each user of a public right of way to assess the nature of the path for themselves and to take appropriate care – if necessary, turn back rather than risk injury to yourself or companions.
Please bear in mind that in general the public rights of way are not regularly inspected but repairs are carried out where necessary in response to reports by members of the public.
Where paths have not been constructed but are simply a worn line on the ground, or maybe not even that, users must be aware that there could be holes made by animals or water, tree roots, rocks and other natural hazards to trip over or fall into.
Similarly the path may be overhung by low branches, pass close to steep slopes, traverse river banks or cross fast-flowing streams.
Where paths have been constructed in a rural area, the purpose is generally to facilitate passage across boggy, steep or otherwise difficult terrain and they may be uneven and slippery – this is the nature of such paths and users should take appropriate care.
There are public rights of way which follow historical routes, often through areas of industrial and archaeological interest, which used to be maintained to a high standard appropriate to that historical land-use but which is not necessary or appropriate today. This sort of route also requires users to take care appropriate to a deteriorated surface.
Users of paths in an urban or semi-urban environment which have been constructed, often with a tarmac surface, can expect them to be reasonably free from deep puddles or mud but not to the standard of pavements alongside a road. There may still be some holes and puddles which would be unacceptable on a footway.
The user has a responsibility to take care appropriate to the general nature of that particular footpath.