Types of paths in England and Wales

3 directions sign 

A right of way in England and Wales is a path that anyone has the legal right to use on foot, and sometimes using other modes of transport. Legally, a public right of way is part of the Queen's highway and subject to the same protection in law as all other highways, including trunk roads.

On a footpath, the right of way is on foot only. On a bridleway, the right of way is for walkers, and those travelling on horseback and on bicycle. These two routes are pretty self-explanatory but what about BOATs and ORPAs? Knowledge of these could help with local campaigning and ensure that historic rights of way are recorded for the future.

Byways open to all traffic (BOATs)

  • You can walk, ride, cycle and drive vehicles, including motor vehicles, on these types of paths 
  • Although legally open to all types of vehicle, BOATs were defined by parliament as routes used mainly on foot or horseback, and it is this which distinguishes BOATs from unclassified roads

Restricted Byways

  • Rights of way for those on foot, horseback, bike and horse-drawn carriage
  • These routes cannot be used by motor vehicles

Green Lanes

  • The term 'green lane' has no legal meaning, but is symbolic of the often ancient, unsurfaced tracks that form part of the rights of way network
  • In law many green lanes are classed and recorded on the definitive map as BOATs, but some may be footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways

White roads and Other Routes with Public Access ‘ORPAs’

  • If you look closely at an Ordnance Survey (OS) map you will see lots of uncoloured tracks - these are sometimes referred to as white roads
  • It’s not always possible to tell whether white roads carry public rights - some white roads will be public and some private
  • Those which are deemed public (because they are maintained by the highway authority) are shown on OS maps with green or red dots, and referred to in the key as an ORPAs (Other Routes with Public Access)
  • It’s not possible to tell if they have other rights, i.e. for users on horseback or in a vehicle but there will at least be a public right of way on foot

Permissive paths

  • Permissive paths are not rights of way but paths which an owner has given the public permission to use
  • The permission may be granted on a long-term basis but it can be withdrawn at any time

Towpaths

  • These are paths which run alongside canals or navigable rivers, originally used by horses towing barges
  • Whilst some are rights of way, those that aren’t are usually available for walkers to use
  • Most towpaths are managed by the Canal and River Trust who encourage walkers to use them

Cycle tracks

  • These are usually specially created paths, over which there is a right of way on pedal cycle and possibly also on foot 
  • Off-road multi-user paths are also available to walkers - these often form part of local cycle networks or the National Cycle Network promoted by the charity Sustrans
  • Legally they may be defined as public rights of way, roads from which motor traffic has been banned, or permissive paths
  • Some local networks of multi-user routes are known as greenways and may combine off-road paths with sections of quiet or traffic-calmed roads