diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 01, 2014

Remember the Walk London website?

It used to hold details of London's seven strategic walks, from the Capital Ring to the Lea Valley Walk, including maps and directions and background information. No more - it was stripped of its content last night.
From the 1st November the Walk London website will no longer hold the route information, so will be taken down. Route information will start to appear on TfL’s website, including great new Legible London maps and updated directions. We will be keeping a webpage to let you know about the walking weekends and direct you to the new information but all directions and downloads for the routes will no longer be found at www.walklondon.org.uk
The precise reason for this takedown isn't clear, but it appears that TfL can no longer fund external websites, so are having to bring all of Walk London's information in house. The trouble is they haven't transferred everything across to the new site before pulling the plug on the old, indeed there are signs they won't be transferring everything across at all.

As of today, in fact as of yesterday, all of London's strategic walk info now appears on a subpage of the TfL website. Last week it resided on the memorable walklondon.org.uk, this weekend it's on the rather less memorable tfl.gov.uk/modes/walking/top-walking-routes. On the TfL website you'll find 'Walking' at the top of the page on the 'Ways to get around' tab of the 'More...' submenu, recently promoted from the second column to the first. Well, you might find it anyway, keep looking.

Until last night the Walk London website featured an interactive map showing which of the seven walking routes goes where - a Walk Finder.

It was possible to view each walk one at a time, turn tube lines on and off, highlight the Green Belt, highlight Interesting Places, even zoom in on each quadrant of the map, then click through to the section of your choice. Today there's nothing so useful. The new webpage only has the map below, slightly blurry, absent of all features other than the River Thames and 100% non-interactive. The new graphic doesn't rely on Flash, so can be viewed on a mobile, but other than that represents an entirely retrograde step.

And if you fancy taking yourself off on one of these walks, how does the new website stack up to the old. Not favourably, I'm afraid. Allow me to illustrate this with reference to the last section I walked, which is London Loop section 19.

First of all, the LOOP walk itself. The old Walk London website boasted a 462 word introduction to the LOOP, but the new TfL page offers only 21. Like so...

LOOP walkWalk London websiteTfL website
Summary"Walking the London Outer Orbital Path (the LOOP for short) is a great way to get to know London better. At nearly 152 miles (245 km), some like to think of it as the ‘M25 for walkers’ — but it’s a world away from the motorway and has been thoughtfully divided into 24 well marked, bite-sized stages." (+137 more words)"The London Outer Orbital Path, or LOOP, almost completely encircles Greater London. Nearly 150 miles are split into 24, bite-sized walks."
Warning about possible diversionsYesNo
Signage150 words-
Further informationDetails of published guide.
Mention that route appears on Ordnance Survey Maps.
Invite to view video.
Comments from usersYesNo
Photos from usersYesNo
Certificate if you walk the whole thing?YesNo

It's a particular shame to lose the user comments. Last month an anonymous commenter said "Where the route crosses a field diagonally just before Chigwell Row water works, it has been ploughed over, leaving no trace of the path. The pointer indicating the direction of the route across the field has been uprooted and is lying on the ground." which is useful not just to walkers but also to those who manage the path. And as recently as Monday, Laurie added "I echo the comments about Bishops Wood - at this time of year, it can also be very muddy. Don't attempt it without proper OS map and compass. If you can find the wooden fence to the right of the path, that is your way out." It's a shame that Laurie's useful tip lasted less than a week before being binned, but the new TfL version of the site looks like being a dry, dull place with minimal background information, and if you get lost in the mud on section 13, so be it.

And what if you click through to Loop section 19, how does that compare? The old Walk London website didn't make this easy, either clicking through "Next Section" 18 times or noticing the drop down menu underneath and remembering to press Go. Having said that, the new TfL website doesn't make it easy either. The sections aren't numbered, so you either have to count 19 bullets down the list or you have to know the walk's endpoints. That'll be Chingford to Chigwell, then...

