Can I Ride That? Byways, Bridle Ways & Lanes

Over the weekend we made a trip up to beautiful Oxfordshire. Bored by the prospect of the M40 and the A34 we opted for the smaller and more scenic A4130 through Henley-on-Thames and Nettlebed. Whilst enjoying the newly green landscape and looking to do a bit more exploring we took a byway and Google Maps re-routed us down a couple of gravel roads and through a lovely little spot of bluebell dotted woods. Well this is nice I thought.

Turned out the local residents didn’t share my sentiment, offering up scowls and evil glares as we pottered past. As we reached the main road the reasoning behind their distaste became apparent. Unbeknown to us, our byway had turned into a restricted byway. What looked like a perfectly acceptable road for riding was actually only deemed to be passable for walkers, cyclists, on horseback (or leading a horse) and horse-drawn carriage. No mechanically propelled vehicles allowed. Thanks Google!

So where are we allowed to ride?

Lanes, Green Lanes & Tracks: Essentially these are unsurfaced byways. Some Green Lanes require a pass to ride or permission from the land owner so check first before you go riding through private property. If you’re uncertain, buy a copy of the Ordnance Survey (OS) Explorer map for your area or check Bywaymap.com.

Byways (BOATs) and Unclassified Country Roads (UCRs or E Roads): Usually marked by “byways” signs. These are a mixture of tarmac and unsealed and open to motorists, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Usual road rules apply and vehicles must be registered, taxed, insured and MoT’d.

And where are we NOT allowed to ride?

Bridleways: These are meant for walkers, horse riders and bicyclists. Bicyclists are expected to give way to walkers and horse riders.

Footpaths: These are for pedestrians, dog walkers, pram pushers and wheelchair users only.

Restricted Byways: Created under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, these roads are restricted to cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians only.

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