Various types of right of way exist, including those for pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians, and different modes of transportation such as highways, railways, and pipelines. For instance, a footpath is a right of way designated solely for pedestrian use, while a bridleway permits access to pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians but restricts motorized vehicles. In some countries, particularly in Northern Europe, the freedom to roam has historically been a general public right, allowing unrestricted access to specific paths or trails. It is essential to understand the different types of right of way to ensure proper usage and avoid potential disputes or legal issues (Wikipedia, n.d.).

Legal Basis for Right of Way

The legal basis for the right of way varies across jurisdictions, but it generally stems from a combination of statutory law, common law, and historical usage. Statutory law refers to legislation enacted by a governing body, which may explicitly grant or regulate rights of way. For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides a legal framework for public access to the countryside and the establishment of rights of way. Common law, on the other hand, is based on legal precedents established by court decisions. In many cases, rights of way have been recognized and enforced through common law principles such as easements, which grant the right to use another person’s land for a specific purpose. Historical usage, or prescription, is another basis for establishing rights of way. This occurs when a route has been used continuously and without interruption for a certain period, typically ranging from 10 to 20 years, depending on the jurisdiction. In such cases, the right of way may be deemed to have been acquired by prescription, even in the absence of a formal grant or legal designation (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, 2009).

Right of Way in Public and Private Land

The differences between right of way on public and private land primarily revolve around the legal basis and the extent of access granted. On public land, also known as state or Crown land, right of way generally allows unrestricted access to the public for various purposes, such as transportation, recreation, and resource extraction (New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, 2017). In contrast, right of way on private land is typically established through a grant from the landowner or by long usage, known as prescription (Wikipedia, n.d.). This type of right of way is often limited to specific routes and modes of transportation, such as footpaths, bridleways, and waterways. Furthermore, easements may be created to grant right of way through private land, particularly when a landlocked property is surrounded by other privately-owned lands (Wikipedia, n.d.). In summary, right of way on public land generally provides broader access rights, while right of way on private land is more restricted and subject to specific legal agreements or historical usage.


Easements and Creation of Right of Way

Easements are legal rights granted to a person or entity to use another person’s land for a specific purpose. They play a crucial role in the creation of right of way, as they allow individuals to access and traverse a particular route through a property that belongs to someone else. Easements can be established through various means, such as by express grant, implication, prescription, or necessity. For instance, when a landlocked property owner requires access to a public road, an easement by necessity may be created to provide a right of way through the neighboring land. Easements ensure that rights of way are legally protected and maintained, facilitating the movement of people and goods across different properties and promoting efficient land use. In essence, easements serve as the legal foundation for the establishment and preservation of rights of way, contributing to the overall accessibility and connectivity of land and transportation networks (Harpum, et al., 2002; Riddall, 2003).

Rights of Way for Different Modes of Transportation

Rights of way for various modes of transportation are legally established routes that allow passage through property belonging to another. These rights can differ depending on the mode of transportation, such as footpaths, bridleways, and restricted access routes. Footpaths are designated for pedestrian use only, while bridleways permit pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians but exclude motorized vehicles. Restricted access routes may be limited to specific users or transportation types, such as railways, highways, and pipelines. In some countries, the freedom to roam allows for unrestricted access to public land, while in others, rights of way are designated to specific paths or trails. It is essential to understand the local laws and regulations governing rights of way to ensure proper usage and avoid disputes or legal issues. Rights of way can also be created through easements, which grant access to landlocked properties or for specific purposes such as utility lines (Harvard Law Review, 2011).

Footpaths, Bridleways, and Restricted Access

Footpaths, bridleways, and restricted access routes each have distinct rights of way for various modes of transportation. Footpaths are designated for pedestrian use only, providing a legal right of way for individuals to walk along specific routes through private or public land (Wikipedia, n.d.). Bridleways, on the other hand, permit not only pedestrian access but also allow cyclists and equestrians to traverse these paths. However, motorized vehicles are prohibited from using bridleways (Wikipedia, n.d.). Restricted access routes are a separate category, often limiting the types of transportation allowed based on specific regulations or agreements. These restrictions may be implemented to protect the environment, preserve historical sites, or maintain the safety and privacy of landowners (Wikipedia, n.d.). In summary, footpaths are exclusive to pedestrians, bridleways accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians, while restricted access routes impose limitations on transportation modes according to specific rules or agreements.


