When you fancy going for a hike or walk there are plenty of route planner websites on the internet that can provide help and inspiration. Whether you are going to a particular part of the country for the first time or looking for a hidden gem in your own backyard, there are plenty of on-line walks to chose from. But which is the best walking route planner to use? The amount of detail, advice and number of walks in a particular region vary from website to website. Here at CheapTents.com we have been examining the various walking route planner websites to find out which are worthy of being your walking guide and which you would not rely upon to give you directions to the house next door.
There are several criteria by which the walking guide websites have been judged, as follows:
- Route choice and searching within the walking website
- Grading of walk in terms of technical difficulty and fitness level required
- Quality of walk description
- Descriptions of points of interests
- Are there any maps showing the walk, or GPS waypoints
- Any inspiring photographs?
- Information about pubs and tea rooms along the route
- Amount of advertising
In order to get an idea about the quality of the descriptions, about 3 or 4 walking route descriptions have been viewed for each website. The quality of the walks themselves is much more subjective. Unless stated, each website has a variety of walks covering a range of terrains, distances and technical ability. Therefore it is up to you to make a judgement about whether you may or may not enjoy a particular walking route.
There are five walking routes planners reviewed in the first part of this article, these websites contain walks that cover most, if not all of the UK. In the second part of the guide to the best walking route planners, hiking route websites that cover specific regions, e.g. Scotland, The Lake District, Northern Ireland and North Wales, will be reviewed.
The walking route planners featured in this article are:
www.countrywalkingroutes.co.uk / www.trailroutes.com
For those of you who just can’t wait to get to the end:
Best Walking Route Planner Summary
General / Searching for a Walk
This site is very busy with lots of text on the home page. You can search using a simple search box at the top of the home page, or select from menu options at the top or from a long list down the left hand side of the page. This list includes a selection of pub walks. Using the search box pulls up a huge number of results in a list over several pages, especially if you search using a general term like “Peak District”. Of course this is not surprising, but there is no option to refine your search, which would be helpful. The top two search results when searching for walks in “Northern Ireland” were for walks in the Lake District!
You can also search using a mapping system based on Ordnance Survey maps, which is a useful feature. There is a map of England, Scotland and Wales on which you can click specific OS map areas. Each walk is then represented by a coloured circle, with a number showing the grade of the walk. Move your mouse over a dot and the walk route is indicated. Click on the dot to see summarised walk details appear on the top left of the page. The full walk details are downloaded as a pdf file, which are handy to print out and take with you on your walk. You can also download GPS waypoints from here, if available.
In order to download a walk you must buy credits. For £14.95 you can buy 50 credits. Each walk is worth 1 credit. Walks are updated and you can download the same walk in the future without losing another credit.
Why should you open an account with go4awalk.com? On the join4walks page it clearly states that…
Every go4awalk.com walk is hand-crafted by walking professionals who really know and understand what makes a walk – a good walk.
However, on the “Talk To Us” page, people are encouraged to submit walks and rambles which will be published on the site. So there seems to be a bit of contradiction there!
There are an enormous number of questions on the Q&A page. Although you can search the questions, they would benefit from being put into a directory style structure to make it easier to find the question you are asking.
The walk descriptions are downloaded as pdf files. There is a summary of the route which includes distance, time, grade and ascent. The walking route descriptions provide a semi-detailed map, showing roads and paths that intersect the route and some features such as pubs and trig points. The map does not show any contours, however there is a diagram showing elevation along the length of the walk which I like. The actual description of the route is quite detailed but it is wholly factual with no information about points of interest. There are no photographs or anything to provide any inspiration. Around the map are lots of blocks of text about various features of the go4awalk.com website, which I find a bit annoying.
It is possible to view photographs of walks which have been uploaded by users of the go4awalk.com website. There is also a section where people are encouraged to share information about points of interest. Since this information does not come with the walk description it can easily be overlooked.
Summary – go4awalk.com
In summary, there are lots of walks featured on go4awalk.com, however I found the website very busy. It is not always easy to navigate the website and I spent a long time looking for information. In particular, trying to find information again that I had found previously was difficult. The descriptions of the walks are thorough but uninspiring. The ability to search by OS map is a the best feature. The pdf downloads are handy to print out to take on a walk, but they could do without so many plugs for the website.
General / Searching for a Walk
The presentation of Walking Britain is very clear and easy on the eye. Walking routes can be found using a directory structure focussing on National Parks, National Trails, Areas of Outstanding beauty and Counties & Areas.
