Putting down routes
Fancy creating your own routecards? Guidebook writer Andrew McCloy asks fellow authors and route developers for their tips, and uncovers the Ramblers’ new web project, which allows anyone to plot and share their favourite walks…
What makes a great walk? It’s one of those pleasantly vexing questions that everyone has a view on but on which few can agree. Is it the scenery and views? Is it the time of year or whether it’s suitable for the whole family? Or is it a secretive dell or welcoming village pub along the way that makes the route truly special?
There are so many things to enjoy about a walk, it’s no wonder so many of us want to share our favourites and pass that experience on. Well, thanks to an exciting new Ramblers’ web project, everyone can now do just that. Ramblers Routes allows you to create and share your favourite walks as part of a comprehensive library of online route descriptions with maps, which the public will be able to search and then print off or download. Originally funded through the Get Walking Keep Walking project, which develops easy-access routes for people new to walking, it’s now being expanded to include a wide range of walks from all over Britain, and all Ramblers members are invited to get involved in creating and checking routes to share with others.
“There’s been a great deal of enthusiasm for the idea so far, both for contributing routes and enjoying those contributed by other walkers,” says Routes project manager Justin Bend (left). “Ramblers members have unrivalled levels of expertise when it comes to walking, and this is a great
way to share that, particularly with those who prefer self-guided walks, or even with experienced walk leaders looking for new ideas. We’ve long held the ambition to create a great library of routes, and finally we’re on the verge of achieving it.”
Plotting and preparation
So now you have the means to make your own routecard, how do you go about plotting the perfect route and writing a route description that‘s easy to follow?
“The most important thing is to make the route as attractive and interesting as possible to entice the reader to go out and actually walk it,” says Fiona Barltrop, left, a professional guidebook writer and photographer who is responsible for producing many of the Routemaster routecards in walk.
It’s not just the physical landscape that will capture a walker’s imagination – a well-researched route with a strong theme works well, too. “Careful research helps the reader interpret the landscape around them,” says Rebecca Macnair, below right, a route developer for Get Walking Keep Walking, who recalls creating a local-history walk at the request of a primary school in east London.
“They specifically wanted walks associated with either the Tudors or World War II bomb sites. After some investigation, I finally tracked down a map that showed all the bomb damage in London and – guess what? – the school itself was built on a bomb site!”
The audience for your walk is another key point to consider before you start plotting your route. Obviously, Rebecca’s route needed to be tailored to the needs of schoolchildren in terms of how demanding it was and in the nature of the information provided. But there are some things that all routecards should strive for, says Fiona.
“Keep the route descriptions as succinct as possible, and ensure any points along the way that need careful navigation are adequately described,” she adds. “A good exercise when devising and walking a route with a view to writing it up is to imagine you‘re doing it in fog – even on generally easy, well-waymarked routes, people can go astray in poor visibility.”
As walk leaders will know, there are many other practical issues to consider, too. For example, does the route have any challenging terrain or perilous heights that some walkers might find difficult and of which they should be made aware? Are there any awkward stiles, safe road crossings or public toilets with baby-changing facilities that it would be useful for families to know about? If you’re considering a longer route, are there any short cuts or exit points to make it more adaptable?
The nature of the footpaths you use and the direction you walk them may also be factors. If the paths or land have permissive access only, are there any restrictions on when they can be used by the public? And while you want the progress of your route to take into account scenic views and lunch stops, the sightlines for some road crossings might be safer if approached from a specific direction.
But even seasoned walk leaders need to be careful when writing up a route, says Sheila Smith of Norfolk Area Ramblers. The author and editor of several local guidebooks, including Around Norfolk with the Ramblers, believes that a good route for leading is not necessarily a good one for publication. “While a leader knows the way and has identified potential problems, the route may be difficult to describe clearly and provide too much scope for inexperienced walkers to go astray,” she warns. “So never hesitate to state what may appear to be obvious.”
The paths less travelled
By making more walks available to more people, Ramblers Routes has the potential to benefit the wider walking environment. One way is to help promote under-used footpaths and reduce the erosion along more popular routes. Geoff Mullett has seen the benefits of this after writing a series of Walk West guidebooks, launched in 2000, which asked readers to report any problems along the routes he describes. “I tried to use little-walked paths where possible,” he explains, “and many of these have since been improved by the highway authorities, such as kissing gates replacing barbed-wire-topped locked gates.” It’s what Geoff calls ‘walker power’, and he hopes by contributing some of these published routes to the Ramblers Routes database that popular pressure to maintain local footpaths will be enhanced.
Of course, your chosen location or theme can promote more than just a path. It’s your chance to be original and not just rewrite someone else’s idea. How about studying the local bus or train timetable to work out not just how to get to the start of a walk, but actually devise an interesting linear walk in itself? Fiona Barltrop’s ridge-top route over the Tarrens in southern Snowdonia for walk is a good example. “This is a super linear walk with lovely views, which involves just a 10-minute bus journey to the start from where you’ll make your way back on foot,” she says. “It’s not in any guidebook I’ve seen, and you meet very few people, but it’s one of the best in the area and a firm favourite of mine.”
Ramblers Routes is also a crucial part of the charity’s mission to encourage more people to walk, so it includes urban-based and easier strolls, too. Ben Douglas, who devises and leads local walks for Dalgety Bay & District Ramblers, is committed to that aim with his route-development work for Ramblers Scotland’s Medal Routes project. It aims to improve public fitness as a key legacy benefit of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games by promoting short, circular local routes from walking hubs across Scotland. “The Ramblers should not be perceived as representing only those who are fit enough to go on long walks,” he says.
So, you have a brilliant idea for a route, you’ve thought about your audience and what information you need to cover in your description and you’re raring to go – now how do you set about composing your routecard on Ramblers Routes? First, you’ll need to take some simple online training, which covers some basics of route development and how to use the online tools. Once you’ve taken the training and are on the system, you have two choices: you can develop new routes or check those developed by others. (There’s no reason you can’t do both, but the website will prevent you from checking one of your own routes – for obvious reasons!)
After you’ve plotted your route and then walked it on the ground, you can submit the map and a simple route description to the Ramblers Routes website, including optional photos. Next, another user will need to check it for accuracy and clarity, including potential hazards, making changes where necessary. Then there’s a final edit before it’s approved for publication on the website. It may seem exhaustive, but the site’s emphasis is most definitely on quality, ensuring that the routes reach the standards people expect from Britain’s leading walking charity. The peer-checking process is central to this, and there’s also extensive advice and help on the system that includes how to present points of interest, alternative route text and safety information, plus how to complete a risk assessment of your route.
“The consistency, quality and accuracy of the information we have about the routes, combined with their availability across the whole of Britain, will be the unique selling point of this service,” says Justin Bend. “We want to make Ramblers Routes Britain’s number-one resource for high-quality walking routes, and, alongside our extensive programme of led walks, it really will ensure the Ramblers is at the heart of walking.”
Inspired? Check out www.ramblersroutes.org and help Ramblers build the most comprehensive library of walking routes across Britain!