Frequently Asked Questions

What are rights of way?

Rights of Way are routes for walking, horse-riding, cycling or driving (depending on their type) in the countryside.  They should all have a signpost at the start and along the way there may be stiles or gates. 

They are just like roads; they provide a means of travelling from one place to another and are protected by highway law and legislation.  

Rights of Way are divided into three types:

  • Public Footpath - where you can walk
  • Public Bridleways - where you can walk, ride a horse, and cycle
  • Public Byway - where you walk, ride a horse, cycle, and drive a vehicle                 

Natural England web site

Where are rights of way?

With so many rights of way in Cumbria, there is bound to be one near you!  Maybe you could take some gentle exercise in the evening, or use it instead of going to the gym? 

Ordnance Survey publish maps illustrating local rights of way, cycle tracks, open access land and some permissive access opportunities. These are available in bookshops, outdoor shops, or you can even order online a map centred on a point of your choice. They also have an excellent leaflet to teach the basics about map-reading!

Ordnance Survey web site


What other sorts of rights of way are there?

"Public rights of way" means that, as a member of the public, you have a right to go up or down the route.  There are also "private rights of way", for example, if you own a house, you have a right to use your own land, park a car, walk to the front door and so on. These private rights are not within the responsibility of the Countryside Access team.

In a more rural situation, this might mean that a track has a private right on it, for a householder to reach their isolated house.  Also, there might be rights for neighbours, for instance on the same track, a farmer might have a right to reach their fields.  If someone gives you permission to use their field or track, they are essentially sharing their private rights with you.  

You can find out about private rights by looking at the deeds of a property or by talking to a legal advisor when you are buying a property.  

What are permissive paths?

Permissive paths are routes that the landowner has given permission to use.  

  • Sometimes this is part of an agreement, which might run for ten years.  This is the case if the route is part of a stewardship scheme.  
  • Sometimes another public body, such as the National Trust or the water company, may have established a permissive route on their land.
  • Sometimes these routes might simply be way-marked and usable on the ground and is not part of an official scheme.     

In all cases, as with all public rights of way, it is important to respect the local environment and nature.  Please follow the countryside code, which includes leaving gates as you found them and taking litter away with you.  

Natural England Stewardship Walks

Who owns a right of way?

Most rights of way cross private land, such as fields, fells or woodland.  The ownership of the route of a right of way remains with the landowner.  As a member of the public, your right is to "pass and repass".  However, Cumbria County Council have an interest in the surface of the route ("two spits", or approximately two spade depths) in order to protect the public's rights and to maintain and repair the route.  

Landowners and information on structures on public rights of way?

As a landowner you and any of your staff should be aware of where the public rights of way are, what width they have to be, your responsibilities to there maintenance and who is liable should there be an accident. 

Landowners and responsibilities for structures on public rights of way (PDF, 711KB)

What is landowner good practice in regards Public Rights of Way and farming?

As a landowner you and any of your staff should be aware of where the public rights of way are, what width they have to be, your responsibilities to there maintenance and who is liable should there be an accident. 

Landowners and farming best practice for public rights of way (PDF, 520KB)

What are you doing to improve bridleways in the area?

Bridleways have in places become fragmented by busy roads.  This means that walkers, cyclists and horse-riders don't enjoy using them, or even stop doing so altogether.  Many of these routes are noted in the Rights of Way Improvement Plan

Who is responsible for removing ragwort from the roadside?

Ragwort is an injurious weed under the Weeds Act (1959) - one of 5 weeds specified in that Act - and updated by the Ragwort Control Act (2003).  It is particularly dangerous to horses and cows.  It is the most frequent cause of livestock poisoning in Britain - the dried plant causes liver damage.  Each ragwort plant can produce up to 150,000 seeds which can lie dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.  It grows particularly well on poorly managed, disturbed and poached ground.  It is also a useful habitat for species like the cinnabar moth and rare butterflies. 
Under the Act, the Secretary of State may serve a notice on a landowner to prevent the weed from spreading.  In practice, because of a lack of resources, DEFRA only usually investigate the spread of weeds to land used for grazing horses or ponies.  DEFRA advise anyone affected by ragwort spreading to talk to the landowner or tenant, or the council if it is growing in a public area.  
In some counties, equine groups organise an annual "Ragwort Week" by removing ragwort from verges.  This is supported by landowners and the Highways Agency. The Highways Agency are responsible for motorways and trunk roads.  The county council as highway authority is responsible for all other public roads.  So, depending on the type of road where the ragwort is growing, it should be reported either to the Highways Agency or to the Highways Hotline.   

DEFRA web site