If you like the convenience of online and mobile travel guides but you miss all the fascinating and useful travel information you can find in printed guidebooks, a free travel app about walking in Britain could be just what you are looking for.
AA Best Walks in Britain from the Automobile Association (AA) is like spreading a map of Britain at your feet with 1,500 walks described down to the tiniest detail. The app has enough information to use for planning your trip - whether it's a two week vacation or an afternoon's outing - yet it's fast and easy to use on the hoof, so to speak.
AA Best Walks in Britain
The British love to walk. The Ramblers' Association is not just club for groups of walkers, it is also a vocal lobbying organization that is fiercely protective of the paths public rights of way all around the country. What a surprise, then, to find that the best walking app I've ever tried, comes not from the Ramblers, but from the AA.
What's Included? - In a neat 11.4 MB of data, this app offers:
- 1,500 walks, linked - if you wish - to your location
- detailed descriptions of the walk
- complete written instructions, step by step, for the walk.
- highlights of what to look out for on the walk including landmarks, anecdotes and historical back story.
- links to download British OS maps (for a nominal fee) that turn an iPhone 3GS or higher into an outdoor GPS device.
How it Works - Start by entering the area you want to explore - or allowing your 3GS phone's locator to place you on the map. A map opens up covered with pins. Touch one and a menu that includes the name of the walk, it's length and level of difficulty opens up. The menu choices are "Buy" (more about that later), "Details", "View Coverage" and "Select Another Walk". Choose to view coverage and a shaded area appears on the map showing the general area of the walk that can be enlarged so that street names are revealed.
I chose "Details" for the Merton Abbey Mills walk in Southwest London. The Walk Details home screen provides an estimated time for the walk, the distance, the ascent if any, a brief description of the landscape - in my case "Parkland, marshland and meadows" - and dog friendly details - in this case "Remember to poop-scoop in Morden Hall Park."
The "Details" home screen then offers further menus allowing you to drill down for more and more information. Under "Description" you can read a narrative similar to what you might find in a guide book. For the Merton Abbey Mills Walk, I read about the Hatfield family who were snuff millers in the 18th century and whose home, Morden Hall Park, is on the walk.
Under "Directions" you find detailed instructions for the walk. Here's a tiny sample:
"Continue ahead on the path over two more footbridges and then fork right to cross a third bridge. The views across the first two bridges are delightful - notice the moat and the remains of decorative brick bridges draped in ivy."The directions continue in this fashion and are thorough.
Also from the "Details" home screen you can choose "While There", "Look For", and "Where to Eat."
Should You Choose "Buy"? - Every walk offers the option to buy the AA's detailed 1:25,000 OS mapping (£1.99) or 1:50,000 mapping (£0.69) for the walk. Some comments have been critical of this element but in fact it's a practical way of providing the user with only the maps required. OS or Ordnance Survey maps are Britain's most detailed topographical maps: providing OS maps for all 1,500 of the walks would make the app impractically large. This way, you can download only the map you need for the walk you are on - in the process, turning your iPhone into an outdoor GPS satellite tracking device - for a fraction of what the print version of the map would cost. And, in the case of many of the urban walks, the directions included in the free app are so detailed that you won't have any need to buy and download the OS maps.
The Verdict This is a comprehensive walking app for Britain, full of interesting details, careful and thorough descriptions and detailed instructions. It's easy and intuitive to use and I can't wait to use it again and again.
To find out more about this app and how to buy it, visit The AA iPhone webpage.