Footpaths - Public Rights of Way

We are very fortunate to be surrounded by numerous footpaths. The Essex County Council interactive map is a good place to check out all the footpaths in the county and you can zoom in on your location.Select the Public Rights of Way (PROW) asset and it will show you the footpaths, bridleways, and byways.

Many of these are on private property, such as a farmer’s field, but the public have a right of way across them. Please respect the rules associated with each type of PROW:

Footpaths  - can be traversed by foot, mobility scooter or wheelchair, but only via the designated track. Use by horses, bicycles or vehicles is not allowed.

Bridleways - same as footpaths except users are also permitted to ride or lead a horse and ride bicycles (not motorcycles which are powered two wheeled vehicles).

Byways (also known as Byways Open to All Traffic - BOAT ) – are roads with a soft surface that can, in addition to horses and pedestrians, be used by road-legal vehicles – i.e., the same rules as standard highways apply requiring tax, insurance and MOT. Under-age or banned drivers, non-road-legal scramblers & quad bikes are not allowed on BOATs.

Misuse of any of these by motorised vehicles is a an offence under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act and should be reported to the police. Misuse by other means, such as horses being ridden on a footpath, comes under the trespass laws and lies with the landowner.


Essex County Council


The Ramblers Association

Public rights of way

In England and Wales we have over 140,000 miles of public rights of way, providing the ability to walk recreationally and to get from one place to another on foot, sometimes by using paths which have been walked for thousands of years. These public rights of way should be maintained by your local Highway Authority and are recorded on official maps (called definitive maps) in England and Wales.

Public rights of way are not just footpaths - there are bridleways and byways which the public has a right to use. Unfortunately not all public rights of way are recorded on definitive maps or shown on the Ordnance Survey, and neither are other paths which are open by permission or under other arrangements.

The Ramblers work to protect public rights of way includes:

  • Ensuring they are recorded properly, adding new paths to the definitive map and the network
  • Reporting problems like obstructions to highway authorities, and follow reports up to make sure these problems are resolved
  • Saving paths from unsuitable diversions which will spoil a walk or make it unsafe
  • Undertaking improvements to paths ourselves - our path work teams all over the country help maintain our paths on behalf of the highway authorities and landowners and for the walking public.

We work in partnership with volunteers, sometimes involving legal action, to make sure that the interests of walkers using their public rights of way are secured.

Where can you find open access land?

Open access land is marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a yellow wash, and coastal margin is marked as a magenta wash. If you want to find open access land in a certain area you can search the Natural England map here.  

Open access land is marked with a yellow wash - © Crown copyright 2017 OS 100033886

Coastal margin is marked with a magenta wash - © Crown copyright 2017 OS 100033886

Once you are out walking, open access land is often identified with the brown 'access' symbol shown below. If you are leaving open access land, you may see the ‘no access’ symbol, and will need to find a public right of way to continue your walk. Given the nature of open access land, you may not see one of these signs, so make sure you have a map on you.

You are permitted to climb over walls or fences to get into, out of or across open access land, as long as you don’t damage them.


The right to walk across open access land or coastal margin can sometimes be restricted locally to ensure people don’t accidentally disturb any sensitive wildlife, or interfere with rural businesses. Restrictions can apply for reasons of land management, public safety, fire risk, conservation, preservation or even defence and national security.

These can often be applied at short notice, so check whether any restrictions apply before going for a walk, even if you have walked there before. You can check for restrictions here.

Some types of land remain off limits, even if this land falls within the boundaries of open access or coastal margin on a map. This excepted land may not be signposted on the ground, so it is important that you familiarise yourself with the areas you aren’t allowed to walk on before heading off. A full list of excepted land can be seen below.

Open access restrictions don’t affect whether you can walk on a public right of way.