Linda Smith, Footpath Inspector, Cheshire West
This article is from Signpost 67, Spring 2021
The benefits of walking for our physical and mental well-being are well known. Interest in hiking has increased year on year and particularly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak when people were forced to find new forms of exercise close to home. In England and Wales, we have over 140,000 miles of public rights of way, giving us the opportunity to walk for leisure and to get from one place to another on foot, sometimes by using paths which have been walked for thousands of years.
In recognition of this interest, an exciting new national project called Slow Ways (funded by a wide variety of organisations) aims to connect 2,500 towns, cities, large villages and other principal destinations across Great Britain using public rights of way. Slow Ways aims to get more people walking, more often, and to make journeys more accessible to walkers of all abilities. People will use the Slow Ways routes to plan walks between neighbouring communities or combine routes for long distance journeys. Routes will be free to browse, search, view, share, download and enjoy via the project’s website www.slowways.uk.
The project completed its first stage during 2020, creating a network of 7,500 proposed routes, covering 110,000km, drawn from a range of sources including OS maps, Open Street Map, Google Street View, National Cycle Network and Access Land in a ‘desk based’ exercise. PNFS inspector Ken Brockway was involved in this phase and reported to our members in the Autumn 2020 edition of Signpost. Volunteers were asked to identify routes that people should be able to walk reasonably directly, safely, easily, and enjoyably between neighbouring settlements. Route selection criteria were:
The average route length is 12km in England, 20km in Scotland. Hundreds of the routes are just 5km long, and thousands are under 10km.
The second phase of the project will recruit volunteers to walk, test, review, record and verify their suitability for path users. PNFS has signed up to the project and we encourage PNFS members to get involved (you can sign up for updates on the Slow Ways website). The routes will appear on the project website, which will launch when COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
The map below shows how the routes will be represented on the Slow Ways website. Routes will be searchable to identify those available in any area or between any specific cities, towns or villages and will be named using the first 3 letters of the start and end location. Several route options will be offered for each and will include a description of the features to expect, issues relating to access, previous reviews, etc. You can then download a file for your preferred route or print off a map. Users will be able to create ‘Waylists’ on their account which they can share with others.
This is where PNFS members can use their valuable local knowledge of paths in their area. Once a path has been selected, volunteers are asked to walk the route and share their views. Reviewers will be asked to provide feedback to Slow Ways via a simple or detailed technical review option (via a Slow Ways app or by downloading the review sheet to take out on your walk). The review will include:
Your reviews will help to build a national picture of the routes on offer, help future Slow Ways path users with their route selection, nd benefit the public rights of way network by promoting their value to a wider audience.
Your findings will not only be invaluable to the Slow Ways project but also of value to PNFS footpath inspectors if you have identified any problems that need to be fixed.
If you come across any faults on your Slow Ways travels (or on any other walk) please do report the matter to PNFS or the relevant Highway Authority:
Common faults include broken stiles and footbridges, locked or difficult gates, obstruction due to fallen trees, barbed wire across stiles, poor surface conditions not easily crossed, misleading signs to deter walkers and landslips taking out part of the path.
I hope you agree that this is a worthwhile project. Take a look at the Slow Ways website, sign up to the scheme and take on route reviews once the full website is launched. Spread the word amongst your friends and talk to your local council about supporting the Slow Ways project. I am taking a lead on Slow Ways for PNFS, so you can direct any questions to me via email@example.com.
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