The British Horse Society is committed to protecting and preserving the equestrian off-road network. However, there’s only so much we and our volunteers can do – we need your help! Working together we can ensure that routes used by horses in the past are accurately recorded and reinstated as safe off-road routes to ride and carriage drive according to the evidence.
To help you to help us save these routes, we’ve created this toolkit detailing how to go about getting them recorded to ensure that they won’t be lost after 2026.
Step One: Getting Started
Checking your local OS map (Explorer is best) and with a highlighter pen, mark on all the routes you’ve ever ridden.
- Make a list of the routes not already on the map as bridleways, restricted byways, byways open to all traffic (BOATs in the key of your map), or unclassified non-tarmac roads.
- Take photographs of the features of the routes that you think indicate that they were an old cart track or a bridleway, even if they’re only used as a footpath today.
- Find some evidence to back up the existence of your route – your county record office is the best place to start. Make a note of anything you find, including the maps and documents not showing your routes.
- If you need help finding and gathering evidence at your local county record office, ask someone experienced in archive work to help you. Your BHS Regional or County Access and Bridleways Officer (RABO/CABO), an affiliated bridleways group or staff at the record office will all be able to help.
- Take your OS map, a notebook and a pencil. A digital camera may also be useful for photographing documents. Check with your record office whether you require a camera permit. They will guide you on how to obtain this if needed.
- Usually, you need to register as a reader. Your local office will guide you through the registration process but normally you need to take your driving licence or passport and a recent utility bill.
Step Two: The Maps
- Check to see if your unrecorded routes are on any of the 18th and 19th century county maps. If they are, check the key to see how they’re described, checking them against other similar routes that you know have public rights today.
- Have a look at any early editions of OS maps. The most useful are the first edition 25”, which has plot numbers – check these against the Books of Reference, where they exist. They may even say ‘public road’ – this is great evidence.
- Second edition 6” maps are useful for finding off-road routes (labelled FP or BR). BR is an indication that the route was once a recognised bridle road – a promising start, but more documentary evidence is needed.
- Always record the date, title, sheet number and scale of any map on which you find your route and you should also record the parish and township the route is in.
Step Three: Documentary Evidence
Gathering good documentary evidence is the key to proving that your route is a historic one that carries public rights.
The following list details the main documents that should be on your checklist. Some documents carry more weight when your final application gets assessed by your local highway authority.
Inclosure Awards: If your route is described as an awarded public carriageway, public bridle road or an ‘ancient road or bridle road’ and is shown on the plan, you’re on to a winner!
Canal and Railway Plans: If your route crosses a canal or railway and you find it described as a ‘public road’ in the Book of Reference, then this is good evidence.
Turnpike Plans: These maps date from the early days of properly constructed roads (the stage coach era). If your route, or even just a spur leading from it, appears on these plans, then this is also good evidence.
Tithe Maps: Roads, whether public or private, are shaded in brown. This is helpful but doesn’t carry quite so much weight. Showing roads was not the purpose of Tithe Maps.
Finance Act 1910 maps and their field books: The Act provided for land valuations to take place across the country. Deductions could be claimed by landowners where the land was crossed by a public right of way – look for these in the field book. A public vehicular highway was left uncoloured as it had no development value so it appears on the map as a ‘white road’.
There are other documents that can provide evidence to support your case. Some of these are held by your local authority (old highway records, for instance) and some are only available at The National Archives at Kew (OS boundary records and object names books). If you think you need to gather further evidence, you will find chapters on these and other documents in the ‘green book’. Another great tip is to use the online catalogue, now available for all record offices. Put the nearest village in the search box and see what comes up.
Once you’ve gathered as much evidence as you can find, inform someone experienced in this sort of work. Your BHS RABO or CABO will help by assessing your evidence to see if it’s sufficient and then guide you in the preparation and submission of your application. Don’t rush. It’s better to spend more time making your application as thorough as possible in order to have the best chance of having your route recorded!
Send your application to the relevant surveying authority either by recorded delivery or obtain a certificate of posting, and then be patient. The legal process takes a long time! If you have completed the research but don’t want to send in the application, contact your local BHS Access and Bridleways Officer and they will help.
We now also have a guide on Researching a Route to help you further.
To get a head start on researching your routes, get your copy of Rights of Way, Restoring the Record by Sarah Bucks and Phil Wadey. This informative read includes helpful hints and time-saving tips on carrying out research.
To enable volunteers to coordinate work, avoid duplication, share evidence and to support each other, we have developed a mapping and research site at bhsaccess.org.uk/Project2026/. Using this, anyone can plot paths of interest and gather and share evidence online on a county by county basis.
If at any stage you feel you need further help or advice with researching your routes you can contact your BHS Regional or County Access and Bridleways Officer. These experienced volunteers will be able to put you in touch with someone who can guide you through the process of getting your routes on the map. Find your local Access Officer now.
You can find out more background about the Definitive Map process by downloading our free leaflet, Recording a Right of Way (pdf), or contact the Access team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 02476 840515 to be sent a hard copy.
Downloadable Resources and Further Reading
Find out more information about our 2026 campaign