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Right Of Way, I Dunno

Blog Date 5th November 2020

Waaaay back when I was only about 35 I met a chap called Roger. Roger was involved with the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship). We talked of off-roading and where good honest law abiding folks such as I can legally ride "off piste". Amid the conversation that included words such as "Byway Open to All Traffic" and "Unclassified" he mentioned the TRF's Rights Of Way officers.

The Rights Of Way officer is a member of each local TRF group charged with finding out if such and such a lane/path/track is legal to ride upon. This is an unpaid role, simply a regular member stepping up to the plate. Roger informed me the last such officer in his local group had to quit due to a stress related illness and many other such officers never really last a long time. It is considered a difficult if not impossible role.

"Nonsense!" thought I. Here in good 'ole Blighty each administrative area must keep a Definitive Map. This map is the last word on the legal status of each road and trail and path and lane for the area. If trail X is in question, go to the definitive map and get a definitive answer. It's not rocket science is it, really.

Not far at all from my humble abode is such a trail. It runs around the back of Rivington Pike near the huge mast on Winter Hill. If you live in the North West you must have seen that mast. 

A map with the lane in question highlighted in red
This lane 'ere, in red...

For a clearer look... https://www.streetmap.co.uk/map.srf?X=364430&Y=414988&A=Y&Z=120

The trail runs over land that belongs to United Utilities, formerly North West Water. I also had a friend who worked for United Utilities as a countryside warden so he knew the area like the back of his hand. We discussed this trail and he seemed to think it was not open to use by public motorised vehicles. In fact they were currently having problems with "tossers on crossers" up there. 

In a brave and bold move I decided I would have a look at the Definitive Map. Not just the online version that suggested the road was an "X" classification, but the real, genuine thing. I'd even speak the Lancashire's County Council's own Rights Of Way officer. This person does get paid, it's their job to deal with these things.

So I'm in an office in Preston. After some curious looks, odd questions and much bewilderment from the staff I am pointing to this trail on the definitive map while the head honcho big chief Rights Of Way guru for Lancashire looks on.

"This is it"
"Ah yes, that's an X class road"
"Can I ride it, on my motorcycle, legally?"
"Well... erm... well... There's nothing to say you can't..."
"Great, so I can ride it then."
"Ah, ah ah, no I didn't say that."
"Well... you see there's nothing to say that you can either..."
"So I can't."
"Erm, no, no I didn't say that"

This conversation went around in several circles for a while. The upshot was the definitive map is far far far FAR from definitive. It depends. It depends on who owns the land. It depends on where the land is. It depends on what the trail is/was/could be used for. It depends on which way the wind is blowing for goodness sake.

If I were riding up there and I was stopped by a police officer he can not prove I CAN NOT ride there but then I CAN NOT prove that I can ride there. The Rights Of Way officer would not commit to a definitive answer from the definitive map.

It also depends upon TROs, Traffic Regulation Orders. TROs are the method by which roads are closed for repairs usually. They're also the means by which your street could be made one way, a cycle lane put in place or parking disallowed. These can also be used to ban certain traffic, for example lorries... or maybe *JUST* motorcycles too. So, ahem, the definitive map is NOT definitive and for each and every potential road there could be a local TRO.

Now, now I understand why volunteer TRF Rights Of Way officers lose the plot.

Moving forward 15 years to this present day and I am still just as bemused. The classification of the trail has now been updated to "Unclassified". Unclassified huh? What does that mean, can I ride it?

On the Lancashire Definitive Map my mother lives on an unclassified street and I can ride that. In fact most streets on housing estates are unclassified on this map and I wouldn't even question if I can ride along those. Great!

Steady on. 15 years ago the trail in question was gated but you could open the gates. Later the car access sized gates were locked but the pedestrian gates were open and motorcycles could easily get through. Now, well now the pedestrian gates have big deep concrete troughs in front of them presumably to make motorcycle access at least very difficult. United Utilities seem very determined to ensure no vehicular access to this road.

And United Utilities will have lawyers. I don't know this as a fact but I have to presume these legal type folks will have been through all the "ifs, buts, thens, aforementioned, undersigned, paragraph 47c1, Smith V The Crown, dependant upon and subject to..." stuff. There's a chance that United Utilities are illegally blocking this ancient route. There's a chance I could get this overturned and return access. There's also a much larger chance I could spend months and years of work and energy and a small fortune to be completely wrong and/or ignored.

As like as not there's probably a Traffic Regulation Order somewhere. I have yet to learn how I would go about finding out. A cursory interweb search regarding Lancashire Traffic Regulation Orders turn up countless methods of applying or recent TROs but no map or searchable listing. Yet...

