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Getting off the Beaten Track

Previous posts have been concerned with the technology behind the Great Trails model, but for this one we thought we would discuss some information sources and techniques that can help planning a route where the usual map doesn’t present clear options. Many National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty contain large areas of Access Land which can be freely roamed on foot without the usual constraints of rights of way. Full details on Access Land may be found at and the extent of Access Land may be seen on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey (OS) map with a brown boundary and light green shading as shown below.

OS Map showing Access Land

It’s worth checking out the rules in detail at the link above, but suffice to say that as long as you enter the land from a right of way you are free to go where you wish. This is important in the Lake District where a number of the Wainwright peaks are not accessible using rights of way.

With the travel restrictions over the past year we have been exploring our local area of the North Pennines far more. This area offers a lot of great walking, however the routes are less popular and documented than those in the Lake District. Whilst Access Land covers most of the area there are relatively few established rights of way and thus determining a good route can be challenging. Obstacles such as rivers, bogs, walls and fences can make going very tough and add hours on to a walk and maps can only take you so far in determining the best route. However we have found a couple of useful tools for planning a route across Access Land which we will cover below.

Open Street Map (OSM) -

Open Street Map (OSM) is essentially the mapping equivalent of wikipedia, a collaborative project to create a free, editable map of the world. As with wikipedia this has resulted in something that is far better than you may expect. Whilst it is well structured, there are less rules about what can and can’t be included and one of the major benefits of this is the number of footpaths included, if it is well trodden it is likely to be on the map. The comparison for Sheffield Pike below shows the difference between the OS 1:25000 map and OSM. In the OSM map the multiple routes up this Wainwright may be seen where no path is shown on the OS map.

Sheffield Pike - OSM (left) compared to 1:25000 OS Map (right)

In popular areas, such as the Lake District, OSM can really help to fill in the gaps left by the OS maps. However in less popular areas, such as the Northern Pennines, this doesn’t provide a full solution. An example of this is a horseshoe route that we walked a few weeks ago taking in Thack Moor, Watch Hill and Black Fell. It may be seen from the pictures below that whilst the route to the Summit of Thack Moor and Watch Hill is fairly clear, it’s hard to establish the best way along the ridge to Black Fell and the descent to Hartside. Moreover the OS Map does show that there are walls to be negotiated on this route.

Thack Moor - OSM (left) compared to 1:25000 OS Map (right)

Looking at the aerial imagery in Google Earth ( or an application like OS Maps ( can provide some hints here but a clearer picture can often be obtained from the Strava Global Heatmap

Strava Global Heatmap -

The Strava Global Heatmap shows an aggregated view of the routes cycled, walked, run, swam and skied by uses of the Strava application who have made their data public. This is represented as a Heatmap where the hotter colour represents more people traversing that part of the map. This produces an incredible picture of activity in a certain area and this crowd sourced information is a very strong indication of the best route. The Strava Heatmap for the same area is shown below clearly showing the best route between the three summits. It is possible to overlay the heat map data over the satellite imagery and use this to coordinate route plotting with a tool that also supports plotting over aerial imagery, such as OS Maps or Google Earth. The route may then be downloaded to navigation devices to help provide a guide whilst waking.

Thack Moor - Strava Heatmap

We have found using the Strava Heatmap is very reliable manner to help plan the best routes in less popular areas.

It is important to state that whilst electronic route planning and navigation can make life a lot easier and help to explore a new area, good navigation skills and an appreciation of the terrain and weather (at the height you plan to reach) are even more important in the less popular areas. We have walked all day without seeing anybody and mobile phone reception is patchy at best so it is vital to go well prepared with a hard copy of the route and have a compass and paper map as backup and know how to use them.

One other consideration is that Access Land is subject to closure so it is advisable to check online before departure. It’s possible to search for close information at

We hope the above will help you find some great routes with the minimum of obstacles.

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