Stiles, gates and barriers on paths serve two purposes:
- To prevent stock straying.
- To allow access for permitted path users, whilst excluding others.
As explained in Chapter 2 – Rights and responsibilities, stiles and gates on rights of way are the responsibility of the landowner, although a minimum grant of 25% is available from the local authority, in England and Wales. Stiles and gates in National Parks, Heritage Coasts and other areas being managed for recreation are usually provided and installed by the authority concerned. In other areas, voluntary groups have become involved in the provision of stiles, through the Parish Paths Partnerships and other initiatives.
This chapter gives recommended dimensions for stiles, gates and barriers, with suggested designs, materials and methods of construction. It does not advocate standardisation, as much of the character of paths is given by the range of regional, local and individual designs. However, repeated use of a design increases efficiency for any group undertaking a lot of stile replacement. Complete fabrication to a standard pattern is not always advisable, because each site differs according to the slope of the ground, the ease with which posts can be put in, the condition of the fence, wall or hedge, and materials to hand.
Stiles can be a barrier to elderly or infirm people, or those in wheelchairs, and no paths which are otherwise suitable for them should be made inaccessible by a stile or other barrier. Easily-operated bridle gates or kissing gates designed for wheelchair use should be substituted instead of stiles as appropriate. Suitable paths include popular, flat paths near villages and residential areas, in tourist locations and country parks.
Conflict can easily arise, as bridle gates negotiable by wheelchairs can also give access for motor bikes. Gates which exclude motorbikes are described on page185. Stock may stray through gates which are not properly latched by users. Kissing gates are not easily negotiated by walkers with large rucksacks. Ideally, popular routes such as the valley paths in the Lake District need adjoining kissing gates and stiles, to allow a short stroll for the less fit, and access to the mountains for the backpackers.