Don’t Lose Your Way – helping to bring lost footpaths back to life

Published 22 March 2020

A segment of map on Don’t Lose Your Way – the lines in purple are paths that don’t appear on the current Ordnance Survey map.

A couple of weeks ago, walkers charity Ramblers launched Don’t Lose Your Way. It’s a project to help find thousands of miles of footpath that could be lost forever as they’re not recorded on what is known as the Definitive Map of rights of ways.

Don’t Lose Your Way is a huge crowdsourcing effort that sees people look at a square of the current Ordnance Survey map, and compare it to two historical maps. The aim is to find rights of ways that appear on historical maps but that don’t – for whatever reason – appear on the current map.

Some paths will no longer appear for legitimate reasons. But others will have simply have got forgotten about over time. Historical information like old maps can be used as evidence that a path should be put on to the Definitive Map. But in 2026 that option will be no more. Time is pressing and Ramblers want to make sure paths don’t stay lost.

It appears to have been quite successful a project. In the first week it was operational, the website appeared to be a victim of its own success, regularly struggling to cope with demand. But as I type (on Monday 16 March 2020), 84% of England and Wales has been checked. 199,725 paths have been identified, equating to over 40,000 miles of pathways. By the time this piece gets published, it will probably be close to 90%.

Indeed, I probably should have written this piece telling you about it much sooner. But I, err, was rather busy. Busy finding paths. I’ve found it a rather addictive process. Got a few minutes? Check some maps! So far I’ve searched through 609 squares of map, and found 108 miles of paths. Hopefully find some paths!

As someone who quite likes maps, I’ve also found it fascinating to see how much of the UK has changed. And quite often, how little it has. There’s been sections of map I’ve checked where everything is identical now to what it was 100 years ago. And there’s been other sections where everything has changed. A century ago parts of Ealing in West London were mostly farmland. Not any more.

And then you’ll find maps that are somewhere in-between. Where there’s been huge amount of a development, but there’s still a footpath between the houses that exactly follows an old right of way!

My favourite find though was looking at a square of modern map, and spotting a footpath running in a field, but with no right of way noted on either side. It was just isolated. Alone. According to the map it was there, but you couldn’t get tot it. Looking at the historical map showed it was once part of a much bigger, more useful path.

It’s exactly the kind of thing the project has been set up to find. There’s much more to do to actually reclaim many of these paths for people. But Ramblers have got off to a great start by the looks of it. And I can’t wait to help them on future stages of this great project.

You can find much more about Don’t Lose Your Way at the Ramblers website.

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