Are you a linear or are you a looper?

Do you prefer to keep to the straight and narrow? Or are you the type that goes around in circles?

Our Graduate Consultant Data Scientist, Jacob Rainbow, has conducted an analysis on the walking preferences of OS Maps app users.

One interesting aspect he has discovered is that there is an almost fifty-fifty split in the publicly available routes across Great Britain that can be walked in a day (25km or less). Of the 150,000 ‘returning’ routes that qualified under Jacob’s criteria, 46% are linear. This means they are ‘there and back’ walks, where people retrace their steps along the same path and cover the same ground.

Whereas the other 54% of routes are of a more looped nature. These are the walks where you feel like you’re constantly moving forward, seeing new things and eventually find yourself back where you started.

One of the most popular ‘looped routes’ in Great Britain: the Pyg Track ascent of The Snowdon Horseshoe.

The first step in Jacob’s analysis was to subsample to a set of (roughly) equally spaced points. This was achieved by dividing the total number of waypoints by the sample rate (above, 9), and checking that the (haversine) distance traversed on the route between the points varies by no more than 10% either way. This occurs when a large number of waypoints collect around a small area.

Filtering for at least 50 waypoints and separated by no more than 500m tended to make this method fairly robust. Routes where large sections are separated by very few points (e.g. signal loss) are dismissed from the dataset. The sample rate chosen for the national run was 24 (i.e. like dividing a circular route ‘face’ into ‘half-hour’ clock sections).

The angle subtended between successive sample points away from the start/finish are tabulated for each route and the maximum is kept. In my classification, angles greater than 15 degrees imply a looped route; angles less than 15 degrees imply a linear route. Independent of the scale, in the above example the route would be classed as looped.

Another common route up Snowdon, The Llanberis Path.

Same procedure applied to the Llanberis route.

The maximum angle in this case is 3 degrees, well within the threshold for counting as a linear walk.

This table shows the regional breakdown. Interestingly, Scotland is the only place in Great Britain where linear walks outnumber looped ones!

Region Percentage of routes that were linearly ‘there and back’ Percentage of routes that were ‘looped’
North West 39.8 60.2
London 45.8 54.2
North East 48.4 51.6
West Midlands 42.4 57.6
Eastern 42.7 57.3
East Midlands 46.7 53.3
Wales 49.1 50.9
Scotland 57.5 43.5
Yorkshire and Humber 44 56.0
South East 41.1 58.9
South West 45.2 54.8

The total length of all linear routes analysed by Jacob is 466,534km. This is enough to take you around the equator 11-and-a-half times and means there are 233,267km of seeing the same scenery.

Of course, a lot of the time the natural landscape dictates whether your walk will be linear. Sometimes there’s no choice but, if you did have a choice, what would you prefer? A there and back walk? Or something more looped? We’d love to know.

4 Responses

  1. Robert Case

    Interesting blog! I am very much a looper at heart and will only walk back on myself if there is absolutely no other alternative, often to the extent of going ‘off piste ‘ to avoid retracing. That said, when I am leading groups, particularly with a defined objective to be reached, or in foul or changeable weather, I will fight my inner urges and retrace my steps.

  2. Anna

    I think it would also be interesting to know whether the majority of loopers also go in a certain direction. I always feel there is a bias towards going clockwise…

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