There is also a search facility where you can search by National Parks or Areas by grade of walk, search for walks near a postcode or grid reference. For some regions, such as the Lake District you can also search by map.
There is some advertising but it is not too intrusive.
Each walk has a summary including distance, grade and ascent.
The full description of the walk will depend upon which one you happen to chose and who the author is, which should perhaps be expected since anyone can submit a walk to http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk. Walk 3209 – Llanfrynach and Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, is a scanned image of a walking map produced by the Youth Hostel Association. However, most of the walks appear to offer personalised written descriptions.
Some of the walking routes have basic descriptions with little detail. For example, Walk 1182 – Kinder Downfall from Hayfield, the description is short and to the point with only a small amount of additional information. There is not much in terms of additional navigational notes or points of interest. There are photographs, which is always a plus in my opinion.
Other walking routes have more detailed and interesting descriptions, such as Walk 1601 – Bowcombe Down, Ashengrove and Upper Watchingwell from Carisbrooke. This description would benefit from having some headings to make it easier to find your place in the text whilst out walking. It does contain grid references throughout which are useful to relate the text to the map.
There are outline route maps on the website, however these are basic so would need to be used in conjunction with an Ordnance Survey map. There does not appear to be any support for GPS.
Summary – walkingbritain.co.uk
In summary, walkingbritain.co.uk is easy to navigate and not overburdened with text. It is easy to find walks in the area that you are looking at. The quality of the walking route descriptions is variable, some stick to details of the route only whilst other walk descriptions contain photographs, additional interesting points and comments about the walk. It would benefit from having an improved map based search and more detailed route maps.
General / Searching for a Walk
Mike Brockhurst’s Walking Englishman is a popular website which passes on his enthusiasm for walking. Mike has walked all of the routes himself and his descriptions reflect his personal experience. He states that it is…
my intention is to inspire you all to get out and enjoy the country as much as I do. Go on, you won’t regret it.
The site has a simple, straight forward design. The walks can be searched by region or long distance path name from a list down the left hand side of the page. Most of the walks are in Northern England: Yorkshire, The Lakes and the Peak District. There are also walks in Scotland, Snowdonia, Crete and Italy. The walks can be selected from a list within each category by the name, which is either the name of the walk, the place or the mountain, e.g. “The Mosedale Horseshoe”. There is also a one sentence summary of each walk.
The walks are graded into easy, moderate or hard which is denoted by a green, yellow or red circle respectively. There are also a few scrambles which are also denoted with a red circle.
All the walks are free and there is no advertising!
The walking route descriptions start with a walk summary, including time, distance, ascent, hazards, parking and refreshments. There are OS maps onto which the route has been overlaid. Next there is an elevation profile followed by the Story of the Walk. There is not a huge amount of navigational detail about the walk. The story of the walk really is a story, describing the weather conditions, details about the terrain and the feelings and opinions of those on the walk, especially when faced with technically difficult parts of the walk or scramble. Featuring classic quotes such as…
I stuttered down like a geriatric for the rest of the walk vainly trying to keep up with the two goats ahead of me.
…in the Kinder Scout from Edale route, The Walking Englishman makes a compelling and inspiring read. The are also a number of photographs for each walk which help to visualise the story and the route. For some routes more photographs can be found as slide shows on The Walking Englishman You Tube channel.
GPS Waypoints and Memory Map files from the walk can be downloaded. For some walks a “Route Card” is also available. The route card contains waypoints and some observations.
Summary – walkingenglishman.com
The menu system makes it is easy to find good walking routes on the walkingenglishman.com website, although it is advantageous if you already have a knowledge of the area where you intend to walk. The route descriptions focus on telling the story of the walk, as opposed to describing the navigational aspects of the route. However they do contain interesting details and provide the inspiration for getting out and going walking. Whilst there are a lot of walks featured from the North of the UK there is only the Cornish Coast Path in the South of the country.
General / Searching for a Walk
The walking routes on these websites are provided by Country Walking magazine and Trail magazine respectively, hence they are only available to people who have a subscription with the magazine.
It is possible to search for routes by name, location, post code or grid reference. There is also an interactive map, however this is very basic and only allows you to select from one of nine areas within the UK and Ireland. Once you have a long list of walks you can then refine your search, which is a useful feature. You can search within the results based upon distance from a particular location, walk length and difficulty levels of easy, moderate and hard. With Trail routes you can also search for routes with scrambles.
