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Access To The British Countryside

It may surprise some of you to learn that you cannot legally walk wherever you like in the British countryside and different restrictions apply to different parts of the United Kingdom.

There are number of designated areas / rights of way each with their own access regulations:

Public footpaths, public bridleways, restricted byways and BOAT's should all be signed at junctions with metalled roads and are often also signed at other key points.

Public Rights of Way can be and sometimes are changed, closed or new ones created; so to make sure you don't commit a trespass make sure you have the most up to date version of the map for the area of your intended walk. Those shown on OS Explorer and landranger maps are taken as proof of a legal right of way on the date the map was printed.

There is one condition under which all designated areas / Rights of Way except public metalled highways can be and usually are closed completely; that is the outbreak of "Foot and Mouth" disease. The closed area applying to a wide "buffer" zone as well as the area of infection itself. The last major outbreak in 2001 affected the whole country.

Dogs should be "under close control" ideally on a short lead (one that is no more than 2 metres (6½ft) long) between 1 March and 31 July to protect ground-nesting birds and at all times around livestock even on official Public Rights of Way.

England and Wales

In England and Wales although there is no universal right to wander around the countryside, thanks to the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act, You do have a right to roam in certain Open Access areas of the English and Welsh countryside. Where there is no Open Access you need to stick to the official "rights of way", which are clearly marked on maps and sometimes on the ground.

Northern Ireland

Access to the countryside is far more limited than in the rest of the United Kingdom, having been described as "the most restrictive in Europe". As far as I am aware the CRoW act does not apply to Northern Ireland and there are no Open Access areas; public access being limited to official Public Rights of Way only.

Dogs should always be under their owners full control so as not to disturb wildlife or annoy or frighten other visitors. When walking on roads or close to farm animals they should be on a short lead regardless of how well controlled they are.


In Scotland, everyone has the right of access for recreation, education and general travel unless specifically excluded. Exclusions generally apply to airfields, farm yards and crop growing sites, industrial and military areas, paid-for visitor attractions, private gardens and school playing fields. The CROW act does not apply to Scotland, instead you have The Land Reform (Scotland) Act, which legalised the ancient tradition of the universal right to access land in Scotland, provided you follow The Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

The information on this page is based on my understanding of the legislation in the various parts of the United Kingdom; if any details are wrong, please let me know so that they can be corrected.