London might be a walking-friendly city, but in one important aspect the capital is less well served than anywhere else in the country. In every other part of England and Wales public footpaths are legally protected by their inclusion on a definitive map of public rights of way. But Inner London boroughs are deliberately excluded from this requirement, which means footpaths can be blocked and diverted with little warning. And that's not good.
The specific legislation is the Countryside andRights of Way Act 2000. This confirmed a "right to roam" on certain remote upland areas, and elsewhere defined designated rightsof way on which the public have a legally protected right to travel on foot. Local authorities were charged with compiling special maps to show all of these routes, called Definitive Rights of Way Maps, as a legal record of the public's rights of way. They had until 2008 to comply by publishing their maps, and were also required to prepare a Rights of Way Improvement Plan covering all of their area.
But not in Inner London. The centre of the capital is a special case, there being very little agricultural land, not much woodland, and a minimal amount of undeveloped open space that isn't a public park. Hence an exclusion was made for the 12 Inner London boroughs, plus the City of London, and none of these have to publish a Rights of Way Map.
If you take a look at an Ordnance Survey 1:50000 map, there's clear evidence of this. There are no red dashed lines on the map in Wandsworth, Greenwich or Camden, none whatsoever. But cross the borough boundary into Merton, Bromley or Haringey and there they are, snaking through woods, tracking the banks of rivers and cutting round the backs of houses.
This is not to say there are no public rights of way in inner London, because there clearly are. We're not yet part of a private property-run outdoor dystopia. But without the same legal protection as exists elsewhere in England and Wales, there's a risk that access can be more easily blocked, diverted, even extinguished altogether. What's more, the 2000 legislation decreed that any pre-1949 footpaths not recorded on official maps on 1st January 2026 may cease to carry public rights. That's bad news wherever in the country you live, but potentially much worse in London where no such maps exist, and could lead to that cut-through you use to get to the station being stopped up.
The Ramblers Association launched a campaign in 2010 called "Putting London on the Map", with the aim of encouraging Inner London authorities to create a Definitive Rights of Way Map, but thus far none have done so. But all the boroughs in Outer London have one, they're legally obliged, so I thought I'd trawl through the various borough websites to see what I could find. Here's what I've uncovered, in case you're interested in seeing where all the footpaths are around your way (and your council is willing to tell you).