Getting out into the environment is ace, and good for your health. But how do you persuade people to do more of it?
One app that's keen to get us outdoors, with TfL's backing, is Go Jauntly.
They have what is clearly one of the worst brand names ever committed to a digital platform, a twee brainstormed phrase which someone important inexplicably took seriously. They also describe themselves as "a platform to help people discover walks, curate their own and share outdoor adventures", and I don't know about you but whenever I hear the word 'curate' outside the context of a museum I always lose faith in whoever said it.
Indeed the app's ghastly bonhomie long dissuaded me from downloading it, even after it won the Mayor and TfL's Civic Innovation Challenge for Active Travel 2018, that and the subscription fee. But yesterday I thought I'd give Go Jauntly a try, reassured by the fact that subscription was optional, and then I let it take me for a walk.
As part of the app's onboarding process I was invited to become part of "the Go Jauntly community". Join with Facebook, they said, or Join with Email. Stuff that, I said, having spotted the "I'll join later" option underneath, and being certain that I never would. Would you like to share your location, they asked, and I said no because I always say no until I've found out why. Then they asked if they could send me notifications, and I refused for similar reasons. And then I was inside the app, and looking for inspiration.
There are two ways to hunt for inspiration - locally, and by category. Categories include Latest added walks, Kid friendly wanders, Walks on your doorstep, Perfect lunchtime jaunts and The best walks around. To access the best walks around costs £1.99 a month, so by inference us freeloaders are only seeing the less good ones. The walks on your doorstep most likely aren't anywhere near. The perfect lunchtime jaunts are only perfect if you work in the right place. To find anything useful, searching by location is the only way to go.
If you type in a place, the app will list nearby walks starting with the closest. Typing in Bow brings up over 200 walks within 20 miles, the closest in Victoria Park and the furthest in St Albans. Typing in Manchester brings up 24 walks, and Plymouth 16, but Edinburgh only manages 7, Cardiff 3 and Hull 1. The app has ambitions to be national but is somewhat reliant on its contributors, and so far London has by far the lion's share. With such a local onslaught it proved much easier to search on the map, for which you have to share your location, which eventually I did.
Every 'jaunt' package comes with a summary front page including the author's name, a suggested duration, a number of likes and a row of symbols confirming for example whether the walk is dog or child-friendly. If you choose to embark on your walk based solely on this front page, good luck to you. Some authors 'curate' better walks than others, and that suggested time is very possibly wildly inaccurate. I've found one jaunt in Shoreditch which states "2 hours 22 minutes" but in reality is only 500m long, the remainder of the time supposedly spent wandering around a city farm admiring sheep and donkeys.
Once you've picked your walk, the app's killer feature is that it provides step-by-step screen-by-screen instructions with photos. Not only will you be told how to follow the trail ahead but you'll see photos confirming that you're in the right place. Walks can be 6 screens long or 60. Brilliantly there's also the option to switch to a map as necessary, with your location shown as a blue blob to assist with orientation. For a generation brought up on GPS and satnav, it's potentially ideal.
The other dead clever feature is that users can contribute their own walks. Go for a stroll, take some photos and the app uses GPS to compile your favourites into a waymarked trail, described using your own text for navigation. Alas it's soon clear that different people contribute very different kinds of walk. Some are decent hikes, others short meanders with opportunities for social interaction and many won't be to your taste at all. I found rather too many like Kimberley's sketched dawdle through Camden Market, starting with "Meet you friends in the Doppio Coffee warehouse" and ending with "Enjoy the picnic on the top of the hill".
So to test out the app properly I turned to a familiar author - TfL. As custodians of London's strategic walking network they've contributed 20 jaunts to the app, including every stage of the Capital Ring and the five loops of the Jubilee Walkway. I know the Capital Ring too well, but the Jubilee Walkway is a proper challenge, being a twisty route round central London with insufficient waymarkers to follow on the ground. Also it's a good choice for a grey day in November because none of it is muddy.
I called up Jubilee Walkway 4 on the app, made my way to the official plaque partway along Chancery Lane and set off. I knew I was heading on a loop round Bloomsbury and Holborn but not precisely where, because I was trying to rely solely on 45 screens of step-by-step description to get me round. It worked really well. The instructions were clear, each turn clearly signalled, and the photos really did help confirm I was going the right way. Yes that's Bedford Row on the right, yes that tree in Brunswick Square Gardens looks just like the one in the photo, and yes that's the zebra crossing into Woburn Square. I had to hunt carefully to find a couple of street names on the sides of buildings, but I didn't need the map once and the whole thing was very well thought through.
Plus it's a fascinating walk. I got to enjoy Bloomsbury's splendid Georgian terraces and crescents. I got to see the Christmas decorations in the Brunswick Centre. I got to admire St Pancras from the Euston Road. Best of all the route actually passes through the British Museum, and the new security queues aren't that bad on a Tuesday. This walk has numerous intriguing places to potentially linger, including Lambs Conduit Street, the British Library and Lincoln's Inn Fields, but on this occasion I kept on walking. That means I can confirm that "2 hours" is pretty much spot on for how long this walk takes, confirming that TfL compiled this route with care.
In conclusion, the name's awful, the selection's London-centric, the suggested timings are wildly subjective and the walks are of variable quality. At their best, the on-screen directions with photos are an excellent way to navigate, definitely better than trying to scroll around a pdf on a tiny screen. Allowing the public to upload their own jaunts helps provide a wide base of options, some ideal if you have a family to entertain, others great if you want to connect coffee shops, but serious walkers may not be impressed. My recommendation is to stick to the walks written by experts.
I can generate my own inspiration for a walk, thanks, so I won't be paying for a Go Jauntly subscription, nor indeed following its other offerings. But you might think the app's worth investigating, and if it gets you out of the house then it'll have achieved its aim.