This weekend I cycled a planned route from Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire to the Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire on what promised to be a fun, mostly off road cycling route. Part of the route involved a farm track, which linked to the footpath I planned on using to go up to the estate. I heard a Land Rover racing to catch up with me and when he stopped in front of me, I stopped too to see what the fuss was about?
The flustered landowner jumped out of his vehicle to ask me if I could read, and whether I had seen the large signs forbidding cycling on his track? I politely said I hadn’t but would happily walk the rest of the way up to the estate. He backed down, but saying he didn’t want to ‘create a precedent’ he told me to carry on up the hill.
Where politeness and a willingness to do his bidding saved the day, this does raise the issue of where in the UK cyclists are allowed to get down to some off road cycling.
In urban areas the law is quite simple. You’re not allowed to cycle on a footpath but you are on roads and designated cycle paths. In recent crackdowns this has resulted in the authorities landing on cyclists like a ton of bricks for even minor infringements – such as a London cyclist swerving onto a footpath to avoid a phone box, though this case was dropped on Monday.
You should check local byelaws to see whether you are able to cycle in parkland. For example, the Downs in Bristol is a massive area of parkland where cycling is forbidden.
This isn’t so simple, apparently. Preparing for this blog I put a post on an MTB enthusiasts Facebook group, to see if anyone else had similar issues and what the law was when it comes to off road cycling.
Where there was the odd comment suggesting I ride faster to avoid the shotgun fire, one story came out where a cyclist had got permission to ride on a farmer’s land. A farm labourer knocked him off his bike, and the labourer laid into the hapless cyclist until he told the worker that he had in fact got permission to ride on his land. Farmers like to protect their land it seems, and dodging a shot is a distinct possibility should you be rude!
The law – England and Wales
The cycling charity CTC’s website states simply that: “Cyclists have a right to ride on bridleways, byways and restricted byways, which make up around 22% of the Rights of Way (RoW) network in England and Wales.” In England and Wales that amounts to around 17,400 miles of riding throughout the two countries.
One of the MTB enthusiasts told me to come riding in Scotland with its famed ‘Right to Roam’, but it is far from clear as to what exactly those rights are for cyclists. The UK governing body for cycling British Cycling’s website states that you “have the right to be on most land and inland water for recreation, education and going from place to place, providing you act responsibly.”
Where I ran into trouble using my online mapping system, using an Ordnance Survey map should keep you away from unhappy landowners! The OS website has a very good page showing how you can tell where you can walk or ride here.
Outdoor Access Scotland’s website states that if you cycle responsibly then you should be OK:
“Cycling on hard surfaces, such as wide paths and tracks, causes few problems. On narrow routes, cycling may cause problems for other people, such as walkers and horse riders. If this occurs, dismount and walk until the path becomes suitable again. Do not endanger walkers and horse riders: give other users advance warning of your presence and give way to them on a narrow path. Take care not to alarm farm animals, horses and wildlife.”
Be polite and you should be alright!
A smile and a willingness to do as a landowner asks should keep you out of trouble. It is always a good idea though to check what restrictions you’re likely to face before going out, and if someone asks you to dismount, then not be cheeky!