It is also possible to view walks using Microsoft virtual Earth. This enables you to zoom and pan the map, select to display aerial photography, see a descriptions and open route details. This is a feature that will be improved for the Country Walking and Trail routes website relaunch.
The route summary for each walk contains a short written introduction and summarised details such as distance, time needed, difficulty and the magazine issue in which the walk appeared. There is a brief description of the terrain. In the case of Country Walking the number of stiles is given, whilst for Trail routes the total ascent is shown. From here it is possible to view the detailed description, a route map and an OS route map. You can also download a PDF route card, GPS waypoints and Memory Map data. Trail routes also have a elevation profile.
The walk descriptions are quite detailed, in particular pointing out turnings that may easily be missed. There are a limited number of comments about points of interest and the terrain.
Summary – countrywalkingroutes.co.uk and trailroutes.com
There are a good selection of walks across the country. The search facility works well when the refined search is used. The map based search is does not show the location of each walk, which it should do given that the websites support popular, well established walking magazines. This may well be improved upon with the forth coming relaunch of the sites.
General / Searching for a Walk
Walking-routes.co.uk is a directory of links to many other websites that contain walking routes. Some of the external websites cover the whole of the UK but many are specific to small areas.
This website has a straight forward design that is quite clear and it is easy to see where everything is. You must like orange.
The home page is split into five main categories based on walk locations, i.e. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and National Parks. Within each section there is a list of counties and cities or National Parks, with a number in parentheses indicating the number of walking websites in that sub-section. Click on the the sub-section and pop-up window appears containing a list of place names or website names. These are all links to external websites. Clinking one of these links opens the website in a new window. I would prefer for each sub-section not to open in a pop-up window. Also, the sub-section page would benefit from having a map of the area showing place names, since this would help people who are not familiar with the area to get their bearings.
“Walking-Routes” – 100’s of links to 1000’s of walks.
The links are to other websites containing walking route descriptions and not to the walks themselves. This means that there is no easy comparison between walks, in terms of exact location, length, time or grade.
You can search all the sites that walking-routes.co.uk links to using a customised Google search. This displays Google style search results within the walking-routes.co.uk website, providing links to the other websites and walking routes. When you click a link you leave the walking-routes.co.uk website.
There is some advertising but it is not intrusive.
Since walking-routes.co.uk links to lots of other different websites the descriptions of the walks are extremely variable. Its pot luck whether the site that you end up on has good, detailed walking route descriptions or not.
In some cases I found that the site that I clicked through to did not appear to have any walks and that I had to spend time trying to find the walks. In these cases walking-routes.co.uk would benefit from having a link direct to the walks page of the external website.
I did not find any walking routes that were compiled by walking-routes.co.uk themselves.
Summary – walking-routes.co.uk
Since there are links to so many external websites you are sure to be able to find a walk in any area of the UK using walking-routes.co.uk. The directory style search is reasonably straight forward, however, the external links could be improved upon in some cases by linking directly to the walks page of the external website.
Since the links are to external walking websites, rather than to specific walks within the websites, you still have a bit more searching once you are on the external website. Using the custom Google search it is possible get straight to walks in a specific location.
Which is the Best Walking Route Planner?
In order to create the best walking route website you need:
- an easy to use text search facility, including the ability to refine your search
- a simple directory style search facility
- a good map based search facility
- summaries of the walking routes, including distance, time and grade
- detailed descriptions, including grid references and information to help with navigation so that you do not go the wrong way
- information about coping with the terrain in different weather conditions
- quality mapping
- photographs and descriptions of points of interest to provide inspiration
- easy to print route cards
- downloadable GPS waypoints
A feature that could be useful is for people who have done the walk to give a review about it.
There is no definitive best walking route plannar out of the ones that have been reviewed here. If I already had a subscription to Country Walking magazine or Trail magazine then I would have a look at those websites first, but I would not get a subscription just for the walking routes since there are plenty of good walking routes available for free. The Walking Englishman has done lots of great walks and tells a good story, so is well worth looking at. The walk descriptions and pdf downloads on go4awalk.com are good, but I find the website is too busy and its not easy to search for walks, unless you use the OS map based search. The design of Walking Britain is easy on the eye and the search works well, however it could benefit from a better map based search and better maps of the routes. And finally, using walking-routes.co.uk you are certain to be able to find a walk in any part of the country, but you still have a lot of work to do trawling through the external websites that actually contain the walks.
Which ever walking routes planner you chose to find a walk we hope that you will find a walking route that enjoy!