Whether you're following an iFootpath walking guide or taking your own adventure through the countryside, you are bound to pass a whole range of signage marking the public rights of way. Whilst most of us understand the direction the arrows point us in, there are also some more subtle pieces of information that the signage conveys. Here, we present a guide to waymarks to help you get the most of out of your countryside walks.
Signage for public rights of way mostly comes in two types; round waymark symbols and fingerposts. You will see round waymark symbols attached to existing furniture (gates, fence posts, stiles etc) or attached to short wooden posts that have been installed specifically to mark a route. Fingerposts tend to be taller and can be wooden or metal posts with ‘fingers’ splayed from the top marking the various paths from that junction.
The arrow on the waymark, or the direction that the finger is pointing, tells you the direction of the path but it is also useful to know what category of right of way you are following. The category of the right of way is stated in words on many fingerposts and is denoted by the colour of the arrow on a waymark symbol.
Public Footpath A public footpath is denoted by yellow arrows on waymarks. These are legally protected paths that the public can travel along by foot. Many footpaths cross private land and it is important to remember that you (and your dog) only have a right to walk on the footpath itself, not the land to the sides of the path (even if there are no fences). As the paths are designated for walkers only (i.e. NOT horse riders or cyclists) you are likely to come across many obstacles including stiles and kissing gates.
Public Bridleway A public bridleway is denoted by blue arrows on waymarks. These are legally protected paths that the public can use on foot or on horseback. Cyclists are permitted to use bridleways (although through the Countryside Act 1968 there is no obligation to facilitate the cyclists on the routes and cyclists must give way to other users). As the routes are designated for use by horse riders as well as walkers, you will not find stiles or kissing gates on the paths (they would be tricky for horses!). The gates on these routes will be single gates, often with a tall pole to help horse riders operate the catch without dismounting. You may also see strange isolated sets of steps alongside the path (e.g. at the ends of bridges) which are provided to help horse riders dismount and remount when crossing bridges.
Permissive Footpath and Bridleway These paths have the same rules as public footpaths and public bridleways but they are not legally protected routes. The landowner has granted permission for the route to be used by the public but they also have the right to withdraw that permission if they choose. The path will often be closed for one day a year in order to protect the landowner against any future claims of converting the route into a permanent public right of way.
Byway and Restricted Byway A byway is denoted by red arrows on waymarks. They are legally protected routes open to all forms of traffic including pedestrians, horse riders, cyclists and motor vehicles. A restricted byway is also denoted by a red arrow. The public are permitted to use these paths on foot, horseback, bicycle or horse drawn carriage but cannot use any motorised vehicles.
National Trail A national trail is denoted by an acorn symbol. There are 16 national trails in England and Wales totalling 2,500 miles. They are protected long-distance linear paths, long-distance being defined as a route that would take longer than one day to complete on foot. They tend to follow the line of key geographical features (e.g. Thames Path, Pennine Way and South Downs Way) or important manmade historical features (e.g. Hadrian’s Wall Path and The Ridgeway). The equivalent routes in Scotland are called Scotland’s Great Trails (e.g. West Highland Way). These paths are all open to walkers and some sections are also open to horse riders and cyclists.
Long Distance Path In addition to the formal national trails, there are hundreds of other long-distance paths that are waymarked in the UK. These are simply existing footpaths, bridleways and byways joined together to make a named route for walkers to follow. They are designed by (and named after) areas of outstanding beauty (e.g. The Chiltern Way), walking groups (e.g. The Vanguard Way) or historical events and societies (e.g. The 1066 Country Walk and Robin Hood Way). These paths are denoted by a symbol designed specifically for that path, for example the Robin Hood Way waymark is a bow and arrow within a green arrow sitting on a white circular background.
Recreational Route Landowners such as local authorities and wildlife trusts create walking trails across their land (country parks, woodlands and nature reserves) to allow the public to explore the site. These are denoted by a symbol designed specifically for that path such as an arrow in a specific colour or a particular animal or bird.
Open Access Land In England and Wales there are many designated areas of open access land and these are denoted by a brown and white symbol of a man within hills. Within these areas you are free to roam on foot at will. Although there are footpaths and trails running across this land, you do not have to stick to them if you don’t want to.
Right to Roam (Scotland) In Scotland legislation was passed in 2003 giving the right to be on any land for recreational, educational and certain other purposes and to cross the land if exercised responsibly. Providing that you are considerate and respectful of the land you are traversing, you have the right to roam when walking, cycling or horse riding. You have the right to walk your dog with you – providing the dog(s) are kept under control. You are not permitted on to land for the purposes for hunting, shooting, fishing or using motorised vehicles. Local signs show where there are exceptions to the right.
17 June 2015