Byways - How to start 'green laning'

Green laning... what is it??

This is a bit of a round up of my personal understanding of one of the activities I am passionate about, hopefully it'll shed some light for those that are new to laning... It's not a 'definitive' guide and there is bound to be loads I've not put down, but it's a start... enjoy...

Green lanes are legally called 'Byways', they have lots of variations about how they are represented on maps & in terminology, however they are a legal road. This is the key thing to remember. Anyone on them is actually on a road & thus all the laws of the roads apply.

So first things first, your bike has to be road legal... if it doesn't have a number plate, a V5, an MOT & insurance, it isn't legal so don't use it on a byway. Go find a private pay & play place.

I once heard a guy say he'd changed from talking about 'riding off road' to saying he 'rides lanes', it's a slight shift in perception but it is an important one, especially when you're talking to someone who knows nothing about our sport & thinks we all rag the countryside to death illegally!

The second things is that ALL  users of the road have a right to be there, so show some consideration for other users, ie slow right down... but especially for horses which are really the fore-runner to motorbikes & 4x4's but with their own brain & emotions, some of which are fear, anger etc... an unhappy horse does a lot of damage!!

Walkers form the majority group and so have the larger voice to argue their case, and it would appear a fair percentage of them are intolerant to other users, so aims appear to be to restrict all the lanes to use just for walkers with a few for cyclists and horse riders as a token gesture, so be polite and not antagonistic as this puts us all in a bad light. YOU are an ambassador for our sport whenever you are out on a lane!

Finding legal byways to ride...

The easiest way to find out where to ride is to join a local Trail Riders Federation group, find your local group here.

Pros & Cons - Some of these groups are out every week & have a really positive group of people that actively welcome new members & try to preserve the byways we all use... others are more like a 'friends' personal group who all talk to each other but aren't necessarily organised or have the time to make the effort it takes to organise things on a weekly basis. You'll have to find out the group that suits you best and is the nearest.

There are other groups out there that ride the lanes, some with a thoughtful point of view, some with a less charitable point of view... decide which camp you're in & find a group that suits... your riding skills will benefit from having more interaction with other riders no matter what.

There is also Byways & Bridleways Trust & The Green Lane Association. Both of these organisations rely on charitable funding but work to promote the usage of our lanes responsibly around the UK. They also fight to keep lanes open when the government and land owners try to get them closed down for whatever reason.

Finding byways on your own...
This can be complicated or it can be easy, it depends upon where you find your information from... The best advice I've had was from Tony Huntrod, the current chair of the Northumbria TRF, he told me he just looks at the Councils Definitive Map. (I've started to put links to all of these on the links page on this blog). Some of these are easy to use and some are not, but they are the most accurate method of finding legal lanes that I have found to date.

I've used Viewranger, Trailwise & various other sites but always found some of the info to be out of date or suspect legally, so have resorted to following Tony's advice these days.

Byways, BOATS, Restricted Byways, Green Lanes, UCR's... what are they?

Learn the lingo...

Since 2006, the NERC Act both wiped out hundreds of byways across England & Wales in one fell swoop and made the councils name & give a legal status to the lanes that remained, so slowly they are being classified for use in one way or another across the country. 

BOATS - Byways Open To All Traffic - exactly as the name says... These are an ancient type of route in the UK, they have a historical route that can be tracked on maps from the beginnings of the recording of such information. Anybody can use them to traverse an area of land within a set boundary. They fall under the Highways Act and as such you need a road legal vehicle to be on them.

UCR - These are Unclassified/Unsurfaced County Roads - so they hold road status, usually from a historic point of view, but just as often they are roads that had a hard surface such as Tarmac, but have fallen into disrepair and have not been given one of the designations listed here. They fall under the Highways Act and as such you need a road legal vehicle to be on them.

RUPP - Road used a s Public Path - The same as above really.