I ask you this. How do you *KNOW* you have a legal right of way for the street you live upon? Unless you were unlucky enough to have to legally prove this then 99% of us will just assume it's OK because it's always been OK before. But you don't know, totally, absolutely, definitively know.

Sharon's usually very clean motorcycle is covered in dirt
I took Sharon 125 Off-Roading this weekend. Totally inappropriate machinery, but she loved it.

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Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
Ed, don't get stressed, it doesn't suit you.
The big answer to the big question is over my pay grade.......but........
A public road is a road maintained at public expense, although various orders could prevent all or certain classes of vehicles from using said road. Or indeed a certain intended use. Such signs would have to be in place and maintained though to be legal.
However if this matter is keeping you awake at night, along with weeding your driveway, can I suggest the following.
Write a letter (you know in an envelope with a stamp and proof of delivery) to the Chief Constable of the area concerned asking for guidance on a specific route or routes.
You need to be specific, in that you can or cannot ride a motorcycle legally on these routes. Each police force will have some creature locked away in a darkened room to deal with such requests. If you don't hear back write again, it's easier the second time.
If the letter comes back and says they don't know I would suggest no court in the land would convict you of any offence if you had shown this due diligence. They may of course say yes or no and the reasons why.
Good luck and don't hold your breath, such creatures are known to be slow in their actions.
05/11/2020 03:52:26 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Being stressed doesn't suit me? But I do it so well!

I don't lie in bed at night, awake, wringing my hands if fearful trepidation at the confusing befuddlement of our Rights Of Ways. I find it a tad frustrating in these modern times that I can't simply look at an online map and say "Yup, gunna ride that" or "Nope, best not eh". There are indeed far more important things for me to lose sleep over.

As for weeding my driveway, first off I'd need a driveway that I could then concern myself about. I do venture out into my front garden, sorry, tiny little patch of concrete flagged area, a couple of times a year armed with an old knife and a bin, to rip out the weeds in the gaps. I do this merely so as not to embarrass my neighbours with my already unseemly hovel.

While I wouldn't wish to trouble a Chief Constable with such menial questions you are suggesting there'll be a minion buried in a dark dank corner of the Police HQ basement to whom this task would be assigned. In which case for the price of a stamp it's got to be worth a shot. I guess you might be worth knowing in some form at least Upt'
05/11/2020 05:07:51 UTC
said :-
Ed, don't know if the link helps at all, I suspect not.
But you are correct, the letter will never get to the addressee and will be swiftly passed along the line......but I suspect there will be a semi-dedicated off road team in GMP who ride these routes to catch the urchins and I also suspect it will eventual land in their skippers in-tray.
05/11/2020 06:05:35 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
My information is probably even more out of date than Ren's although is consistent with much of what he says. However, surely an "Unclassified" road is one which does not have an A, B or C designation (although I'm not sure if there are still any of the latter)? I think that catgeorisation is different to the right of way issue, and I too remember byways etc. As far as I know they're still valid.

However, the OS maps show roads / tracks which have no right of way applicable to them and it looks as though your track is one such. The section in your link includes all sorts of ROWs including footpaths, bridleways (usable by horses and bicycles) as well as BOATS - the track where the southern end of your track leaves from. If you traverse a little to the west you will see unfenced roads surrounding a hotel. These will not be public ROWs but are still shown on the OS map as they exist on the ground.

With all due respect I don't believe a police officer will be able to give you a definitive answer.
06/11/2020 09:38:17 UTC
Bill said :-
As x chairman of the local TRF I can assure you this subject is a can of worms and varies greatly from county to county on how difficult it is to get definitive answers. You always have to check the current TRO status even if it has vehicular rights. Many UCR have been downgraded to permissive byways so cannot be driven.The TRF has spent a considerable amount of funds on fighting legal battles some successful and some not.
You may be interested in this article for Lancs. Your local TRF are the people who will have the current information about your area or most councils have a website showing permanent, seasonal and temporary TRO's aswell as the actual order they have a map with the Ordinance Survey grid locations.
06/11/2020 05:15:41 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Thanks gentlefolks. I suppose and regret this rather reinforces my point that rights of way are a confusing and often vague subject that can be difficult to quickly and easily answer. I'm sure many of you will either have experienced or seen YouTube vids of motorcyclists and walkers having somewhat heated discussions about whether or not they should or should not be on this lane or that track.

I am aware, as Bill's link points out, regarding footpaths there is a plan to permanently "set" the UK's footpaths by 2026. From what I understood from Countryfile the idea is if a path is not properly registered, noted, mapped or whatever after this date, that's it, it's not a path. As such there is a scramble (sic) to get as many of these registered and recorded before this date lest they be lost forever.

