About three years ago a group of horse riders and cyclists set out to look for lost rights of ways around County Durham, and surrounding areas.
It was daunting, and we were a little in the dark at first. But we’ve had a good teacher over the years, with a wealth of knowledge. Two of us had insight into this a few years ago, but for some reason didn’t take it up. But it was a real light bulb moment when one night we were both looking at the same information and route and bingo, we found a bridleway that doesn’t exist today. That’s when we got the ‘bug’ so to speak. We were now on the case. We have visited a few Archive departments and found some great documents. So, four years down the line and quite a few Applications, here we are.
We had a few different formats to start with and struggled a little with how to put these Applications together so that they were presentable and convincing for the council. We started off with two researchers which have since grown to four in Durham.
One of our researchers undertook a mammoth task to collate all the information we have obtained and put it onto the British Horse Society Project 2026 website. This information is there for all and for future researchers. This work is going on all over the country, not just Durham.
We have all walked miles and miles and taken hundreds of photos. Also, walking the routes shows up lots of clues of old roads, hedged lanes etc. There are lots of clues once you know what to look for.
It is imperative now that as many lost routes are found before the deadline. The information must be convincing, and as accurate as possible. It must tell a story of sorts. Documents can go back as far as the early 18th century; legal documents that still stand today. We have been in awe of some of these documents. They are beautifully written. One of our team is great at transcribing the words. We have put in an amazing amount of Applications to date, but they take time to process, and have a lot of meetings and procedures to go through before hopefully they become orders. Our task now is to find, prepare and submit as many Applications to the Council as we can.
These routes are for future generations, not necessarily for us, but for your children, grandchildren and beyond. Our countryside is being eaten up with housing, roads and trading estates at an alarming rate, but if an Application has been made, it must be given due consideration when planning is requested from construction companies/highways. We hope provision will be made for these routes. You must be diplomatic but forceful to put your case forward. We have Access Officers who have different skills within our County and will try their best for you.
It is important for horse riders and cyclists to consider the routes that you ride however short the route as it may be a good link to other routes. If you let us know through your local BHS we will take a look and see if there is evidence to show a highway once existed. A highway is not just a road, if it is a Bridleway, Byway or Restricted Byway. All these routes can be ridden by horse or on a bike. We cannot always find evidence, but we will try. You and many others may have ridden a route for years and you could put User Evidence forward too, which can add a little more weight.
We are always on the lookout for people who would like to join our team. You may only do one route, one you and your friends ride. It may not have any status today but may have historic evidence. This all helps to create a safer network of off-road riding for everyone to enjoy.
More information can be found by visiting; https://www.bhs.org.uk/our-work/access or contact BHS Durham by visiting: https://www.bhs.org.uk/bhs-in-your-area/north/durham/durham-committee
If you are interested contact the Durham Branch of the BHS and talk to one of the Access and Bridleways Officers. Not just about lost rights of ways, but any problems on your bridleways. We are always here to help.
Durham Research Team
Here are some pictures that suggest a footpath could have a higher status:
(The above image was once a public road) (Old cobbled road - probably laid in the early 18th century)