In England and Wales, a statutory bridleway (or bridle path) is a route over which the public has a right of way on horseback, leading a horse, on foot, or since 1968, on pedal cycle. In addition, there may be a right to drive animals along a bridleway, and some bridleways also have private access rights permitting use by right holders for motorised vehicles. People using a pedal cycle on a bridleway must give way to users on foot or on horseback.
As the use of horses declined, and motorised vehicles became more common during the 20th century, many bridleways became roads, and when the 1949 National Parks and Countryside Act required that public rights of way were recorded, many were recorded as roads, or as footpaths. However, it is estimated that the number of people riding horses each week in Britain has gone up from 100,000 in 1967 to 3.5 million in 1995, and so the demand for bridleways has increased. (Ref. London Borough of Hillingdon, Bridleways strategy.)
Statutory bridleways are rights of way and must not be obstructed or moved. They are recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement, maintained by each local highway authority and form part of the local authority’s highway network. Permission may be sought to have them varied or removed by application to the local authority.
Landholders are responsible for ensuring statutory bridleways remain free from obstructions, and for ensuring there are suitable gates. The local highway authority is generally responsible for the surface, and for markings. There is no obligation to facilitate the use of bridleways by cyclists.
A permissive bridleways is not a statutory right of way, but is a way which the landowner permits the public to use for specified purposes. Permissive bridleways may be closed intermittently to prevent them becoming a right of way.
NB: Code of Practice for the Co-ordination of Street Works and Works for Road Purposes and Related Matters HAUC(England) Edition issued by HAUC (England) in September 2020, defines a bridleway as: ‘A highway over which the public have the following, but no other, rights of way, that is to say, a right of way on foot and a right of way on horseback or leading a horse, with or without a right to drive animals of any description along the highway. “horse” includes a pony, ass and mule, and “horseback” shall be construed accordingly.’
- Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.
- National trail.
- Permissive path.
- Restrictive covenants.
- Right of way.
- Right to access land.