A new hiking network links thousands of towns around Britain

Couple walking hand-in-hand on a path in the Lake District.
Couple walking in the Lake District © Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Britain is a paradise for walkers, and it’s crisscrossed by thousands of paths suitable for short countryside jaunts, multiday country-spanning hikes and every distance in between. The stellar network of routes connects travellers to the iconic landscapes and historical monuments, from Seven Sisters to Hadrian's Wall and soon even a circuit of an entire country when the England Coast Path – which will be the longest managed and waymarked coastal path in the world – when it opens.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed how people move around as well as piqued interest in walking and cycling, making Britain’s 200,000km of public access paths ripe for playing a bigger role in how people travel the country.

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Spearheaded by ‘guerilla geographer’ Daniel Raven-Ellison, a new network of 7000 walking routes, called Slow Ways, connects some 2500 towns, cities and other important places across the country. Some of these routes are thousands of years old but will have new life breathed into them by becoming part of the Slow Ways network.

Hadrian's Wall Portrait at Twilight
Hadrian's Wall and path at twilight: The England Coastal Path will connect routes all over Britain © daverhead/Getty Images

‘The purpose of the Slow Ways is to inspire and support lots more people to get out and about walking and discovering new places’, Raven-Ellison told Lonely Planet. ‘While lots of people will use them for recreation, I'm personally really inspired by the memory of what these paths were originally for: for people to walk to nearby places to see family, trade or work’.

Although Raven-Ellison has been toying with the idea of creating a walking network for a few years, the first draft of all the routes was created over three months during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown with the help of 700 volunteers using maps from Britain’s national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey.

Coast Guard Cottages and Seven Sisters
The network will connect travelers with iconic landscapes such as Seven Sisters in East Sussex © krzych-34/Getty Images

Raven-Ellison and the volunteers continue to refine the routes, and this autumn, he’s looking to recruit 10,000 more walkers to get out and put the trails to the test. The draft map of the network includes 100,000km of routes, which is about 2.5 laps of the equator. Interested volunteers can sign up to the newsletter on the Slow Ways section of Dan’s website.

‘We should all be able to walk safely, directly and enjoyably to the next neighbouring settlement, and if we know they will make our lives richer and the environment better, we should all be willing to take slower journeys to get to our destinations’, Raven-Ellison told Lonely Planet. ‘Given all the problems we currently face with public health and our environment, I hope the Slow Ways encourage more of us to get around the country on foot not just for recreation but utility too’.

Lockdowns are easing globally as the planet adjusts to a new normal. Find out how COVID-19 is changing travel.

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