Ideally it would be nice for a similar "setting" of bridleways and separately Byways Open To All Traffic. Then we could produce maps that people could understand and hopefully follow. Of course much like the footpaths this would be an inordinate amount of work, lead to the same problems as Bill's link points out and right now I think we've got far bigger problems. Still, it is nice to dream and in the meantime I'll try to keep legal despite my very limited knowledge of this topic.
07/11/2020 02:30:36 UTC
Bill said :-
Extinguishment of rights for mechanically-
propelled vehicles
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities
Act 2006 (the 'NERC Act') extinguished rights of
way for mechanically-propelled vehicles over
routes not shown on the definitive map as
byways open to all traffic, subject to various
exceptions. These include routes that were
shown on a highway authority's list of streets
(highways maintainable at public expense) at the
date the Act came into effect (2nd May 2006).
Where there is historic evidence of rights for
vehicles over a way the surveying authority, and
the Secretary of State if an order is opposed, will
consider whether the NERC Act extinguished
rights for mechanically-propelled vehicles or
whether any of the exceptions applied. If it is
concluded that those rights had been
extinguished the way will be recorded as a
restricted byway: people will still be entitled to
use it in or on vehicles that are not mechanically

This is when we lost may miles of byway and RUPP

I believe the 2026 cut off for definitive map claims applies to all ROW including BOAT
So we will probably lose even more, less than 5% of row have vehicle rights now and many of those have TRO preventing use.
07/11/2020 05:47:00 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
It appears that legal off-road riding (and driving) is considered a bad thing by the masses Bill. To be frank we are a minority up against the political and fiscal will of walkers and land owners. And, again frankly, when we see many of the, erm, "less conscientious" off-roaders churning up the landscape and giving it large with loud pipes even I can understand why. I'm sure if we all followed common sense rules such as put forward by the TRF for example we'd at least stand a chance. As ever good things are ruined by idiots.
09/11/2020 03:10:41 UTC
Bob said :-
Ahh, the 2006 NERC act - another of Archangel Blair's gifts that keeps on giving.
In the Peak District the signage is very strong and will specifically say "Byway Open To All Traffic", or "Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles" so you know what is and is not allowed.
I am pleased to see that in the Peak District there are a few trails that are legal for motorcycles but not for cars - since it's the 4x4s that do all the damage (it's common to see where they've been "off piste" and chewed up an area next to a lane just for the challenge), more of that would alleviate some of the problems.

In Wales I find that most of the legal trails are just not signed, so it's a case of using anything that doesn't say you can't.

Regarding TROs there is an increasing movement to ignore these as they tend to be used vindictively, typically by downgrading a 100 yard stretch in the middle of a 1 or 2 mile loop thereby rendering the whole loop null.

At the end of the day it's a case of weighing enjoyment vs. risk - not that I am encouraging breaking the law but the worst case scenario is just money, some consider it a bargain they're prepared to make.
11/11/2020 09:40:46 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Bob, I think to say 4 x 4's do all the damage is a little simplistic.
Physical damage, noise pollution, nuisance could be attributed to all types of vehicles, even cycles and horses.
What is important is to behave oneself wherever you find yourself riding or driving.
Unfortunately motorcyclists have made no friends in rural communities for over 50 years, so why on earth would they support vehicles using tracks for pleasure.
Just my view.

11/11/2020 10:40:29 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Too true.

When I used to ride in pre-65 trials we used many of the old 1950s sections in the Peak District such as Hollinsclough. We were always very careful to cause minimal damage, to give way to horses and walkers etc and generally to be as unobtrusive as possible (I must admit that one of our number with a rorty triumph twin sidecar outfit was hardly inconspicuous!).

We often came across groups of trail riders who delighted in going off the actual road and creating great rooster tails, digging up the peat. Also some 4x4 drivers were equally insensitive. There was a huge boggy hole in one of the tracks we used which was reputed to have a Series Land Rover at the bottom of it....
11/11/2020 11:39:10 UTC
Bob said :-
Well round here it's 4x4s
Just sayin'
13/11/2020 07:58:48 UTC
Borsuk said :-
If a byway is open but not to mechanically propelled vehicles, which I presume includes bicycles could you take a land yacht over them.
13/11/2020 09:42:56 UTC
Bill said :-
A bicycle is not classified as a mechanically-propelled vehicle

14/11/2020 01:20:37 UTC
Bob said :-
Although it isn't a mechanically propelled vehicle, it is still a vehicle and is illegal to use on a footway.
Also be aware that a bicycle is not classed as reasonable accompaniment for a pedestrian.
Which means that whilst it is an offense to ride a bicycle on a footway (as you would expect), it is even and offense to push a bicycle on a footway (which is a surprise to most).
A footway (footpath) and pavement are legally different things.

17/11/2020 12:23:44 UTC

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