A new scheme to map walking routes in Britain continues despite the lockdown. Will it get people out of their cars?
Hundreds of volunteer ramblers are exploring the UK from their own homes as part of an ambitious plan to map all the country’s walking routes. The “Slow Ways” initiative aims to provide an online map of UK walking routes, so people can stomp safely from town to town rather than taking the car when the lockdown is lifted.
Working remotely and in collaboration with Ordnance Survey, volunteers are using maps and other online tools to identify existing walking routes, information that will then be made available to everyone online in one place.
The project is the brainchild of former geography teacher, Daniel Raven-Ellison, who spearheaded the campaign to have London declared the world’s first national park city. Raven-Ellison came upon the idea whilst planning a walk between Salisbury and Winchester, during which he realised there was a dearth of information about suitable walking routes online. He thought this would likely encourage more people to drive instead of walking. Slow Ways was born.
“It would be brilliant if the Slow Ways inspired and supported more people to use [footpaths] instead of using motors for the same journeys,” he said.
The project started in February with 70 volunteers attending a London “hack-day”. Ten further meet-ups were planned across the UK, but as Covid-19 arrived on our shores it became clear these would no longer be possible.
Undeterred, Raven-Ellison has moved the operation online, recruiting volunteers to plot routes remotely. “There are currently thousands of people who love maps and walking, but are stuck at home and often very isolated,” he said, adding that the scheme “created an opportunity to be positive, optimistic, creative and collaborative during this time of crisis, while also being productive and helping to create something with serious legacy.”
It has created an opportunity to be positive, optimistic, creative and collaborative during this time of crisis
Nearly 400 hundred volunteers have signed up already, plotting 1,501 routes between them stretching almost 15,000 miles. One, David McDowell from Shropshire, said mapping had always been his passion. “I think the Slow Ways project is genius and I want to be involved as much as possible.”
As well as providing respite from lockdown, Raven-Ellison believes the project can contribute positively towards crises other than coronavirus. “Our health, climate, economy, finances, communities and natural world all feel under threat in various ways,” he said. “Walking more can help with all of these things. I hope that people use the Slow Ways to get between places to see family and friends, for work, to learn and just for the sheer joy of them.”
Image: Daniel Raven-Ellison photographed by Sam Bush for Positive News