Much of England’s bridleway network is still fragmented and incomplete. There is a marked localised lack of coverage, with some areas being well supplied with access for horse riders while others are not. This differs greatly from the situation for walkers who already have access to a national network of footpaths which more or less serves its purpose.
So why is this?
Before 1949, the traditional habit of enjoying a quiet ride in the English countryside involved using a combination of public bridleways, together with ancient lanes, cartways and occupation roads. In earlier times these had been variously referred to in official documents as ‘cross roads’, ‘byways’, ‘parish roads’ and ‘driftways’, many of which were kept in repair by private individuals. Everybody knew what those terms meant, and that was how people got around.
These ancient lanes and cartways should form the sustainable basis of our network. However, although many were initially recorded on the draft map as rights of way for horse riders, a large proportion of them were later downgraded to footpaths. Much of this damage has never been rectified, despite assurances given by successive governments since the 1970s.
We have provided a detailed explanation of what went wrong in our ‘More Information’ section.