David Gosling, Footpath Inspection Coodinator
This article is from Signpost 55, Autumn 2017
Have you wondered how to start finding possible 'lost ways' (public rights of way not shown on the definitive map and therefore carrying no legal protection)? One start point is a current OS map showing recorded rights of way and 'Other Routes with Public Access' (ORPAs). Look for PRoWs stopping at a parish boundary, or if there is a gap between two footpaths with nothing to link them.
Another useful tactic is to compare modern and older maps to look for discrepancies (e.g. where an old path has disappeared from the modern map). The National Library of Scotland’s website is very useful for this - http://maps.nls.uk/ , with historical 'Series maps for England and Wales'. It allows overlay of OS 6” maps from 1888-1913 onto Google aerial photos with varying degrees of transparency. By sliding the transparency button you see more or less of either the historical map or the modern aerial photo. Therefore, you can zoom in to find any modern path and then see the historical map for the same area.
You can also view two different historical maps of the same area side by side. In the picture below, two maps of Whaley Moor (in Disley parish) are side by side - OS 1” 1885-1900 and OS 1:25000 1937 - 61. The older map shows a path going over the summit of Black Hill which has disappeared on the later map (and is not on any modern maps). Prima facie, this is a candidate to be a Lost Way.
Further back, there are old county maps e.g. for Cheshire and Stockport look at Burdett (1777) Greenwood (1819), Bryant (1831). The website 'Genmaps' is a good source of old maps for other counties. Tithe maps are another important source of historic routes. The Cheshire Archives website allows tithe map comparison with a modern map http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/tithemaps/TwinMaps.aspx
Finally, here's an example of a piece of research by PNFS Courts and Inquiries Officer, John Harker, who was looking at archives of the old West Riding of Yorkshire.
I was researching the ‘National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 - Draft & Provisional Map objections, appeals & decisions’, plus deposits made by landowners with West Riding County Council under the 1932 Rights of Way Act. This Act is now superseded by later Highways Acts in 1959 & 1980, but the fundamentals are the same. A landowner could deposit a statement & plan admitting which paths had been dedicated as public and, by implication, which ones not. The effect was to prevent use of paths leading to claims as public rights of way.
What I found for our area was that Mr Rimmington Wilson of Broomhead Hall had his Estate Manager send in a detailed map, on cloth folded in a leather bound cover, showing rights of way he acknowledged as public. Cross referencing them with OS maps revealed at least 2 routes above Stocksbridge that he conceded were PRoW, but that are not shown currently on the OS map, so not on the Definitive Map. Applications to add these paths to the definitive map should be made.
So I hope this inspires you to make a start looking for Lost Ways. Remember we only have until 2026 to claim old routes using historical evidence. If you find a path which you think is a ‘lost way’, do get in touch with me, David Gosling at
If you have any comments or queries, then please do contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.We want to establish a database of possible Lost Ways, but we can only do so with your help.
Next: The Other Pennine Trail
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