Walkers in Borrowdale copyright Charlie Hedley

Rights of Way questions and answers

The Lake District National Park contains more than 3,200 kilometres of Public Rights of Way. They're used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders and vehicles.

This page features the most frequently asked questions, but for more detailed replies on these and other questions, please read:

Rights of Way frequently asked questions

You may also find this document useful if you are interested in permitted access. Permitted Paths and Access Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)

What is a public right of way?

All public rights of way are highways in law. They are normally just simple paths and tracks through woods, farmland, in countryside or near towns.

What's the difference between a footpath and a bridleway?

Yellow arrow footpath waymarker

Foothpath: May be used only on foot.

Waymarked by a yellow arrow.

Blue arrow bridleway waymarker

Bridleway: May be used on foot or on horseback. Horses may be led and in some cases there is the right to drive other animals. Pedal cycling is also permitted, providing cyclists give way to horse riders and pedestrians.

Waymarked by a blue arrow.

Red arrow byway open to all traffic waymarker

Byway open to all traffic: May be used by traffic that can use bridleways as well as any kind of wheeled vehicle, including motor cars, motorcycles and horse drawn vehicles.

Waymarked by a red arrow.

Victoria plum-coloured arrow restricted byway waymarker

Restricted byway: The same as a byway, except that they cannot be used by mechanically propelled vehicles such as cars or motorbikes.

Waymarked by a 'victoria plum'-coloured arrow.

White arrow permissive path waymarker

Permissive or permitted paths: These are not 'rights of way' as such but are paths over which the landowner has reached an agreement with the Authority to allow linear public access. This permission may be withdrawn or the route altered over time. Permission may be given subject to certain restrictions.

Waymarked by a white or a black arrow.

Other public highways maintainable at public expense: Commonly known as unsurfaced/unclassified county roads. The exact status of these ways differs in each case, if known at all – however, there will be a minimum of foot rights and probably more.

How many rights of way are there in the Lake District National Park?

As of April 2014, the total length of Rights of Way was 3,102 km (1,927.5 miles).

How do I know if a path is a public right of way?

Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 "Explorer" maps show rights of way in green, and acknowledged permissive paths in pale red. Their 1:50,000 "Landranger" maps show rights of way in red.

All recorded public rights of way are shown on the Definitive Map and Statement by Cumbria County Council (opens in new window)

What rights do the public have on a public right of way?

Rights of way give a 'right of passage' across land. Anyone may use a right of way at any time, just like a normal road. 

You can stop for a while – to admire the view, take a photograph, eat a sandwich or sit down and rest – providing you stay on the path and do not cause an obstruction. You can take 'normal accompaniments' on the right of way such as binoculars, dogs under control, and buggies. We've a page about dog walking.

However you can not roam wherever you want, or use the path or surrounding land for other purposes. If you do anything that is not reasonably part of your journey, such as deliberately disturbing people or animals, then you may be regarded as a trespasser.

Are all the paths supposed to be signposted?

Yes. Under the Countryside Act 1968, we have a duty to erect signposts at every point where a footpath, bridleways or byway leaves a metalled road. We carry out regular surveys and renewal programmes to ensure that as many ways as possible are signed.

What is waymarking?

Waymarking is a means of indicating the line or direction of a path at points where it may be difficult to follow. Indicators can range from splashes of coloured paint on walls to wooden arrows and plastic discs - see the photos above under "What's the difference between a footpath and bridleway?".

Can cars or motorcycles be used on public rights of way?

It is an offence under the Road Traffic Acts to drive a vehicle upon any common land, moorland or other land or upon any footpath or bridleway without lawful authority. Please phone the police on 101 to report any incidents.

Cars and motorcycles can be legally driven on byways open to all traffic. For a list of lawful driving routes in Cumbria please look at Cumbria County Council's Hierarchy of Trails Routes (opens in new window). You may also find our Green Road Driving section helpful.

Can a farmer keep a bull in a field crossed by a public right of way?

It is an offence to keep a dairy bull, or a non-dairy bull unaccompanied by heifers or cows, in a field or enclosure crossed by a public right of way. But any bull under the age of eleven months or a bull not of a recognised dairy breed may be at large in a field.

There are more details on Health and Safety Executive's Cattle and public access in England and Wales guidance sheet (PDF)

Who looks after rights of way in Cumbria?

The Highway Authority is Cumbria County Council and is ultimately responsible for all the rights of way. Since 1997 the National Park Authority has had full powers to manage all aspects of rights of way from maintenance to surveying and updating the legal records. 

Do you have more questions?

If you want to know who owns the paths, how they become public rights of way, how wide a path should be and other questions, please look at:

Rights of Way Frequently Asked Q

Useful links and documents

Definitive Map Modification Orders

Public Path Orders