Michael Tormey – How direct are the Slow Ways routes, really?


Hello Slow Ways! So happy to be writing in as a guest blogger.

My name is Michael Tormey. I’m originally from the United States, but I’ve spent the past year studying for an MSc in Transportation Planning and Engineering at the University of Southampton. For my Masters dissertation, I’ve been looking into how and where we can focus efforts to continue improving the Slow Ways network of walking routes. 

Slow Ways aims to create a nationwide network of walking routes that are off-road and direct, as much as possible. Part of my work has been exploring the question, “How direct are the Slow Ways routes, really?” 

A few weeks ago, as I walked Yarven between Yarmouth and Ventnor, I noticed the route took me on several diversions out of the way from where I was going. Understanding how direct Slow Ways routes are will help us identify similar areas of long diversions network-wide. Straightening these routes may help make them more attractive to more potential Slow Ways users.

Map of Yarven between Yarmouth and Ventnor

To answer this question, I first calculated a “Crow Fly Difference” for each of the 7000+ routes in the network. This measure compares a route’s length to the straight-line distance between its two end points. Network-wide, Slow Ways routes are, on average, 40% longer than the most direct possible straight-line path. This means that, if two end points are 10 miles apart, their connecting Slow Ways route will be roughly 14 miles long. 

Many of the least direct routes, however, are indirect due to local geography. For example, Canlei connects Canvey Island and Leigh-on-Sea, and the available routes are much longer than the straight-line path due to the limited availability of fixed water crossings.

Map of Canlei between Canvey Islands and Leigh-on-Sea

Because we’re interested in identifying routes which can feasibly be made more direct in the near-term (whilst sticking to a set methodology), another way to evaluate directness is to compare the Slow Ways routes to the driving routes motorists could take between end point settlements on local roadways. 

Seen in this light, the Canlei routes are relatively direct because they are actually much shorter than the road distance between Canvey Island and Leigh-on-Sea.

Overall, the network does fairly well when evaluated this way: on average, Slow Ways routes are only about 8% longer than driving. About a third of all Slow Ways routes are shorter than their corresponding driving distance, too!

Looking at the distribution across the whole network, it seems that routes fall in a few categories:

  • Routes that are direct (as much as possible). Sanbem one (Sandown—Bembridge), on the Isle of Wight near where I live, is a good example of a reasonably-direct and off-road route. 

Reassuringly, it seems a good proportion of the network falls in this category.

  • Interestingly, there seems to be a handful of routes that may be too direct and could benefit from indirectness improvements! Many of these routes are short and along major urban roads that could follow nearby quieter streets instead. 

For example, user Alex_D writes that Catelt one (Catford—Eltham) is “the quickest and easiest route,” but “it wasn’t particularly nice to walk along” “due to it mostly following a couple of large busy roads.” User Darren writes that Salman one (Salford—Manchester) is a “difficult Slow Way to promote as the majority of it runs alongside a very busy road.” Potenf one (Potters Bar—Enfield Town) and Montwis one (Motherwell—Wishaw) may be similar. 

Map of Catelt between Catford and Eltham

Could these routes, or others like them, be made slightly longer to gain big pleasantness benefits without too much additional indirectness?

  • Finally, there are routes (or route segments) that are relatively indirect. If Slow Ways routes should be ‘reasonably direct’, then connections that are very indirect should be looked at for improvements. Highly-indirect routes make up a minority of the network, so it might make sense to focus efforts on these. What the appropriate “improvements” might look like will differ for each route.

For some, it may be that the current footpaths system is simply insufficient, and some new connection (maybe a new permissive footpath or safe crossing of a major road) will be needed to make the route more direct. 

However, for many routes or route segments, I suspect that if they were replotted using existing footpaths (following the Slow Ways methodology https://beta.slowways.org/Page/how-to/), they could be made more direct. A good example is how Hagsto one (Hagley—Stourbridge) is a couple miles shorter than Hagsto two.

So what does this all mean? It suggests that some easy changes to the network could make a significant difference for some high-need, highly indirect routes in particular. 

To this end, I’ve compiled a Waylist of the 50 most indirect Slow Ways routes, in no particular order. Just because a route is indirect doesn’t mean it’s a bad route. It does, however, suggest we may want to take a second look at it to see if we can make any quick improvements that help make the network more direct overall.

Map of least direct Slow Ways routes in Scotland
Least direct routes in parts of Scotland
Map of least direct Slow Ways routes in England and Wales
Least direct routes in parts of England and Wales

This is where you come in – as you’re planning and taking your Slow Ways journeys, are there segments or whole routes that could be made more direct without negatively impacting how pleasant they are? Are there long diversions where a more direct off-road route seems feasible? Can you create a more direct route that is still within the spirit of the Slow Ways methodology?

Let us know by sharing your thoughts on our forum page (which requires a separate log-in) and by uploading your ideas for new, more direct, route options – for the 50 least direct routes, for those close to you, or any others you’re familiar with!