WALK LONDON London borough walks (on London borough websites)
Walking is one of the easiest ways to make a journey - it costs nothing, it's good for your health and it's not banned under lockdown. So you might hope that London's borough websites would feature collateral encouraging their residents to head outside and enjoy all their area has offer on foot. Some nice walks for people to follow, perhaps, past sites of interest or across scenic landscapes. If the boroughs don't do it, who else will?
So I've been scouring the websites of all 33 London boroughs to see what walks they have to recommend. I've hunted for trails to follow, leaflets to download, pdfs to print, all specific to the borough, all for free. Some borough websites have the lot, whereas others make little or no effort to encourage walkers to explore their leafy acres. I've awarded stars according to online route provision and knocked up a league table of walk-friendly boroughs.
I first did this back in 2008, then again in 2012, then again at the end of 2016. Four years on, the majority of these borough websites have upgraded. A few have merely reorganised, breaking previous links. Others have substantially restructured, adding or pruning former pages and making themselves a lot more mobile-friendly. And a depressing number have dumbed down, deleting all the interesting stuff and concentrating solely on council services.
So I thought I'd update my previous list, for those of you who fancy spending some time exploring your part of the city on foot. To name and shame (or praise and cheer), I've included any changes since 2016 in brackets.
Here's my borough by borough London guide to free downloadable walks. Who'll spur you outdoors for a bit of healthy leisure and heritage, and whose website teams still need a bit of a kick?
Nothing about walks or walking, because these websites are repositories of information about council services (no star boroughs) Kingston(↓4), Lambeth(↓1), Newham(↓1)
It's the first time I've awarded five stars to three boroughs, so congratulations to Bromley, Southwark and the City.
Bromley has some of London's best countryside on its doorstep and has created some top-notch rambling resources to help explore it. These come highly recommended. Southwark scores highly for devising a themed walk beginning at each of its libraries, and the City keeps on adding to its brantub of heritage walkabouts.
The new entries to the four star category are Barnet, Bexley, Lewisham and Waltham Forest. Bexley have actually gone to the effort of creating a bespoke app, which deserves brownie points, even if their walks aren't especially long. Barnet's six Healthy Heritage Walks come with a choice of accompanying podcast or transcript. Lewisham's unusual approach is to encourage everyone to walk to Blackheath from wherever they live. Waltham Forest's half dozen are a properly-researched thematic bunch.
Once you drop below four stars the offerings get less exciting. All of the three star boroughs are non-movers, as are most of the twos. The biggest disappointments here are Brent and Tower Hamlets who have contrived to jettison a lot of their former content. Brent have removed the maps from their five previous leaflets and bundled the whole lot into a single document, which isn't terribly practical. And the Tower Hamlets web team have somehow retained the summary highlights of their walks while deleting the associated pdfs, making a long-standing collection of excellent leisure downloads utterly useless overnight.
Similar torching of resources has occurred in Camden, Hounslow and especially Kingston which has somehow managed to plummet from four stars to none at all. A third of London boroughs fall into my one- and zero-star categories because their websites are too keen on being functional instead of inspiring. The dilution and impoverishment of council websites has been a regular theme on this blog, and is one of the reasons why I revisit these lists every few years.
If you're fortunate to live in (or next to) one of the four- or five-star boroughs, maybe bookmark a few of these local walks and walking pages to help augment your daily exercise. Or try some this weekend, the weather's looking almost springlike, and getting out and about might just help your lockdown blues.