Right of Way in the United States

In the United States, the concept of right of way encompasses a variety of legal rights and easements that grant individuals or entities the authority to pass through land owned by another party. These rights can be established through agreements, long-standing usage, or government regulations. Right of way can apply to various modes of transportation, including footpaths, bridleways, highways, railways, and pipelines. Additionally, it can refer to the priority of traffic flow, where pedestrians, vehicles, or ships have precedence over others in specific situations or locations. The legal framework governing right of way in the United States varies across jurisdictions, with each state having its own set of laws and regulations. However, the general principles remain consistent, ensuring that individuals and entities can access and traverse land in a manner that respects property rights and promotes efficient transportation systems (Wikipedia, n.d.; American Bar Association, n.d.).


Right of Way in the United Kingdom

The concept of right of way in the United Kingdom refers to the legal rights that allow the public to pass through specific routes on land owned by others. In England and Wales, public rights of way exist only where they are designated or have the potential to be designated, whereas in Scotland, any route meeting certain conditions is considered a right of way, with a general presumption of access to the countryside. These rights of way include footpaths, bridleways, and other designated paths, which are recorded on definitive maps in most of England and Wales. Private rights of way, or easements, also exist, granting specific individuals or groups access to certain routes. It is important to note that the laws governing rights of way in the United Kingdom differ from those in other countries, and understanding these distinctions is crucial for landowners and users alike (Wikipedia, n.d.; Rights of Way in England and Wales, n.d.).

Right of Way in New Zealand

In New Zealand, the concept of right of way encompasses extensive public access to various routes, including waterways and coastal areas. However, this access is often fragmented and challenging to locate, making it less straightforward than in some other countries. The right of way in New Zealand is not restricted to specific paths or trails, as it is in certain regions of Northern Europe where the freedom to roam has historically taken the form of general public rights. This broad access allows for a more flexible approach to public land usage, but it may also lead to confusion and disputes over the exact extent of these rights. As a result, understanding the concept of right of way in New Zealand requires a comprehensive knowledge of the country’s unique legal framework and land access regulations (New Zealand Walking Access Commission, n.d.).


  • New Zealand Walking Access Commission. (n.d.). About public access.

Right of Way in the Republic of Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, the concept of right of way encompasses the legal rights and access routes for pedestrians, particularly in relation to mass paths, which have been historically used for centuries to access churches. The modern legal framework surrounding rights of way is complex, with Victorian-era easement laws and the 1937 constitution protecting property owners’ rights, while also requiring a specific dedication of a right of way for public use. However, rights of way can be claimed through adverse possession, although proving continuous use can be challenging. The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act of 2009 introduced significant changes, abolishing the doctrine of lost modern grant and allowing users to claim a right of way after 12 years of use on private land, 30 years on state land, and 60 years on the foreshore. Claimants must apply to the courts, obtain a court order, and register the right of way on the title deeds, a process that can be lengthy and arduous (O’Sullivan, 2010; Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, 2009).

Hiking Etiquette and Right of Way

Hiking etiquette plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and enjoyment of all trail users. One key aspect of this etiquette is the right of way on trails. Generally, the group moving uphill has the right of way, as they may have limited visibility and require more energy to maintain momentum (Wikipedia, 2021). This rule applies to encounters between hikers, as well as between hikers and other trail users such as cyclists and equestrians. In cases where the trail is too narrow for two parties to pass each other safely, the party with the right of way should find a suitable spot to step aside, allowing the other party to pass without causing damage to the trail or surrounding vegetation. Additionally, it is essential to yield to equestrians, as horses can be easily startled and may pose a danger to both riders and other trail users. By adhering to these guidelines, hikers can contribute to a safe and enjoyable experience for all who share the trails.

Disputes and Legal Cases Involving Right of Way

Disputes and legal cases involving right of way often arise due to disagreements between landowners and users of the land, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and equestrians. These disputes can be complex, as they may involve historical usage, easements, and varying legal frameworks depending on the jurisdiction. For instance, in the Republic of Ireland, a case concerning Lissadell House estate in 2010 was based on historical laws, which have since been amended by the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, 2009 (O’Sullivan, 2010). In the United States, disputes may involve the interpretation of easements and the rights of landowners versus the public’s right to access certain areas (Heller, 2017). In the United Kingdom, the legal framework for rights of way differs between England and Wales, where rights of way must be designated, and Scotland, where any route meeting certain conditions is considered a right of way (Natural England, 2012). As a result, disputes and legal cases involving right of way can be highly context-specific and require a thorough understanding of the relevant legal frameworks and historical usage patterns.