Stiles and gates

At certain points along many trails there may be fences, walls or other barriers to be negotiated. Such fences may be needed to control livestock, to keep deer out of forests, or to prevent access by horses, motor cycles or all-terrain vehicles. Unfortunately, they can also be barriers to trail users, in particular people with disabilities or others unable to climb over them. Ideally all trails should be barrier free, but this is not always possible.

Barriers such as fences or walls can be passed either by climbing over or through them using some sort of stile, steps or ladder, or by a gate. Gates have the advantage of permitting wheelchairs, buggies or elderly people to go through, but they can be left open and allow stock to stray. Stiles are safer in this respect, but mostly they cannot be used by people with disabilities or the elderly. Which method to use depends on the type of users expected and the importance of the barrier’s remaining unbreached at all seasons.


There are several varieties of stile used: many form part of the vernacular construction used in different areas.

– Slit stiles. These consist of a narrow opening, tapering inwards towards the bottom, which allows a person to squeeze through while preventing stock from doing so. Made of wooden or stone posts, they are found in post and rail fences, hedges and stone walls. Modern variants also

include metal self-closing stiles, which can be opened wide and are automatically closed behind by gravity.

– Turnstiles. These consist of crosspieces fixed horizontally over a pole that rotates, thus allowing a person to slip through. They need to be strong and yet easy to rotate. A sturdy turning device can be made from galvanized steel.

– Step stiles. Wooden steps, either parallel or crossed at right angles, are built, which pass through the fence. They are used in wooden post and rail fences, hedges and wire fences. Any barbed wire should be covered by a wooden rail or plastic tube, or should be de-barbed. If one post is made taller than the others and smoothed, it can provide a useful handhold. Steps can be constructed as integral parts of stone walls, either using flat stones placed through the wall or built into the structure at wider sections.

– Ladder stiles. These are found in places where walls or fences (such as deer fences in the Scottish highlands) are too high for the step or slit types. Stepladders made from sturdy round or rough sawn timber are placed in an A frame over the fence or wall, with extension pieces at the top for use as handholds.