Outdoor Access and Core Paths

Public Rights of Way

Information on Public Rights of Way

The Council are currently in the process of developing a Rights of Way database for Shetland. If you know of a route which you think may be a Public Right of Way or have a complaint about a route, please contact the Planning Service (see Contact Us for details).

For a route to be a Public Right of Way it must meet the following criteria:

  1. It is a requirement that it runs from one public place to another public place. A public place can be defined as somewhere where the public are entitled to be - e.g. a public road, a village, a church, a harbour etc. Generally private farms, old castles, hotels etc would NOT be regarded as public places as visitors would be exercising private access rights only. The foreshore, or beach areas may not necessarily be public places.

  2. The route should follow a more or less consistent and generally defined line, although minor deviations are not of significance to the establishment of a route as a right of way.

  3. For the route to be a right of way it must have been used by the public without substantial interruption for a continuous period of 20 years or more.

  4. Use of the route must have been openly and peaceably exercised by members of the public otherwise than with the permission, express or implied, of the landowner. Where the owner merely tolerates or acquiesces in the use, or has been given permission (e.g. for the use by tenants of employees) this use would not be considered public use of the route 'as of right'

As the local planning authority, the council is statutory obligated to "assert, protect and keep open and free from obstruction or encroachment any public right of way". [Countryside (Scotland) Act 1967 s.46]. This means that when there is a dispute, the council must take action and take legal steps to keep routes open either by negotiation or by court action.

Some examples of routes that may be classified as a Right of Way are:

  • Drove Roads
  • Market Roads
  • Kirk Roads
  • Military Roads
  • Coffin Roads
  • School Roads

The routes can come under several classifications which dictate who can use a particular route. The routes are classified as:

  • Vehicular
  • Horse
  • Cycle
  • Pedestrian
  • Unknown

The terms 'higher' and 'lower' rights are often used when describing who may use a right of way. The lowest right is pedestrian, then horse with the highest being vehicular rights of way.

As pedestrian is the 'lowest' right that exists along the right of way, it might be assumed that all these are pedestrian routes. However, they were recorded as 'unknown' on the basis that there was insufficient information about their use to assign them to another category. Some of them may in fact have higher rights such as horse or vehicular use.

The above list is not exhaustive and it may be that a legal determination is required prior to the status of a route being confirmed.

There are three status categories for a ROW:

1. Vindicated

This is a route that has been judged to exist form a court of law case, or a route that has been subject to an official alteration that has meant that a record is lodged in the Register of Sasines for the future landowners to respect.

2. Asserted

This is a route that has been through an official procedure whereby a local authority has complied with section 45 of the Countryside Scotland Act (1967) and gone through a formal process of collecting statements from users and subsequently notifying the landowners that PROW exists on their land.

3. Claimed

This applies to routes that meet all the common law criteria for being a PROW, that is:

  • It has public termini
  • It is used end to end as a continuous journey
  • It follows a largely defined route
  • There has been 20 years continuous use
  • It has been used as of right

Routes are normally catalogued into route-links where all the PROW criteria can be met i.e. longer routes crossing over several public places will be split into these smaller sections where all the criteria be seen to be met.


Outdoor Access Officer
Shetland Islands Council 
8 North Ness Business Park 
Lerwick, Shetland 

If you have any queries, please email the Outdoor Access Officer via outdooraccess@shetland.gov.uk or telephone 01595 744 169