Public Rights of Way
Somerset is a wonderful county full of contrast and there is no better way to absorb its beauty, variety and history than through the Public Rights of Way network. The county has over 9000 rights of way totalling 3808 miles (6129 km). The extensive path network is varied ranging from long distance routes such as the South West Coast Path and the River Parrett Trail, to a number of promoted circular routes and local country paths.
The majority of the public rights of way network in Somerset is made up of public footpaths, over which the public only have a right on foot. There are also many public bridleways over which you can walk, ride a horse and also cycle (as long as you give way to other walkers and horse riders). There are a lesser number of restricted byways and a handful of byways open to all traffic. Restricted byways allow walkers, horse riders, cyclists and non-mechanically propelled vehicles (e.g: horse and cart), whereas byways open to all traffic allow all users including motorised traffic.
We are responsible for protecting and asserting your rights to use the network and for keeping the legal record of public rights of way up-to-date. We have also published a Rights of Way Improvement Plan for the county and are responsible for the recruiting for, and servicing of, the Somerset Local Access Forum.
A specialist team deals exclusively with these rights of way issues, which are delivered in partnership with the Exmoor National Park Authority.
For more information about the services that we provide and how you can get involved please follow the links to our other pages which can be found under Related services.
The England Coast Path - Somerset
To find out about how Somerset County Council's Rights of Way Team are working with Natural England to implement the Somerset stretch of the England Coast Path please refer to the 'The England Coast Path - Somerset' leaflet in the Information and resources section.
Rights of Way Improvement Plan
The Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP) is the document that identifies how we propose to improve the provision of public rights of way and service delivery in Somerset for walkers, cyclists, equestrians and those with visual or mobility impairments. It contains policy statements and an action plan.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 placed a duty on all Highway Authorities to produce a RoWIP by November 2007. The first Somerset RoWIP was adopted in 2006 and has since been revised with RoWIP2 adopted in 2015.
The existing network of public rights of way dates back over 50 years and in many areas there has been little change to the path network. The landscape has changed in this time, as has the way that we move about the countryside with an increased use of public rights of way for recreational purposes. Therefore we need to provide a network of routes that meets the current and future needs of the public, for residents and visitors alike. However, this has to be achieved within the current restrictive legal framework.
Public consultation resulted in over 1000+ suggestions for new routes, diversions or improvements to existing routes. These proposals have been prioritised using the RoWIP scorecard and will be investigated further as and when resources allow.
The RoWIP is part of the Future Transport Plan. RoWIP is to be reviewed at least every 10 years.
Open access land
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the public were given rights to walk freely over mapped access land without having to stay on public rights of way. We are responsible for enabling and managing access on this land, in consultation with the Somerset Local Access Forum.
To find out more information about open access land please contact us or visit the Natural England website by using the link in the Information and Resources section.
Landowners and long-term tenants can apply for restrictions to suspend or prevent access onto their land for land management, safety or fire prevention reasons. You will need to apply for restrictions to Natural England. Please call the Open Access Contact Centre on
0300 060 2091 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Signs will be placed at access points to the restricted areas with an indication of when the restriction will be lifted.
The new rights do not entitle you to ride a bike or a horse, drive a vehicle, camp, hunt, fish or collect anything from the area, light fires or take part in organised games or commercial activities. However, this does not affect existing rights such as bridleways and footpaths or any other rights that apply locally
In Somerset, over 63 sq miles/163 km² of land has been successfully opened up as access land. We have worked with landowners and land mangers to help to ensure that where possible, the land is fully accessible, whilst not conflicting with conservation and heritage interests.
Please observe our countryside code by:
- Planning your route and following signs
- Leaving gates and property as you find them
- Protecting plants and animals
- Taking litter home
- Keeping children and dogs under control