Blocked paths - Walks Around Britain

Go to content

Our Guide to Blocked Paths

In England and Wales alone, there are estimated to be 140,000 miles of public footpaths - and most walks start and finish on them with no trouble at all.

But occasionally, the path might be blocked or obstructed in some way.  This could range from paths becoming impassible due to overgrown hedges to stiles being ripped and replaced by a wall or barbed wire.

So what we you entitled to do at the time whilst you are out walking, and can you complain or report it later?

Take for example this clearly inpassible and unusable kissing gate...
What you can do to get around it, and whether you can report it, all depends on what type of path it is.

And to find out, you need an OS map...
If you found your obstacle on paths shown with green dashes on OS Explorer maps (red dashes on OS Landranger maps) then these are Public Footpaths and Public Bridleways - the shorter dashes are Footpaths and the longer are Bridleways.

As these are Public Rights of Way, it is illegal to obstruct them.  If the path is blocked deliberately, it’s a criminal offence under Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980, and farmers or landowners can face a fine and criminal record.

If it's overgrown from below it's the highway authority's responsibility.  If it's overgrown from the sides it would be the responsibility of the adjoining landowner, but you should still complain to the highways authority.
If you are obstructed on a Public Footpath or Bridleway,
you are entitled to make a reasonable detour to get round the obstruction.
Keep any detour you make to the minimum, and return to the Public Right of Way as soon as possible.  Try to also mimimise any damage to property or land whilst you are in the process of making your detour.

As soon as possible, report the obstruction to the local highways authority, who are responsible for maintaining the public rights of way network in their area.  You can find the relevant local or county council's contact details here.

Take a few photographs of the obstruction using a mobile phone, and include them in an email along with the map reference - or a detailed description of where the blockage was - to the Rights of Way Officer.
If you found your obstacle on paths shown as a black dashed line on OS Explorer maps, then these are basic paths - but not Public Rights of Way.  In fact, most of these are not shown on the larger scale OS Landranger maps.

Access to these paths is not a right, but has been granted by the landowner... but the landowner has the right to refuse or to restrict access, to not maintain stiles and not to cut down overgrown hedges.

Therefore, if you way is impeded on these paths, you have little option but to turn around.  You do not have the legal right to make a reasonable detour to get round the obstruction.

Reporting the obstruction to the landowner is an option - perhaps they do not know the path is blocked - but they do not have to do anything about it.
If you found your obstacle on paths shown as orange dashes on OS Explorer maps, then these are permissive paths and bridleways.  Again, they are not Public Rights of Way and are not shown on the larger scale OS Landranger maps.

Once again, access to these paths is not a right, but has been granted by the landowner, who has the right to refuse or to restrict access at any time.

However, a permissive path implies a willingness to allow access, such as the National Trust's permissive paths which allow a walking route to Orrest Head in the Lake District.  So, whilst you do not have the legal right to make a reasonable detour to get round the obstruction, reporting it to the landowner will in most cases result in the blockage to be cleared.
However, if the permissive path runs through an area designated as Open Access land - as the paths to Orrest Head do in Common Wood - then you can walk anywhere within that area anyway, and so you can detour around the obstruction.  

Open Access land is shown by that yellow shaded area with a tan coloured thicker line boundary on the OS Explorer maps.
Blocked Paths in Scotland


Scotland, with its Right to Roam, has a completely different ethos of access for walkers.  Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, walkers have a statutory right of public access to most land and inland water - and these legal rights are based on the principle of responsible access, with obligations both on the access users and on the managers of the land.  Guidance on these responsibilities is set out out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

However, as well as this extensive access, Scotland does have two categories of paths:

  • Rights of Way and
  • Core Paths

Public Rights of Way (Scotland)


Scottish Local Authorities do have a legal duty to keep Public Rights of Way open and free from obstruction.  The major challenge in this is unlike England and Wales, there is no requirement for a local authority in Scotland to maintain a "Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way" therefore records of Public Rights of Way are very poor.  


So it isn't uncommon for a local authority to first become aware a path may be a Public Right of Way when it is blocked, or when, for example, a developer proposes to close it.

When an obstruction is reported on a claimed Public Right of Way, the local authority has to decide as to whether the path is indeed a Public Right of Way.  In Scotland, a Public Right of Way has to link two public places - and this is fairly easy to show.

The most difficult test to prove is the path has been used continously for at least twenty years.  In this, the Local Authority will gain the views of members of the public to find out whether there are enough people who say they have used the path in the last twenty years to be test the claim in a court of law.  Evidence from the Heritage Paths website could be useful here, as some Public Rights of Way follow old routes including drove roads and pilgrimage routes.

If there is sufficient evidence of use it may be necessary for the Council to take legal action - which can be very effective.

If there's an obstruction on a path you believe to be a Public Right of Way, then contact the local authority's Access Team.
It is worth noting that although local authorities do have a legal duty to keep Public Rights of Way open and free from obstruction, there is no duty to maintain Public Rights of Way
- so the local authority does not have to fix the path's surface.

Core Paths


The Core Paths in Scotland were created under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, and just under 12,500 miles of existing paths have been recorded as Core Paths.


Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, Local Authorities do have a legal duty to keep Core Paths open and free from obstruction.  


In the event a Core Path is obstructed the relevant local authority has increased powers to have the obstruction removed.  If you encounter a problem, contact the local authority's Access Team.


If you encounter a blockage on a Core Path, you can detour around it using the Right to Roam - providing you do not enter land where the statutory right of access does not apply.  


Find out more at the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.

About Us

Join us for short walks and walking info from Britain's leading digital walking destination
Walking routes, information, walking festivals, gear reviews
on the website, social media, podcast, DVD and television.
Back to content