Swarm stories #1

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2424km / 1500 miles walked all over Great Britain in one weekend! Here are some of the stories of our first ever National Slow Ways Swarm

Slow Ways wouldn’t exist without the efforts of lots of people, inspired by the idea and willing to put time and effort to inch the network towards reality. In the beginning this volunteer effort took the form of a hack day, in which 70 people sat at laptops and began imagining the routes into being. 

Now those routes all need walking, so we decided to harness some of that original hack day magic by calling a swarm weekend, appealing to people all over the country to walk all at the same time, to share the energy and celebrate the results. 

Walking the network into life!

This March swarm was the pilot, to test the idea and see if it got attention. We had no idea how it would go, but figured even if it was just the tiny handful of Slow Ways staff walking and making a noise at each other about it on Twitter, we figured it would be worth it. And then, covid. Most of our staff were floored all at the same time, and had to cancel the Leeds event we’d been planning as the celebratory open party for the Sunday night (sob!). Several of us had to watch it unfold from our sofas, or walk tentative fractions of our local Slow Ways with long sit-downs. 

But thankfully the idea caught on and those of us on sofas were gripped by the progress of the newly-minted stats page. Over the weekend routes and miles were racing up, another dozen with every refresh. In all 233 routes were walked, and 33 routes gained their third positive review, which meant they became verified and get a snail-badge of trust.

Social storytellers

See below for a merry jumble of tales from the Slow Ways of Britain. Some people were organised – Mike Tormey travelled north to take on the second-longest route in the network, over three sunny days. Michael Schiller did the opposite and set off without deciding on his route, outsourcing his decisions to Twitter as he went and ending up walking six routes in a row, into central London.

There were organised group walks around Brighton and Leeds, a brilliant impromptu walk in the Peaks in response to a Twitter call-out, a school bear called Jack taken on a walk in Hertfordshire, a sleepover on Dartmoor mid-way through a two-day walk. There was a walk along Hadrian’s Wall, and a 15-Slow-Ways-long chain to join London to its closest National Park, South Downs.

Lots of the action happened on Twitter – this is an enormous round-up thread from Sunday evening:

Some first-time Slow Ways walkers made films about it. Here’s Roxy, walking from Bristol to Portishead, back to her van where she speed-edited her walk story from there and a local library:

… and Jonathan walking from Lakeside to Coniston in the Lake District, to his bike before cycling home again:

Slow Ways’s Saira walked a group guided walk with leader Smith, from Brighton to Saltdean.

Lynn Jackson did her first overnighter while walking from New Ollerton to Sutton on Trent in Northamptonshire, and recorded the experience in her usual lovely illustrated diary pages.

Black Girls Hike did a group canal stomp from Bingley to Shipley in West Yorkshire:

… with an intergenerational crew including several mother-and-daughters enjoying a sunny Mothers’ Day together.

Daimon Walker filmed the whole of his walk from Headcorn to Tenterden in Kent, except for the pint at the end!

Slow Way superwalker Jane walked countless routes around Leeds, some twice to iron out the problems. We love that she is so practiced at these routes that she could tell that Morley to Leeds had been designed by someone with local knowledge. It needed some tweaks, but that’s what the swarm, and this year in the life of Slow Ways, is all about. 

Michael Schilling, Londonin360, got his Twitter followers to direct his route as he walked, which ended up being a chain of no less than six routes end to end, from Coulsdon to Victoria Station in London. 

Michael Schilling’s six-route-swarm

Contender for our favourite moment was when we tweeted that just a few walks were needed in some strategic as-yet-unconnected parts of the network, to make a big difference. And the next thing we knew, Bryony Bell and hairy walking companion were on a train heading to walk into Edale from Hayfield, thus joining up a positively-reviewed network all the way from the Lake District down to Coventry and across to Ross-on-Wye.

The second-longest route in the network got tackled during the swarm, by Mike Tormey. Berwick to Alnwick in Northumberland, on Beraln three – a 75km/45mile three-day hike in bright sunshine.

We roped in some artists to walk and record their journeys in art form – we’ll be posting their artworks here when they are done.

