The Slow Ways project continues

In case you haven’t heard of the Slow Ways project, the aim of it is to create a national network of walking routes that connect Great Britain’s towns and cities. As the founder, OS GetOutside Champion Dan Raven-Ellison gives us an update in his second guest blog…

OS GetOutside Champion Dan Raven-Ellison.I last blogged about the project for OS in January when I put a call out for 100 people to volunteer to come to a hack day at the Geovation hub in London. The aim was to create 1,000 Slow Ways walking routes by collaborating with and using OS Maps. Since then, a lot more has happened.

The hack day was such a success that I started planning ten more hack days in ten different regions of the country. In scaling up the project, it would have made it more inclusive and enabled us to finish a first draft of the network. However, then Covid-19 hit and as we were locked down, these were put on hold.

I didn’t want the project to falter, but lockdown had led to thousands of people who loved to get outside being stuck indoors. With this in mind, I secured some funding from the Kestrelman Trust and worked with a small group of volunteers to quickly pivot the project. So, rather than being done in person as part of a hack day, it could all be completed online as a citizen geography project. All we needed was OS Maps, Google Docs, Skype and Zoom.

Slow Ways GB routes as of May

Slow Ways routes as of 15 May.

Two months later, a team of 700 incredible volunteers from across the UK have used OS Maps to create a network of 7,000 Slow Ways walking routes. Each Slow Ways route connects two neighbouring settlements and people will be able to combine the routes to make longer journeys. Together they stretch for over 100,000 km which is roughly 2.5 laps around the equator!

We are already fortunate to have around 200,000 km of public rights of way in the country. The Slow Ways celebrate these paths while giving them a new structure that is inviting, inspiring, clear and supportive. The Slow Ways can be used for leisure, but in principle and practice I am personally most excited about their potential for functional journeys to simply get from one place to another. After all, the routes intentionally connect the places where most people live, work and want to go.

Slows Ways map in progress (Midlands)

Slows Ways map in progress.

Of course the Slow Ways will bring people joy, but they have a deeper purpose too. We need solutions to the economic, health, ecological and climate crises. Walking between places can not only improve our health, wellbeing, environment and finances on a personal level, it can improve them on a societal level too.

To begin with the Slow Ways will be entirely online, but I hope they will increasingly have a physical presence in the country both in their visibility and in our imaginations. To help with this, we’ve just launched a competition to create a symbol for the Slow Ways which anyone can enter. The dream would be for the Slow Ways and its symbol to be used on Ordnance Survey Landranger and Explorer maps one day!

Volunteers are now working hard to review the routes that have been created. Later this year I hope we can find 10,000 volunteers to explore, test and feedback on the Slow Ways. Perhaps you would like to be part of that?

Stay up to date by signing up for the Slow Ways newsletter.

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42 Responses

  1. Betty Bolton

    What an amazing idea, I love the fact that one day I may be able to walk to the local towns and villages without ending up on the road.
    Keep up the good work

    1. Colin wotherspoon

      Fantastic idea, can’t wait to try the many tested new routes in Northumberland, since covid19 my love for walking has escalated

  2. Paul Heron

    What a wonderfully amazing concept! It’s a brilliant idea on several levels. Personal finances, the environment… I could mention more but it would take too long. I’d love to see Slow Ways, on future editions of OS 1:25k, and 1:50k maps.

  3. Nicola

    This is such a nice idea. The lockdown has really emphasised the value in slowing down and I love this approach giving opportunities to explore local areas differently.

  4. Sue

    Brilliant idea, looking forward to seeing finished routes and following some! Is Anglesey a work in progress, currently missing completely! Only asking because I grew up there.

  5. Alicia Burbidge

    Fantastic idea, we are encouraged to walk, however so many of the roads near me, do not have a footpath and drivers, do not give pedestrians enough room, so this will be so much safer for everyone.

  6. Anna

    Looking forward to helping out somehow. We’re not great walkers and both of us are old, but there must be something we can help with.

  7. Margaret de Bethlen

    Could you do the same for within cities please? I have tried a few times to walk somewhere within London but gave up because the traffic was too busy and the road to exposed to it. Overall just an unpleasant experience! If someone found better routes to get places that would be great – especially for someone like me who has injuries impeding fitness and no car to get to open countryside.

      1. Alison

        This is a great idea. So far, it seems to cover just ‘GB’ rather than ‘the UK’? Hoping Northern Ireland might be included.

  8. Angela Williams

    Just signed up to volunteer after hearing your article on the Today programme. My husband and I recently had to risk the road due to the lack of an evident footpath and were talking about how you shouldn’t have to rely on a car to get everywhere if you are able to and want to walk. We need to slow down our country entirely and give it back to everyone!

  9. Simon Fenwick

    Since when did the United Kingdom measure distance travelled, by whatever means, in kilometres? According to all our signposts we still use good old British MILES. In Britain our cars speed is measured in MILES per hour. The fuel consumption is measured in MILES per gallon. But now apparently, according to this slow map our walks are measured in kilometres. Really? No they aren’t.

    1. Roger Inkpen

      You’ve obviously never opened an OS map Simon! You’ll find not only are the grid squares 1km, even the contours are shown in metres!

      1. BernardA

        Simon, I take it you do not get out very often?
        If you care to remove your imperial blinkers you may find UK ‘went metric’ over 50 years ago. Venturing off the roads you will find a good number of signposts in metric, often metric only.
        Pretty much all sporting activities are metric now, most countries of the world are fully metric, we (UK) are not that far behind.

        Basically miles are for cars on roads and for no other purpose. Likewise pints are for milk delivered to your door in returnable glass bottles, no other purpose and also draft beer.

    2. Colin

      You are so wrong Simon, it is embarrassing. I’d do a bit of research before commenting please. Are you that old and ignorant?

  10. Jim Higgins

    Off the road. No more splitting headaches with thundering traffic. Just like the old days when I was a boy exploring my countryside. That would be amazing.

  11. Jo Rendall

    I’ve been enjoying exploring some local footpaths close to home in Northumberland as well as completing the Northumberland Coast path this summer and I look forward to getting involved. Walking kept me sane during lockdown. Unfortunately, due to now finished open cast mining in our area some footpaths which are still on the OS map no longer exist on the ground. Post-open cast there has been some fantastic re-landscaping in our area – the wonderful Druridge Bay country park is a fine example – but sadly some of the inland paths have not been returned. Maybe I need to start writing to the council about this! It would be great to connect with other slow ways lovers out there in Northumberland. I have signed up for updates from you as well.

    1. Jocelyn

      Jo, thanks for getting in touch. The rights of way information we display on our maps comes from data that local authorities share with us. If there are paths that are no longer accessible, please let the relevant local authority know and they will then update us. Many thanks, Jocelyn

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