Footpaths of Okeford Fitzpaine

A recent message to the Parish Council’s Facebook Page inspired this article about using the public rights of way in and around Okeford Fitzpaine. Some of it applies at all times, some of it is specific to the Coronavirus Crisis.

The sender of the message seemed unsure of his rights as a user of a public right of ways. These may be footpaths for walkers, or bridleways for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

It’s not intended to be a complete guide – the Ramblers Blue Book (‘Rights of Way: A Guide to Law and Practice’) amounts to almost 1000 pages and makes for very dry reading.

Using public rights of way and remaining on good terms with landowners/tenants is about ‘common sense’. The user has obligations and so does the landowner/tenant. Many of these can be found in the ‘Countryside Code‘.

You are allowed to use public rights of way at any time of the day or night, but not to stray from their route unless they are obstructed by the landowner/tenant or you have their permission. They are usually marked, especially around Okeford Fitzpaine where our volunteer Parish Council Footpaths Officer works hard to keep rights of way well marked and cleared of brambles. In some instances, the landowner/tenant has clearly marked the route of a right of way across his land so that users have no reason to be confused and stray from it. In general, arrows on gateposts and stiles point you in the direction of the right of way, which will be towards the next gate or stile enroute.

Dog walkers should be aware of what is any field or area they plan to pass through and use their judgement. Keep your dog under close control and remember that sometimes it is better to take another route rather than pass though a field containing livestock – especially pregnant ewes or cattle. Cows with young calves can be some of the most dangerous livestock on a farm. ‘Under control’, in general, means on a lead. Always clean up after your dog as their mess is `unpleasant for others, harmful to livestock and causes expense to the landowner/tenant when preparing fields for livestock.

Landowners/tenants must not keep certain livestock in fields through which public rights of way pass.

Take note

  • Livestock owners are allowed to shoot your dog if it is caught out of control and chasing livestock.
  • Take all your rubbish home with you.
  • No picnics. A right of way allows you to ‘pass and repass’ but not to stay.
  • Take secateurs to trim brambles – but not wire fences.


Rights of way are marked on Ordnance Survey maps available from many newsagents, book shops and outdoor shops. They are also available online in digital form, or on paper. If you prefer a paper map Sheet 129 covers Okeford Fitzpaine at a scale suitable for walkers – and your purchase includes a code to download a digital version – but be aware that the village is in a corner of the sheet. A better option is to have a custom map printed with Okeford Fitzpaine slightly offset from the centre of the sheet (so that the village is not in the creases).

Alternatively, download and print your own maps from This is the organisation that provides the definitive map service to Dorset Council and is the data which is sent to Ordnance Survey from which their maps are created. Experiment with maps (I find Ordnance Survey best) and layers (the Countryside\Rights of Way layer will be very important to you). You might also like to switch on the Countryside\Problem Reports\Recent Problem Reports layer to forewarn you about known problems on your planned route. If you’re planning a walk that takes you out of the parish you might like to know where the Parish Boundary is so that you can report any minor problems to the correct Parish Council – switch on the Administrative Boundaries\Parishes layer.

Dealing With Problems

Always take a pair of secateurs with you. They’re handy to quickly trim off the worst of the brambles before crossing a stile. Even if it’s just enough to stop your hands, fleece or jumper getting snagged they’re a big help.

If you find problems on your walk take note of where they are and take photographs if possible. Minor problems such as brambles or nettles should be reported to our Parish Footpaths Officer (Jeremy Gartside on 01258 860157 or email

Major problems such as large fallen trees can also be reported to our Parish Footpaths Officer (we will escalate the problem if we are unable to deal with it ourselves), or direct to Dorset Council.

If you’d like to start getting involved in helping to maintain our 27 miles of rights of way and leisure routes contact our Footpaths Officer (as above).

During the Coronavirus Crisis

Remember that rights of way tend to pass through people’s workplaces, and sometimes their gardens. Is your walk really necessary or wise?

Every gate and stile is a place where, if you are unknowingly carrying the virus, you could leave it for someone else to pick up. They’re also places you could pick up the virus someone else has left for you. Carry, and use, hand cleaner. Antiviral hand cleaner is best, but any is better than none. Avoid touching your face and remember to wash your hands as soon as you get home. The virus is deactivated by soap, which breaks down its fatty ‘lipid’ outer shell.

If you should meet anybody during your walk remember to follow social distancing rules.

Our Footpaths Officer and his team will not be active during the crisis. Those brambles someone reported will probably be there longer than they would otherwise have been. Please take secateurs with you and take a minute or so to lop off the longer ones. They grow very quickly at this time of year.

Report new problems anyway. We, and Dorset’s Countryside Rangers, will get to them as soon as we can.

Cllr Derek Day – 01258 861979 –
Jeremy Gartside (Footpaths Officer) – 01258 860157 –