Helen Gough showed how the review system works (and how totally crucial it is to get all of these routes walked) by finding Chard to Crewkerne in Somerset inaccessible in three places. She took the time to find alternative ways round, uploading the new route as Chacre two, and awarded it a full five stars!

Igrina walked a massive 15 Slow Ways over three long 24-mile days, from Central London to the M25 on day 1, and then on over the next two days to reach the South Downs National Park. Chapeau! Her walk is an illustration of how the Slow Ways get longer as you get away from the city – day one was nine Slow Ways, day two was four, and day three was just two! (Just?!)

People walked in their walking groups, like some committee members of Wellington Walkers are Welcome, who checked out Shrewsbury to Telford.

… and best of all Fran Barton made it to his mum’s for Mothers’ Day lunch, along StrPai – Stroud to Painswick.

Huge thanks to all of the swarm-walking volunteers:

Agreeninn, Alison Moore, Almighty Custard, Andy Redfern, andy_mackay, Anna Clark, Bc, Bostal Boy, Brian, Brian John Moffett, Bruce, Bryony, Bshepherd, Carl Sumnall, Carol, Carol Wilkes, Caroline Stead, CatrionaS, Ccargill, Charles Hedley, Chris Morris, Christopher Brown, Clint shepherd, Colin of Blythburgh, CongoSue, Cristie, Dan Phelan, danravenellison, David Sanderson, Derick Rethans, Di Gilpin, Dommo, EmiOga, Emma Poggi Kendall, Gabrielhyde, GabyMacbeth, Gail Richards, Geeoharee, Gismay, Grussell, Hannah, Helen C., Hiking Historian, Hjgough, Ian Heron, Ian Macqueen, Intrepid Rabbit, J_Sawk, Jane Lytton, Jane Taylor, Jeanette, jennywalker19, JMiller, John Hay, John Oliver, JohnMyerson, Karen M, Karen Phimister, Karl Quirk, Kate EW, Kelly Norman, Ken, kerry puttock, Lesley, Lizbiz70, LondonIn360, LR13572468, Lwatson, Lynn Jackson, LynneStrutt, MaddyT, Margaret, Mark Gills, Mark James, Martin Ellis, Martin McGovern, Mary Oz, Matthew Axford, Mockymock, Mtormey, Naomi Wrighton, Nick, Nicky, Nigel Whiting, Nik Hunter, Panifex, Paul Chilcott, Paul Deach, Paul McGill, Paul Wright, Pcgosling, Penny, Petr Sadilek, Pilea, porcovolente, RKB, Robert Packer, Robin Rumbles, Ross, Ruth Broadbent, Sarah Njeri, Sausageking, Scott Mackie, Simon, Slow Ways Darren, Snailblakes, Sophie R, Sophie Skinner, Stan Morgan, StephenWalker, Stephenwalking, Steve_Roser, StraylightTravel, Strider, Sumaria, Suze, Team Tato, Tim Onions, Tim Ryan, Tom Candy, TomWhitelaw, tony77, Truffle, Wayne Hellewell, Wellchoughed, Whymummywalks, Yorkie Christine

Please join us for the next Slow Ways National Swarm on the 27-29th of May 2022

Hannah Engelkamp
Hannah Engelkamphttp://www.seasidedonkey.co.uk
Hannah is a writer and editor whose great love is slow, resourceful, human-powered home travel. She once walked around Wales with a handsome and opinionated donkey called Chico, and now has two children who also make going for a good walk really hard. She is the Culture, Imagination and Story Lead for Slow Ways. // Mae Hannah yn awdur ac yn olygydd a'i chariad mawr yw teithio araf, dyfeisgar, ar ei liwt ei hun, heb injan. Cherddodd 1000 o filltiroedd o amgylch Cymru, asyn golygus a phengaled o’r enw Chico, ac erbyn hyn mae ganddi ddau o blant sydd hefyd yn ei gwneud hi'n anodd iawn mynd am dro. Hi yw Arweinydd Diwylliant, Dychymyg a Stori ar gyfer Slow Ways.