The Right to Roam in Scotland - Walks Around Britain

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Our Guide to the 'Right to Roam' in Scotland

Thanks to the devolved Parliament, access for walkers
in Scotland is very different to access in England and Wales.

Forget about Open Access land and Public Footpaths labeled on
Ordnance Survey maps as in the rest of Britain,
Scotland doesn't have any of these...

But it does have something called "The Right to Roam"...

What is "The Right to Roam" or "The Freedom to Roam"?

Well, put simply...
Everyone in Scotland has a statutory rights of access to most land and inland water - as long as these rights are exercised responsibly.
Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, gives everyone the right of responsible, non-motorised access to virtually all land and inland water in Scotland.

Detailed guidance on responsible access is given in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code - which is well worth familiarising yourself with - and you might wish to download the full code as a PDF here - but we'll summerise the main points here...
The Scottish Outdoors Access Code says you can use your access rights for:
  • recreational purposes (such as pastimes, family and social activities, and more active pursuits like horse riding, cycling, wild camping and taking part in events)
  • educational purposes (concerned with furthering a person's understanding of the natural and cultural heritage)
  • some commercial purposes (where the activities are the same as those done by the general public), and
  • for crossing over land or water.

The three key principles of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code are:
  • Respect the interests of other people
  • Care for the environment
  • Take responsibility for your own actions

For walkers, the key things to remember when out walking:
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Respect people's privacy and peace of mind
  • Help land managers and others to work safely and effectively
  • Care for the environment
  • Keep dogs under proper control - visit our page for details about walking dogs in Scotland
  • Take extra care if organising a group or event
Are there any exceptions to the statutory right of access?

Scotland's access rights generally apply to all land - but there are a number of exceptions.  Most of these are common sense, but further guidance is given in the Code on where these exceptions apply.  The most relevant to us walkers are:

  • Houses and gardens
    Access rights don’t apply to houses or dwellings, and you must stay far enough away to maintain the privacy of the occupants and not to create unreasonable disturbance.  Usually, this means simply means keeping out of their gardens.  In the case of large country houses, try to remain out of sight of any buildings and return to a path as soon as possible.

  • Other buildings and works
    Access rights do not apply on land on which there are other kinds of buildings, structures, works, plant or fixed machinery.  Access has historically been taken across some dams, and this will continue.

  • Farmyards
    Farmyards aren’t included in the statutory right of access, but many usable tracks lead through farmyards.  If these tracks have always allowed access, you are still entitled to do so.  You do in any case have the right to go around the farm buildings, as long as you avoid getting too close to the house, by using the margins of the adjacent fields.

Core Paths

Another key part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act was the establishment of a new type of path in Scotland - and the legal framework to control and look after it.  Local authorities and the National Parks were duty-bound to identify pathways to become part of this new network, and these have been published on their website.

This then, is the new Core Paths network.

A Core Path can be anything - a trod path through long grass, a Public Right of Way, farm or forestry track, an old drove road, a minor road, or the footway beside a major road... basically anywhere there is a route on the ground.

These paths cater for all types of users, walkers, cyclists, and horse riders, of all abilities.
Core paths should be:
  • signposted at key access points, all boundary crossing–gates, stiles and gaps through fences, hedges and walls
  • should be accessible to all legitimate users
  • the path surfaces can be anything from grassy country paths to tarmac surfaced paths.

The Core Paths network is a major undertaking, as historically very few paths have been maintained in this way in Scotland.  Local authorities and the National Parks will be working with landowners and communities to secure funding and begin the process of improving paths, making sure signage is erected, drainage is repaired and path surfaces improved.

Of course, it may take a number of years to improve all the just under 12,500 miles of Core Paths.
Richard Webb [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
In many ways, the Core Paths network could be seen as a extension of the Public Bridleways designation in England and Wales, in that all of the Core Paths are legally available to all types of users - walkers, cyclists, equestrians - but also includes inland water for paddlers and other water users.

The Core Paths will have to be considered when development of an area is proposed that a Core Path passes through, however they are not a reason for a development to be refused.  Just as with Public Rights of Way in England and Wales, where a Core Path crosses an area of land where development is proposed the developer will have to incorporate the path into the development by including it in the network of roads or diverting it around the development.

Local authorities and National Paths have powers to maintain, promote and keep core paths free from obstruction, but there is no legal duty to do so - unlike in Public Rights of Way in England and Wales.  Clearly, however, there is an expectation that such paths are kept open as a priority.  Visit our information on what to do if you find an obstruction on a Core Path.

How to find Core Paths

When you are out and about, Core Paths are increasingly signposted with green finger signposts, similar to the ones will are very familiar in England and Wales.

You can find all of the Core Paths on one map on the Scottish Natural Heritage's website here - along with helpful links to the Core Paths section of every Scottish Local Authority's website, so you can do more local research there.

At present, the Core Path network isn't shown on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps in Scotland.  This is in line with Scottish Rights of Way, which historically have never been printed on OS maps.

Clearly, having the Core Paths on OS maps would increase their visiblity and encourage more people to venture out on them - but there has been some confusion as to whether the Core Paths are due to be included on "the next edition", as some local authorities' websites claim...  So Andrew contacted the OS to find out...

So, it will clearly be soon time before the Core Maps are added to Ordnance Survey maps.

Ramblers Scotland have a campaign running to change this, so if you'd like to see Core Paths added to the Ordnance Surveys' Explorer and Landranger maps in Soctland, then you might like to sign their petition.

Harvey Maps say they do show the Core Paths on their Scottish maps, but they don't distinguish between them and ordinary paths.

Problems in using a Core Path

Local authorities and National Paths have powers to maintain, promote and keep Core Paths free from obstruction, but there is no legal duty to do so - unlike in Public Rights of Way in England and Wales.  Clearly, however, there is an expectation that such paths are kept open as a priority.

If you have a problem using a Core Path because of an obstruction, poor maintenance or a misleading sign, you could help others using the path after you by reporting it to:

  • the National Park Authority if it's in a national park
    the local authority for land outside national parks

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