Public rights of way and their history

Public rights of way and their history

Now more than ever people are exploring their local area and discovering pathways and trails they never knew existed. Along with the thrill of discovery, there’s also the benefits of being outside in the fresh air and the opportunity to connect with nature. It’s likely these routes use public rights of way – but what exactly does that mean? 

Created by people travelling to work, marketschurch, school and neighbouring villages, public rights of way have been a staple of our native landscape for hundreds of years. While the way we use them may have changed, the paths often have not – and still pave the way for us to explore the outdoors. Rights of way are largely unique to England, Wales and Scotland, though there are similar ‘right to roam’ approaches worldwide. 

So, what exactly is a public right of way? In short, it’s a highway which any member of the public may use by right, even when the land is privately owned. Rights of way are protected in the same way as roads and it’s a criminal offence to prevent the public from exercising their right of passage. Other than in exceptional circumstances, rights of way must remain open and accessible. 

Here at Hampshire Countryside Service, we manage over 3000 miles of public rights of way. It’s our job to look after these pathways and keep them accessible to the public. This ranges from clearing paths of surface vegetation and undergrowth to responding to emergencies such as bridge collapses. We also ensure paths are clearly signposted and waymarked and carry out other routine maintenance. Everyday our rangers are working on improvements to our footpaths to ensure you can enjoy them and keep safe, even in these uncertain times. 

Public rights of way are marked with signs or coloured arrows: yellow for footpaths (walkers only) and blue for bridleways (walkers, cyclists and horse riders). They also appear on Ordnance Survey maps. This interactive map shows all the rights of way in Hampshire. If you spot any new local paths to explore, now is the perfect time to do so. Ensure you follow government guidelines on social distancing and #walktherightway. 

Thanks to Jo Heath for the lovely images used in this article.

For uptodate COVID19 information specific to Hampshire’s rights of way visit this page. 


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