Calls to double the number of bridleways in the Peak District

This week mountain bike advocacy group Peak District MTB launched its 22% campaign to bring the percentage of rideable rights of way in the Peak District National Park in line with the national average. Cycling UK's off-road campaigns officer Sophie Gordon reports.

England has around 190,000 km of public rights of way, but almost 80% of them are footpaths, meaning only a fifth can be ridden by bike or on horseback. The national average hides large variation between different areas: within the Peak District National Park, Peak District MTB has found only 11% of rights of way are open to riders.

Peak District MTB want to change that. They are asking local riders and people familiar with the area to pinpoint which trails should be prioritised to be upgraded, such as short sections of footpath that would form the missing link in a bridleway loop.

There is plenty of scope and room to improve the bridleway network.

Dan Noble, chair of Peak District MTB 

Mountain bikers in the Peak District

Peak District MTB chair, Dan Noble, commented:

“When Peak District MTB was first established around five years ago, our core goal was to increase the amount of access available to mountain bikers. In that time there have been some notable successes, especially around the fringes of Sheffield through work done by [advocacy group] Ride Sheffield, and more recently we have had some success on the Roaches and worked with the National Trust at Lyme Park to improve access.

“The Peak District National Park covers some 1,437 km², the park’s northern limits are on the A62 between Huddersfield and Oldham, and its southernmost point is on the A52 road near Ashbourne. In the east, it borders the western fringes of Chesterfield and Sheffield and reaches as far west as the outskirts of Macclesfield. There is plenty of scope and room to improve the bridleway network.”


A lack of choice

Cycling UK and OpenMTB’s 2017 Rides of Way survey of 11,000 off-road riders revealed that almost half of riders believe the current rights of way system makes it hard to put together a route. Making more footpaths multi-use would make it easier to plan routes and avoid busy roads, and help more people to explore the countryside.

Doubling the number of bridleways within the Peak District National Park would amount to an extra 220km of trails available to cyclists and horse riders.

Some might be concerned this could lead to conflict on shared trails, but as Cycling UK, British Horse Society and Ramblers all agree, incidences of conflict are rare. Increasing access for cyclists and horse riders would be beneficial in this respect, as people would be dispersed over a wider area rather than being concentrated on a small number of bridleways.

We need a rights of way network that reflects the needs of society for today and tomorrow, not of a hundred years ago.

Kieran Foster, Cycling UK's national off-road advisor

Local authorities can use public path creation agreements and orders to dedicate new rights of way, or upgrade footpaths to bridleways, if it would be of benefit to the public. The problem is it can be a lengthy and complicated process, which could explain why these powers are rarely used. It’s clear something needs to change.

Kieran Foster, Cycling UK’s national off-road advisor has the solution:

“If we are to encourage people to genuinely connect with the countryside, farming and nature, then we need a rights of way network that reflects the needs of society for today and tomorrow, not of a hundred years ago.

“There is so much that can be done: simplifying the system for recording rights of way, giving cycle tracks and permissive paths higher levels of protection, and converting disused railway lines to multi-use greenways. These would all have huge benefits for society.

“It’s clear from our off-road survey that having only 22% of rights of way open to riders isn’t enough, but getting the Peak District National Park up to the national average would be a big step in the right direction.”


Get involved

If you ride in the Peak District, you can help.

According to Paul: “To start with, we need to know what you think should be upgraded. No brainer double-track footpaths that should be a bridleway, dead-end bridleways that completed will fix that loop for you, anything…. we want to hear about them.”

Add your trails

Mountain bikers in the Peak District

How could the number of bridleways in the Peak District be increased?

There are several ways in which footpaths can be upgraded to bridleways or byways (for a more detailed explanation, see ‘A guide to definitive maps and changes to public rights of way’):


Under the Highways Act 1980, local authorities can dedicate paths as public footpaths, bridleways or byways. This includes upgrading a footpath to a bridleway or byway.

  • Section 25 – ‘Public path creation agreement’
    • The local authority dedicates a path as a public right of way with the agreement of the landowner.

  • Section 26 – ‘Public path creation order’
    • The local authority can use compulsory powers to dedicate a path as a public right of way without the agreement of the landowner by paying them compensation, if the authority deems it to be needed.

Recording historic rights

Rights of way may also be modified or added to the 'definitive map' as a result of historic evidence or evidence of twenty years of use by the public.

For more information, see Cycling UK's briefing on changing the status of rights of way.