Restricted Byways - This is usually a downgrade in its usage so from a BOAT to a Footpath or a Bridleway. The reasons for this are many, usually they have a good reason, like safety or preservation. In some cases not, that's where the conflict can start! In my opinion these just make life complicated for all, so make them one thing or another but not an in between, it just causes confusion and aggravation.

Bridleways - These allow only horses, cyclists & walkers access to a route.

Footpath - These are for walkers only.

'Green Lanes' - This is a local term for one of the above, usually the BOAT/Byway or a UCR. In law it has no recognition so isn't used.

One thing to remember is that foot traffic has a right of access on all of the above, so they actually have 100% access to all Rights of Way. (unless it is closed for some specific reason). Some estimated figures I've seen show that bridleways cover about 22% of England and Wales, green lanes have been quoted at 2%. The information is vague as no one really knows, the only thing for sure is there are significantly less than the other types of lane since the NERC act!

The biggest problem with all of the above is that the information can be hard to find. the councils have a hard task of keeping things upto date & there are so many factions involved that are purely emotive rather than rational in their decision making process'.

The other thing is that as this country operates a democratic process in it's decision making, it is often those that shout loudest that get heard. So if you get involved & want to ride the lanes, please make your voice heard when it comes time to stand up, otherwise we'll all lose the lanes we love to ride.

Maps & where to find a lane...
There are two types of maps generally used in the UK, mostly Ordnance Survey ones at either 1:50 or 1:25 scale. The numbers mean that for every kilometre there is 2cm or 4cm. The 4 cm ones give a better level of detail but also cover a smaller area of land. 

1:25 OS mapping

1:50 OS mapping

Here is an example of one of the Lakes maps produced by the County Council:

Red = Caution, Orange = Busy, Green = No issues
 Roughly you're looking for the following:

1:50 Ordnance Survey Maps
Red crosses = BOATS - should be good to ride unless has a restriction for some reason.
Black parellel lines with white middle - UCR - These can be dashed too
Black parellel lines with yellow middle - C road or UCR - These can be dashed too
Black dashes with red dots overlaid - These are a UCR - They are often higher lanes, they can be restricted 
Black dashes - These are a UCR and are ride-able as long as there is no restriction in place.
Ford - These are ancient fords through rivers, some are easy & shallow, some epic, all are fun!

1:25 Ordnance Survey Maps
Green Crosses = BOATS - should be good to ride unless has a restriction for some reason.
Black parellel lines with white middle - UCR - These can be dashed too
Black parellel lines with yellow middle - C road or UCR - These can be dashed too
Black dashes with green dots overlaid - These are a UCR - They can be restricted.
Ford - These are ancient fords through rivers, some are easy & shallow, some epic, all are fun!
I have no idea why they are different on each map, there will be some reason, however for a user they are a pain. Ordnance Survey also mark some lanes incorrectly, in the Lakes, Northumberland & the Dales, I've found plenty of lanes marked ass footpaths or bridleways.
When we teach navigation on our courses, we always tell people to trust the contour lines as these are taken from a satellite image by a computer and marked up, all the rest is added by human hand & eye, thus open to more errors. Not an infallible train of thought but it seems to work for re-location exercises! 

In the Lake District National Park, the Cumbria TRF have worked hard to get good relations with the National Park Authority and we enjoy the lanes generally very peacefully because of this. This has taken a long time and plenty of thoughtful effort on behalf of the Rights of Way Officer who has volunteered his time and effort to do this for all. 
In other places it's not so cordial, for various reasons... so go find out the score in your local area...
On the whole, trail riding is great fun, for some like myself, I love the other aspects of it, like the hunting for lanes, the research of the histories and the recording of using those lanes, some for posterity and some for fun, these then make riding the lanes double the fun... 
If you get into trail riding, you'll find your own way and pleasures, you'll explore more of the UK than others, especially it's hidden ways as most folk never get to see or experience what you find on these lanes, so get out there and enjoy, play with your bike and push your boundaries, just try to do it without upsetting others where possible!

Have fun and ride safe...