Discover Slow Ways around Britain
Photo credit: Dan Raven-Ellison

There’s something special about Slow Ways – it’s a giant citizen geography project that’s seen thousands of volunteers record walking routes connecting Britain’s villages, towns, cities and national parks. Routes are graded by difficulty and often connect to public transport hubs, to help with accessibility. What started as a website has evolved into print, with the first Slow Ways Journey Planner hot off the printing presses. It’s made up of beautifully illustrated maps created by the Community Interest Company and Dennis Maps’ customer Urban Good. We catch up with Dan Raven-Ellison, Founder & Chief Exploration Officer at Slow Ways, to find out more about the national walking network

Why did you call the project Slow Ways?

It’s about going the slower way and enjoying the benefits of that. There’s the whole Slow Movement – which promotes taking our time to notice and connect with the environment and each other – and it’s part of that too. We don’t always need to be in a rush. There are so many rewards from investing in a walk, run or bike ride rather than jumping in a car.

How did Slow Ways get started?

It really got going just before the first lockdown. I’ve always done lots of walking and started to realise that many things could be better about Britain’s walking routes. We should be able to walk between neighbouring villages, towns and cities, but there are barriers in the way. When you drive, signs give you directions but when it comes to footpaths there’s an expectation you can find your own way. In 2020, we started asking volunteers to design Slow Ways routes and add them to our website for others to try. Since then, we’ve crowdfunded to create the Slow Ways Journey Planner, which beautifully maps all these routes.

Discover Slow Ways around BritainWhat makes Slow Ways so special?

It’s not just a network of routes. It’s about hope, aspiration and possibility, not just in terms of where you go on a route, but conversations you might have, creative thoughts on your journey or connecting to a community in new ways. It’s about uniting people across Britain to map an inspiring network of paths. Each of the lines on the map can be looked at literally, but what I love is that every line represents the ideas, blisters and determination of the volunteers who mapped and checked them. There’s so much community and heart in each line.

Discover Slow Ways around BritainHow did you decide to have two maps and a 1:500,000 scale?

There are well over 2,000 settlements and more than 8,000 routes covering 120,000 km of Britain. All these routes are important. Once you get to a smaller scale you lose important detail. If we went down to one map, we couldn’t show routes in urban centres either.

Discover Slow Ways around BritainTell us more about the Journey Planner…

The maps are really a collaboration between Charlie Peel at Urban Good and our volunteers. They came off the printing presses last week and are available to pre-order. There’s something so beautiful about getting everyone’s contributions into printed resources. The Journey planner has two maps – a north map and a south map. Orkney and Shetland are cut-outs and pull-outs from the north map. We wanted to highlight where they are, their geography and to honour them. Charlie designed the maps to feature white routes, so you can colour them in when they’re completed.

Discover Slow Ways around BritainDid you experience any challenges creating the maps?

On the aesthetic side, we had to figure out how to make the routes pop on the maps, so Charlie designed white lines outlined by black ones. It was hard to get the colours right overall too. They had to be visually striking but practical. There were challenges around scale as well. It’s a planning map so people can see the whole network, but the scale needs to be easy to understand. Charlie also rotated the south map so it’s a landscape map, and overlaps with the portrait north map, so everything can be seen clearly. There were a number of design challenges, but we found unique solutions!

What stage of the project are you at now? 

Now we’re at the stage of getting volunteers to check the routes others have recorded, to make sure they’re good enough to be in the network. We’re looking for people from every single place in Britain to help us. The maps show all the proposed routes, that we need to walk, check and review. It’s a network of possibilities and we need to check them all.

How have volunteers added their own spin to journeys?

There are so many examples! David is walking from Brighton to New Brighton, near Liverpool on Slow Ways Routes but he’s doing it in chunks. Then there’s Ingrina, who’s written about being a woman walking on her own from London to the South Downs National Park. You can find plenty more stories on our website.

Slow Ways aims to get its maps to teachers, schools, colleges, key politicians, decision makers and influencers across the country too. Why do you think this is so important?

We want to show policy and decision makers what’s possible and to inspire them to support what we’re doing. We’d like them to share our aspiration of having a national walking network that inspires and supports people who use it. That means having paths and routes people can trust, with lots of good data, maps and signage. Maps are an incredibly inspiring way for people to connect with ideas like this. Teachers can sign up to request a free pair of maps for their school, college or university on our crowdfunding page. If you want to have a big map of Britain on a wall, why shouldn’t it be of walking routes rather than roads?

Is there anything exciting coming up for Slow Ways?

We’re planning to produce our south map in Welsh and our north map in Scottish Gaelic. We’re not aware of many maps like the ones we’re doing in these languages, so we’re really proud of this. Without a doubt, we also want to look at options for bigger maps too, so we can zoom in closer to the landscape. The maps are constantly evolving. The plan is for Slow Ways to be immortal!

Discover Slow Ways around BritainGet involved

Check out the Slow Ways website to submit a new route, or to test an existing one. There are thousands across Britain to choose from! You can also join in the conversation on social media using #SlowWays.

Dennis Maps is one of the leading map printers in the world, producing more than two million maps and charts every year. We offer comprehensive pre-press services, large format print solutions using both large format litho printing and large format digital print technologies, plus specialised map folding and map finishing techniques.

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