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Dan Raven-Ellison
Published on 15th December 2021
3 min read

Slow Ways is a grassroots initiative to create a network of walking routes connecting Great Britain’s towns and cities. Here we speak with Dan Raven-Ellison, the geographer and campaigner behind the project.

What’s it Slow Ways all about, and how did the idea originate?

It's fairly easy to understand how to get between towns and cities by car or by train. But despite the UK being rich with footpaths, it gets more complicated when working out how to get from A to B by foot.

I've done lots of walking in different parts of the country. When you do that you begin to see things that would make it easier for people to imagine, locate and enjoy walking and wheeling journeys. Soon after a project that involved walking across every city in the country, I began to ask myself - what if there was a national network of trusted ways for walking between all of Great Britain's towns and cities?

My answer to my own question is that I think it would help more people to walk and wheel between places more often. Not only that; I also think a trusted national walking network would inspire new journeys too. And so the idea of Slow Ways was born.

Find your own slow way using the Slow Ways website: www.slowways.org

Why now?

A critical principle behind Slow Ways is that we should all be able to walk or wheel reasonably directly, safely and easily between any two neighbouring settlements. If we can't, I think something is wrong. We have that expectation for car journeys, so we should have that expectation for walking journeys too. There's nothing new in that idea. It's what people have done for thousands of years.

Why now? Because more people walking more often, further and for more purposes will create joy, memories and stories. There will be new, different and more plentiful connections between people, places, communities and nature. And everyone reading this will know that adventures on foot have the potential for a diverse array of health, social, economic, environmental and community benefits. I also like the idea of Slow Ways inspiring new kinds of journeys: long-distance adventures that pass through wild and rural landscapes - but, if you don't feel like camping, staying in towns with affordable accommodation, a bath and Netflix each night.

'Why now? Because more people walking more often, further and for more purposes will create joy, memories and stories.'

Dan Raven-Ellison

Slow Ways - Becky Duncan, Open Aye

What kind of impact has Slow Ways had to date?

Slow Ways is a grassroots initiative. To date, volunteers and contributors to the initiative have created 8,125 Slow Ways walking routes that connect every town and city in Great Britain. Many of those connections have multiple route options, responding to people's different needs and desires. In total, these routes stretch for 117,266 km, a distance that is similar to walking three times around the equator.

We are working towards people knowing the trusted and best way to get between any two towns in the country. On our website, we have a Journey Planner which lets people plan routes by selecting routes that have been suggested, recommended and potentially surveyed by others. A group called Walk2COP recently planned a journey from London to COP26 in Glasgow using our Journey Planner. The only places they had problems were where paths were diverted. The route took just 30 minutes to plot.

'To date, volunteers and contributors have created 8,125 Slow Ways walking routes that connect every town and city in Great Britain, stretching for 117,266 km, a distance that is similar to walking three times around the equator.'

Slow Way from the City - Phil Young

What can we do to get involved and help such an exciting cause?

We'd love for your help! Here are two suggestions.

Firstly, all of the 8,000+ Slow Ways routes have been suggested by volunteers. Most of them were actually created during the first lockdown of 2021 when people were stuck at home. While these routes have been drafted, we've a massive challenge to walk, review and verify that all the routes are good enough. Every route needs to be positively reviewed by three people to become a verified Slow Way. That means finding enough people to walk the equivalent of at least 300,000km of routes, which is similar to collectively hiking to the moon. Slow Ways volunteers have reviewed an incredible 34,272km of Slow Ways... but we need a lot more people to walk their local routes to hit that target.

Can you help!? We need people to be walking routes everywhere across Great Britain, but we'd especially like some help in Scotland and Wales, where many of the routes are longer and more challenging.

Secondly, we really want to inspire people to use the Slow Ways network. Are you planning a short, medium, long-distance or epic walk in Great Britain? Are you doing a challenge in 2022? Could you use Slow Ways as part of your training or adventure? It would be a massive help if you did, as we want to get people across the country using Slow Ways, and your adventures could help to inspire them.

'Slow Ways volunteers have reviewed an incredible 34,272km of Slow Ways... but we need a lot more people to walk their local routes to hit that target.'

Slow Ways - Becky Duncan, Open Aye

Anything else worth mentioning?

Thank you to everyone who's contributed to Slow Ways so far. Every step, review and share counts - it really adds up. And a special thank you to the National Lottery Community Fund for supporting our work.

You can connect with us on Twitter and Instagram at @SlowWaysUK. Use #SlowWays on social media and get involved at www.slowways.org

Check out The Forgiving Path below, a new short film series by David Mathias, inspired by Slow Ways!