LOOP section 19Walk London websiteTfL website
DescriptionEasy walking, though the early part may be muddy through Epping Forest, where you pass the historic Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge and cross the Epping Forest Centenary Walk. Later, much of the route follows pavements and tarmac paths through recreation grounds, in one of which is a lake created from a former gravel pit. The section finishes with a long walk beside a road (Chigwell Rise) down to Chigwell.Section 19 of the LOOP Walk is a fairly short walk through open spaces of forest and meadows.
Sights-• Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge
• Ancient oaks in Epping Forest
• Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve
Distance4 miles (6.5 km)4 miles (6.5 km)
StartChingford, Rangers Road (& grid reference) Chingford
FinishChigwell High Road (& grid reference)Chigwell
Public transportNational Rail: Chingford. LU: Buckhurst Hill, Chigwell (which is in travelcard zone 6). Buses at these points, also at Woodford Green High Road and Loughton WayStart: Chingford (Rail)
Finish: Chigwell (Tube)
Recommended directionWest to east-
Terrain and surfaceFairly level all the way with one gentle climb soon after the start and a stepped footbridge at Buckhurst Hill. More than half is on a hard surface. One stile. 1.9km (1.2 miles) beside roads.Fairly level all the way, although there is one gentle climb soon after the start and a stepped footbridge at Buckhurst Hill. More than half of the route is on a hard surface. There is one stile along this route.
SignageSignage complete both ways-
Refreshments and toiletsPubs at Chingford, Epping New Road, High Road Woodford Green, Loughton Way and Chigwell. Cafés at Chingford and Chigwell. Public toilets at Chingford -
Links with other walksEpping Forest Centenary Walk -
Map requiredExplorer 174 (route marked, NOTE at the end of section 19 the LOOP does not go northwards in Roding Valley Meadows Nature Reserve, parallel with the M11, but instead drops down into Chingford - we have contacted OS to correct their error)-
Audio guideYesNo

I give a pretty convincing thumbs down to the TfL upgrade, which has stripped away most of the useful information about the walk and left the bare bones as bullet points. And I'd be fascinated to know why. Maybe the full set of information was too time-consuming or expensive to transfer across. Maybe only key verifiable information is permitted on the TfL website. Or maybe someone gave the instruction to "keep it simple", which this clearly is to the point of being boring. Let's be honest, this new site is unlikely to inspire anyone to get off the sofa and head for the countryside.

But this is the really important table...

LOOP section 19Walk London websiteTfL website
Downloadable directionsYesYes
Downloadable mapYesNo
Link to online mapYesNo

If you want to walk this section, or any other section of any other walk, you'll need directions. That's good, because TfL have kept the directions, indeed exactly the same directions as on the old site but reformatted using bigger text. Previously the directions came on two pages, now they're on three... so you'll need more sheets of paper to print out each set than was previously the case. But I need a map too, because written directions are notoriously difficult to follow without some kind of spatial hint. Bad news, there are no longer any maps of any of the sections of any of the seven strategic walks. That's not just no detailed maps but also no overview maps, indeed no way of seeing where any individual section lies, and that, TfL, is rubbish.

They have promised to provide maps, maybe even better than before, based on the excellent Legible London mapping. But for now there's nothing, no stopgap whatsoever, not even the previous maps rescued and hosted for a few months while the new ones are prepared. In particular there are no links to the Walk4Life maps that exist for every section, indeed that were individually linked from every subpage of the old Walk London website. Here's the walk4life map for Section 19 of the London Loop, for example, which is an extremely useful resource, but alas not printable and take-with-you-able. TfL's walking website links only to the Walk4Life homepage, from which it's nigh impossible to search and find the specific walk you want, so what's the point?

All in all this is a massive downgrade, a proper dumbing down, and a virtual two fingers to the teams who created and supported these seven strategic walks. I suspect some TfL digital overlord is very pleased with the on-brand transfer of intellectual capital to a mobile-first platform, or will be once those missing maps are finally provided. But whoever sanctioned the taking down of the old website before all the resources on the new were ready needs their priorities re-examining. And sorry, but if you fancy going on one of Walk London's excellent self-guided walks in the immediate future, you're on your own.

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