Walking is one of the great British pastimes and whether you are a local looking for a new hobby or a foreign visitor wanting to experience the great outdoors, the many hundreds of miles of waymarked routes will give you hours of joy. There are literally hundreds of routes throughout Great Britain along with many shorter local waymarked routes that cover every corner of the land and vary in length from quick afternoon rambles to epic trails of six hundred miles or more.
All of these routes are referred to as promoted, meaning they have received some kind of promotion in addition to that normally attributed to local footpaths and rights of way. Sometimes this may be published visitor guides or tourist leaflets, or special signage or waymarking posts to indicate the route.
Most of Britain’s promoted routes have been developed from the extensive network of public rights of way and other local footpaths throughout the countryside. Absolutely anyone can create a route by putting together an itinerary using existing public paths and rights of way. Many routes have been built in this manner by ramblers, walkers and countryside groups or industrious individuals. Some have local and national government agencies involved to give the route official status by keeping it full of top quality waymarking or even creating additional path links where current ones aren’t good enough.
The enormous system of local footpaths and bridleways in the UK makes creating new trails quick and easy, but the same factors have produced a hodgepodge of initiatives without any single coordinating body which can make routes rather difficult to research. Many other countries make use of standard numbering and classification but no such system exists in Britain and there is not even any standard format for public space signs or guidebook design. Many routes are now marked on Ordnance Survey and Landranger maps but even this is not completely comprehensive.
Types of promoted routes include National Trails (designated and managed by the Countryside Agency), Long Distance Routes (the Scottish equivalent of National Trails) and Countryside Council routes (the same again but for Wales). Most National Trails and Countryside Council routes are very well known, passing through beautiful areas of countryside and areas of historic interest. They are waymarked using the acorn symbol and described in a range of official guidebooks by Aurum Press. Long Distance Routes are managed by the local authorities they pass through and all have proper waymarking signs marked with the well-known thistle symbol.
As well as these nationally recognised types of trails there are other waymarked routes, most often created with the involvement of local authorities and ramblers who voluntarily work to maintain them. There is an enormous variety in these recreational routes and the standards of their waymarking vary hugely. A common approach is to use simple markers or waymarking discs to aid navigation, although creative mapping and visitor leaflets are also used.
There are also a large number of unofficial routes on public paths which are described in print but not actually waymarked on the ground itself. Most fade regularly into obscurity but some become very popular and as well known as National trails – in fact many of the currently waymarked routes began life as unofficial groups created by individual walkers.