On a Right of Way, you have the right to pass and repass unhindered. You are allowed to stop to admire the view, take a photograph or refresh yourself. Going to a predetermined place on a Right of Way for a picnic, or wandering off the path is a trespass.

How a Right of Way can be used depends on what kind of highway it is.

If it is a footpath, it may only be used for walking. This includes the use of pushchairs and wheelchairs, but is often impractical due to the surface.

A dog is considered a 'usual accompaniment' of a person on foot, but must be under your control at all times and must not worry livestock.

If the highway is a bridleway, it may be used for riding or leading a horse, as well as for walking. Pedal cycling is permitted, providing cyclists give way to riders and pedestrians. Driving a vehicle is not permitted, even if it is horse-drawn.

A byway open to all traffic, often referred to simply as a byway or BOAT, is a highway that is used by the public mainly for walking, riding horses or cycling, but over which there is also a right to use any kind of wheeled vehicle – whether it is a horse-drawn vehicle or a motor-vehicle.

Other Paths

Some paths are permissive paths. These have been granted by the landowner, sometimes for local people or tenants only. Normally, the landowner has no intention to dedicate the path as a Public Right of Way and may close the path at any time that they so wish.

Definitive Path

The Right of Way must follow the line of the path as shown on the Definitive Map. To mislead with signs, is an offence. Constructing a building or fence across a path is an obstruction and can lead to a prosecution.

If you think that a path exists which is not shown on the definitive map, or a path has a higher status, then a procedure is available for you to change the definitive map. This requires evidence of use or old maps clearly showing that it was a Right of Way.

Ordnance Survey maps are not the Definitive Map.

All paths have a statement stating where they start and finish. Some paths also have a width recorded. Where no width is recorded then the minimum width for clearance of each path is:

Footpaths should have a clear height of 2 metres for the entire width of the path. With 2 meters of clearance when stood on a step

Bridleways should have a clear height of 3 metres for the entire width of the path.


All stiles and gates are owned by the landowner, whose responsibility it is to maintain them and keep them clear of vegetation. Hedges, especially around stiles, should be kept clear to the minimum width and height previously stated.

Landowners are entitled to claim 25% of any expenses when replacing an original or authorised gate or stile on a Right of Way. In the case of stiles, the council will give the landowner a new stile in place of the 25%. This does not apply to gates or stiles in boundaries that are not shown on the Definitive Map.

The Avon stile

Front view Side view

Some paths are maintained by other departments of the council. A tarmac pavement on the roadside or in a housing estate will normally be maintained by Highways and not the Public Rights of Way Team.

Highways number is 01305 251000

Responsibilities for Rights of Way


Public Rights of Way Team

Preparing and keeping up-to-date, a Definitive Map and Statement of the Rights of Way in the area.

Providing a signpost wherever a Right of Way leaves a metalled road, or near to it.

Maintaining bridges over natural watercourses.

Securing the removal of obstructions.

Ensuring that there are no intimidating notices that deter the public from using paths shown on the definitive map.

Asserting and protecting the public’s right to enjoy Rights of Way.

Maintaining and controlling natural vegetation on the surface of footpaths and bridleways.

Waymarking, where appropriate and with the landowners consent, Rights of Way – the route of the path should be made reasonably obvious.

Ensuring that the path on the land is the same as the path shown on the definitive map.


Any problems that you have should be directed to the Public Rights of Way Team, County Hall, Dorchester, Dorset. DT1 1XJ

Telephone 01305 224463


Cutting back vegetation encroaching from the side or above to maintain the minimum dimensions.

Providing and maintaining in good order, stiles and gates on Rights of Way.

Keeping Rights of Way free from obstructions such as barbed wire, locked gates or machinery.

Providing bridges where new drainage ditches are made or existing ones widened (bridges must be to the highway authority specification.)

Ensuring that field-edge Rights of Way are not ploughed or disturbed.

Ensuring that cross-field footpaths and bridleways are reinstated within two weeks of first being ploughed or disturbed for that crop, or within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance. (Rights of Way Act 1990)

Ensuring that any paths over cultivated land remains apparent on the ground at all times and is not impeded by growing crops (other than grass). (Rights of Way Act 1990)

Ensuring that bulls are not kept in a field crossed by a path unless they are less than 11 months old or are of a beef breed and accompanied by cows or heifers.

That a Right of Way is not diverted or moved until a diversion order has been applied for from the Highway Authority and granted.

That no new boundary is installed across a Right of Way unless it is for agricultural purposes and the Highway Authority has authorised a gate.


May undertake the maintenance of any public footpath or bridleway in the parish. Maintenance means, in effect, the cutting back of surface vegetation and repair of surfaces.

If a Right of Way is obstructed, the Parish Council can require the highway authority to assert and protect the public’s right to use the way concerned and to keep it free from obstruction.

Be consulted on proposals to modify, reclassify, close and divert Rights of Way.

Carry out waymarking once the landowners permission has been gained.

Insist that the Highway Authority sign any footpaths, bridleways, roads used as public paths and byways open to all traffic where they leave a metalled road.

Create new footpaths and bridleways, by agreement with the landowner.

Have a kissing gate installed in place of a stile, at the parish council’s expense, once the landowners consent has been given.