Signs and Waymarking
Signposting and waymarking are necessary to enable the public to follow a right of way with confidence. The law doesn't differentiate between them but in common usage:
- a sign is a tall post with a finger giving direction and path status (sometimes with the destination).
- waymarks are normally arrow plaques on gateposts, walls, stiles etc. They show direction thanks to the arrow and status by virtue of the arrow colour (standard colour coding is described in the Natural England booklet Waymarking public rights of way)
The Highway Authority "shall" put up a sign where a right of way leaves a metalled road, and it must show the status of that way. The sign can give destination and distance also (strangely, it says nothing about direction — one assumes that is implicit). The authority has a duty to put up signs in places where, in their opinion, people unfamiliar with the area might need them to be able to follow the right of way. Note that the full wording of these regulations includes "other signs or notices serving the same purpose ..." hence waymarks and notices are covered.
Signs come in metal, wood or plastic. They can have standard wording, individually routed words, and might not have a finger at all — just a sleeve-type cap fitting over a post with basic details. Additional information may be incorporated into both waymarks and signposts. For example, some authorities show the definitive map path number on their signposts to assist the public in reporting problems.
For an example of a specification for signs see Gloucestershire's signpost specification.
Beware of using urban types of sign in the countryside where they can look very out of place. A sympathetic and common type for rural signs is a 4" square wood post with a 'weathered' top and hardwood finger board(s) mortised into it with words machine routed. Some authorities use a water-based stain to tone down the appearance of the wood.
However these are not the cheapest type and after 20+ years you'll have to start a replacement programme. On a purely practical point, a long thin finger is easy to break off, but one half length and double the depth will take the same wording, has a longer and more secure mortise joint, and is not as easily broken.
There are more named walking and riding routes published every year. Not all will gain major popularity, but some do and it can then be important that users know they are on that particular route by adding the route name to signs and waymarks. It is important to ensure that the legal status of the particular section is clear as well as the route name, particularly if it is a promoted walk using bridleways or byways, as waymarks saying 'Walk' and omitting to indicate that the way is a bridleway or byway can lead to conflict between users as the walker does not expect to encounter riders or cyclists.
Whilst one can often get some indication from a map of likely locations where a sign or waymark will be needed, there is no substitute for going out there and walking it. Do a survey.
Most authorites use plastic or metal waymark discs, but waymarks may also be in the form of painted arrows, stone cairns or other means according to local tradition. Painted waymarks are used far less now and are difficult for the inexperienced to do well — particularly on awkward, dirty surfaces. They need repainting at regular intervals and cannot easily have additional wording. Pre-printed plaques are quick to install, look more professional and can carry extra wording. There is an initial cost but if people leave them alone they last a long time.
The round plastic waymarks have the supreme advantage of being able to be put on at any angle and still look right — provided any wording is round the circumference. Such additional wording might be the name of a named route, the marking authority, or whatever. One can also add other items like a coloured dot in the centre of the arrow if this is the 'Red Walk' in a village walks leaflet containing three different routes (though that is an unofficial trick).
The minimum number of waymarks should be used and over-marking is a common problem in some places. This results in intrusive visual clutter. A user not familiar with the area should be helped to follow the route, but this does not mean that he should be able to do it with no map and without thinking.
The accepted method of indicating path direction by waymark is not always well understood by volunteers. The fact that no account should be taken of gradient is hard to grasp by some and training is needed for any group waymarking on behalf of the authority.
Do not put arrows or marker posts on Ancient Monuments (make sure you know what those hummocks are!), or nail plaques to trees. English Heritage (and the trees) will object. If installing specific waymarking posts, a metre high is about right for footpaths, but on bridleways and byways they may need to be higher as the observer's eye-line may be higher. Cairn round them where sheep are present or they'll use them as rubbing posts and push them over.
Remember 1968 Countryside Act s27(7) also allows for notices. Perhaps small notices do not instantly spring to mind when thinking about signing issues, but they can be a most useful management tool to get important short messages across, and in keeping up good relationships between the Authority, farmers and path users.
Typical examples are : "Please shut the gate", "Dogs should be on lead or under close control", "Path officially diverted", "Fire risk, no campfires or barbecues allowed", "Please walk in single file through this winter fodder grass" "Lambing and nesting time - please keep disturbance to a minimum". (The last ones are short term notices put up at specific times and taken down when the problem passes. If left up too long they lose impact).
It is good practice to put on the Highway Authority's name to show that it is an official notice. Where the message has statutory backing e.g. the 'Dogs' notice, quote the relevant Act and section to support the assertion and show that this is not just the whim of petty officialdom.
If hardliners suggest that one or two of the wordings above hardly qualify under s27 (7), this is true as they are not strictly "serving the same purpose" as other signs. Such issues cross the boundary between old-fashioned ROW or Highway management and the broader issues of good access management and visitor management. What really matters is that users can pass through an area in a way that is comfortable for them, sympathetic to the countryside, and not adversely affecting wildlife, farm stock and the legitimate needs of those who live and work there. If we can help this to happen, everyone benefits.
It is arguably good practice to put the destination of a particular path on signs, not just the word "Footpath", particularly in areas popular with casual visitors as it gives confidence to users and increases the accessibility of the network to those not carrying a map.
Gloucestershire County Council have drawn up detailed specifications for the manufacture and installation of sign posts.
Hertfordshire County Council have a section of their Good Practice Guide dedicated to signage & waymarking – Herts good practice guide.