With nearly 15,000 pages of walking information, including many walk descriptions, “Walking Britain” is dedicated to the footpaths that cross the landscape. The National Parks feature strongly in the lists of walks including the Lake District, the Peak District and Snowdonia, not to mention the Yorkshire Dales. Although the natural world is the theme, man-made elements such as villages, bridges, mines and churches are also included in the many walking routes.
This website is probably one of the oldest around in terms of self-guided walks websites. It started in 1997 when I was barely using the web myself! With this in mind you would certainly expect a wide range of content with a nationwide coverage of walks. Well, it’s kind of mix really. There are still some parts of the country missed out completely and in Yorkshire, although well represented in the National Parks, there are a lot of gaps in some areas (York , Hull or Doncaster for example). I can understand though because many walks and pictures on the website are originally from the website owner, Lou Johnson, and although he now allows others to add their own walks, it’s still going to be a long time before the country is completely covered. Having said that, the website is free to use and you will probably find a walk that suits you not far away from your search location. The search facility is quite good and you can tell it has been thought through. Click on “Find a walk” and you will have five different options to search for a walk, either by National Park, or County/area, or Post Code, or Grid Reference, or Maps. For both “National Park” and “County/area” you can even select a difficulty grade from easy to severe. I have noticed a slight problem though on the “County/area” which is probably a database glitch. If you select a county which is already divided into areas (e.g West-Yorkshire or South Yorkshire), you will get no results! However if you select one of the areas within the county (e.g Bradford or Sheffield) you will get some results. Shame really but I am pretty sure it can be fixed. A postcode search is a must to me but what’s really good is the Grid Ref search. It’s really efficient if you know how to use them. Finally the “Using maps” is a work in progress with currently only four areas covered in the UK (including the Yorkshire Dales). It’s an interactive “home made” map that you can grab and move around, and dotted with walk numbers. Once you click on a walk it opens its page. It’s a good way to find a walk if you already know the area selected. There are other ways to find what you are looking for like the “Site Search” but it’s more a search engine for the website and you will get anything related to your search from pictures to walks and articles.
Walk descriptions are very well done too. Once you have found a walk and clicked on it, it takes you to a summary page of the walk which includes almost everything you need to know: the area, the length, ascent, grade, a picture, a small description, O.S maps you will need to take, some info about the area and even the nearest accommodation available (partners of Walking Britain). On the same page if you scroll down you will find a list of the nearest walks. It’s a good thought but if you arrived on that page by doing a particular search, you will have to go back to the “find a walk” page and start again. So on that side the navigation could be improved a bit. Anyway if you are happy with the walk you have found and want to find out more, you need to click on the “Detailed walk description” button. This takes you to the full description. The quality of the descriptions depends on the author really. Most of the time I find Lou Johnson’s descriptions really good with a lot of pictures included. I have also found walks from organisations (e.g. Yorkshire Water) with a link redirecting you to another website for more info. Not sure if that’s the way forward especially when the link doesn’t take you to the walk you were looking at but rather to their homepage; meaning you will have to do an extra search to finally find what you want! Having said that if you are like me and would rather have a map to find your way around, you will be pleased to know that every route description comes with an “outline route map”. I find this quite impressive as almost all of them are “home made”! You will also find an option showing you the start of the walk only on O.S. map and I suppose it wouldn’t have been cost effective for the website owner to buy a full O.S. license to map the full length of the walks. I came across a handful of walks which includes gpx files to download which are compatible with GPS devices. And I don’t think the website is compatible with smartphones either . Shame really because although the website was a pioneer in putting walks online it looks like it hasn’t been able to evolve with the current technologies.
Beside the walks, there are a lot more info on the website. For example, there is a a “Photo Gallery” and although at first glance it looks like none has been added since 2007, don’t be fooled by this because there are thousands of them, most of the time linked to particular walks. It’s another way to find walks in a sense. The “News/Features” section is host to a lot of various things such as articles, links or product and book reviews. Except for the “Website of the Week” page which last entry was on 11 July 2004, the rest looks like it’s regularly being updated. Then there are a lot of commercial links being either to accommodation, trek tour operators, gear manufacturers and retailers, or books and maps. Without mentioning the numerous adds and banners around the pages. At the end of the day the website is free to use and its owner needs to recoup the cost of running it. Besides I think the adds and banners don’t really obstruct the navigation so they don’t annoy me that much.
Finally the website is meant to be a community website and you can add your own walks. There is also an online forum and a visitors book where you can leave comments and advice to other walkers. And the adventure doesn’t stop here since you can also visit other sister websites such as “Walking Switzerland”, “Walking Europe and beyond” and even people with an interest in trains can visit “World Railways”!
Update March 2014: Walking Britain is now on Facebook and Twitter!
To Sum Up:
|Ease of use / appearance||Searching facilities||Walk descriptions||Grading system||Mapped routes|
|Easy navigation but a lot of advertisement. Some of the content is too outdated and should be removed||Very good filters but some glitches in the database spoil the experience||Some of the best you can find but some are not complete and redirect to external websites||Simple and efficient. You can trust their grading system to find a difficulty level that suits you||Home made maps are not as efficient as O.S. maps to find your way around|
|Free||Although free to use there is a lot of advertisement|
|GPS waypoints or Apps for smartphones||I found only a handfull of gpx files, mostly on new added walks so can’t really say the website offers them|
|Photographs or videos of the routes||All walks contain pictures. No videos|
|Info available along the route (i.e refreshments and toilets)||This type of info is not always included and is not a specific requirement.|
|Community based website||A lot of walks are now added by contributors. They are all checked by the website’s owner before being published. There is an online forum too.|
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