The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced a new right of access to most land and inland water in Scotland. This meant that the public has a right of non-motorised access to most land in Scotland, dependent on responsible behaviour. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code website covers responsible behaviour for both the public and land managers, with useful links and information including contact lists for specific route enquiries.

This makes it legal for any non-motorised user (e.g. cyclists and horse-riders) to use any path, provided they do so responsibly*, regardless of whether the route had traditionally been recognised as only a walking route. The term 'footpath' can create a misleading impression that, for example, cyclists and horse-riders would not be allowed to use the route, as would be the case in England and Wales. Thus, using the term 'path' is more inclusive and reduces the likelihood of confusion.

This doesn’t mean that every path must have the capacity to accommodate all types of use. There will always be practical reasons why some paths will be unsuitable for some users e.g. narrow bridges or gates, steep gradients, rough surfaces, stiles.OS maps in Scotland don’t show many rights of way, and there is no publicly-available source showing the entire path network. Paths and tracks are marked simply as physical features on OS maps. Given there is a general right of access, it’s reasonable to assume they are usable by the public, though this does not apply to certain places such as farmyards and military ranges. (If a route goes through a farmyard the public can only use it if it is a right of way or a core path).

Core paths are a significant resource for Slow Ways route plotters and users.Every local authority in Scotland has been required to draw up a Core Paths Plan which identifies a network of ‘core paths’ sufficient for providing access to their area. They have a similar status to rights of way in that they cannot be closed or diverted without a legal process.  As core paths have been identified and designated in the last 15 years they should be reliable and usable, and many will be signposted.  

NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) has a national map with links to all local authority Core Paths Plans which may contain more detail. Keep in mind the amount of development activity in urban/peri-urban areas, which means that even local authority plans may not be entirely current.

A national Catalogue of Rights of Way is maintained by Scotways (The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society). It’s more a body of evidence and a legal resource than a ‘definitive map’ of paths and requires a membership fee or pay per item to look into the status of a route.

As with the rest of the UK, the National Cycle Network provides a reliable source of routes available for walking as well as cycling. 

There are numerous local path networks promoted online by community groups, and the following nationally promoted routes are useful reference points:

*The stress is on responsible use. For example, in some instances it would be considered irresponsible to ride (either a horse or a bike) over a fragile surface during wet weather, when to do so would cause significant damage. Neither would it be responsible cycle in a dangerous manner that could cause alarm or injury to another person.

Tips from an outdoor access professional for plotting and using Slow Ways routes in Scotland

General tips