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What can you take on a public footpath? Pram? Wheelbarrow? Dog? Shopping Trolley? Horse? Cycle?

Beside our house runs a public footpath ... and we have a gate to the side through which we can walk onto it. Goodness knows how old the gate is - many years for sure; I suspect it dates back to the 1920s or 1930s. We use the path from time to time, via the gate - it's a convenient way for Gypsy and me to access the path network across the fields to the rear of our house, and to walk over to see Chris and Delene. The gate's also used by the postman who parks on our drive and delivers to the other houses off the footpath (which is wide, tarmacced, and used as the driveway for about a dozen houses), and that's with our blessing.

Can you get an articulated lorry up to our house? No - you can't. And the other day, one arrived as near as he could on the public road, with a delivery for us ... put that delivery on a set of wheels (a delivery truck, if you will) and pulled it along the public footpath towards our gate. And before he even got to the gate, the owner of the land the public footpath runs over and was asking what we were doing (personally, I thought it was quite obvious) and asking why we hadn't sought his permission. He pointed out that the surface of the path was deteriorating (it is - his tenant users have potholes to contend with) and seemed a bit upset with me. Frankly, I had given it little prior thought, but I told him that I thought what we were doing was allowed on a public footpath, and he stormed off in a huff. But, after the event, I questioned my certainty that we were within our rights, so thought I would check up, and pop around and offer an apology if one were due. Here goes - my (more educated) understanding:

1. A public footpath may be used for walking, and for anything that naturally goes with someone on foot using that footpath to get from "A" to "B". So that means I can walk, take a pushchair, or a shopping trolley. So just as I might put a delivery on wheels along a pavement to get to a house that's inaccessible for my artic in a cul-de-sac, I can put it onto a set of wheels along a public footpath. I also understand (common knowledge, I think) that I can take my dog along a public footpath. And I have learned that wheelchairs, including electric ones, are allowed - that's probably a case of disability discrimination law extending an older right. But riding a horse, or a bicycle (or a camel?) isn't allowed. Not sure about pushing a cycle.

Kissing gate - open and closed2. The landowner over which a public footpath crosses need only maintain it fit and safe for walkers. (S)he does not need to have ensure that it can be used by a pram (you try getting a pram through a kissing gate) or a dog (a traditional style can make a path undoggable)

3. The user of a public footpath has a duty not to damage it, though a normal walker's wear and tear is accepted - thus a popular footpath that goes diagonally across a field with a crop will have some crop loss, but that's not something that the users can usually be held responsible for.

This - to the best of my now-better understanding (but check with your lawyer, I may still be inaccurate!) is the situation in law. In practise, those of us with footpaths running through or beside our property should take a realistic and mellow view. We will get litter from time to time, just as on a road frontage. There may be occasions that someone strays off the footpath onto the rest of the property (some dickhead did this through our side gate during a firework party, giving a number of children their first introduction to some rather saucy words) and that's best just accepted as "one of those things". We had public rights of way on three sides of our previous house, and it was more a joy to talk with people than it was an issue with them being there.

After the challenge, I walked back up the tarmaced drive to check for any visible signs that the delivery wheels had caused any wear or tear, or damage ... and I couldn't see any sign at all. So I'm 100% clear. But we are fortunate that the path is as good and wide as it is; there's no reason at all that the land owner couldn't put a locked gate (with a key for each tenant) at the top of the path, and provide a style, with chicken wire mesh to stop dogs too, if he wishes to limit its use.

Follow Ups - this article produced a number of useful follow ups (thanks, folks) - so much so that I've covered them in a separate post [here] which goes on to compare to permissive tracks, bridelways, etc! I have also corrected many of my typos in the text above

Illustration - a most unusual style in the countryside near Beanacre - NOT the path which is used as an example in this article!
(written 2011-04-03, updated 2011-04-04)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articles
Z301 - Current Affairs
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  [4599] Happy Christmas - and a Christmas thought - (2015-12-24)
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  [2904] Melksham Area Board meeting of last week - (2010-08-04)
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Z531 - Cycling and Walking
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  [3938] A long overdue meeting - a steeping stone towards coordinate transport user inputs - (2012-12-02)
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  [3376] Kennet and Avon - Walk from Bedwyn to Pewsey. TransWilts day out. - (2011-08-01)
  [3216] Images of a Spring Walk - (2011-03-27)
  [3023] Autumn walk from Bowerhill - (2010-10-31)
  [2958] What do these road markings mean? Could Confusion Kill? - (2010-09-17)
  [2858] The healthy option - away from the private car - (2010-07-07)
  [2709] Old trackways and routes near Melksham - (2010-04-05)
  [2707] A walk on the Kennet and Avon - (2010-04-04)
  [2704] A walk within without - Melksham Without - (2010-04-02)
  [2490] Friendly Hotel in Melksham, near Bath - (2009-11-02)
  [2253] Walks in and around Melksham, Wiltshire - (2009-06-21)
  [1802] Motorcycles welcome at Well House Manor - (2008-09-19)
  [1640] Walking on The Wiltshire Downs - (2008-05-12)

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