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Slow Ways: Trusting your feet to get you there

Is it such a radical notion that walking could be a viable mode of transport? Slow Ways maps the network that could make it happen.

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The walking routes through Redmires and Ringinglow bring you inexorably to the top of the world, from which a whole new realm is suddenly visible: Stanage Edge. Make the journey in reverse, and Stanage gives you a vast villain’s grin, mocking you as you make the kind of utterly vulnerable approach that medieval castle builders would have fantasised about.

Stanage Edge has some equally toothsome sisters – Curbar, Frogatt, Baslow, Burbage. They are so popular with climbers that the rock face burbles with conversation, as if the gritstone itself were shedding gossip through its pores. By crossing an Edge you transgress: you’re supposed to go along, not over. But, my friend, if you want to get from here to there, then transgress you must.

Not all pedestrian journeys have an Indiana Jones-worthy obstacle at their summit, yet when we choose our mode of transport our feet are often left kicking their heels and twiddling their toes.

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But suppose you wanted to go from, say, Penistone to Wombwell. After all, there are only so many towns named after reproductive organs, and two of them are in South Yorkshire, so it’s a journey worth making. Would you think of travelling on foot? Well, why not, if you’re able enough? It’s only 12 miles, there’s some beautiful countryside to go through, and you’ll remember so much about it by experiencing it slowly. If you drove, you’d arrive quickly but with none of the joy.

Slow Ways is about rediscovering your body as a mode of transport, and building a map for others to follow. I fell in love with this idea a few years ago, although in the time radical geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison has secured funding, partnered with Ordnance Survey, recruited volunteer mappers and testers, built a website and an app and been all over mainstream and social media with his nationwide network of walking routes, all I’ve achieved is a few strolls. Daniel doesn’t hang about.

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The concept is beautifully simple. Raven-Ellison took a map of the UK, plotted a theoretical network connecting places together, and then his volunteers looked for quiet roads and footpaths to create walkable routes between those places. Each route is now being tested in the real world, and you can add to it yourself.

It’s best to treat Slow Ways as a methodology, rather than as a navigator. After all, it may still only be you who wants to make that specific journey. Someone else may have spotted the excellent sandwich shop, the unpleasantly busy stretch of road or the bull in the field, that helps you choose one route over another.

Making my own Slow Ways route from home to Hope turned out to be part of the fun. In my mental map there is now an avenue of trees near home that seem to be having a committee meeting. A bench above the Rivelin valley that’s dedicated to a 9/11 victim. The gossiping rocks of Stanage Edge. The gloriously beautiful Hurstclough Lane that swoops down into Bamford like a helter-skelter. And a bull in a field. If I hadn’t trusted my feet, these would be blank spaces in my mental map. Walk, take it slow, let the ideas come. Next time, Penistone to Wombwell beckons.

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