Outdooractive or OS Maps. Which app is best for walking route planning?

There’s a walk out there to suit all my moods. Whether I want to stroll along the coast path, stride across Dartmoor or find a quiet spot for wild camping, all I need is a map to find the best walking route.

Navigation apps can make life easier

I’ve been planning walking routes for a long time now and before the days of navigation apps, we had to measure all the distances (sometimes with string), work out the height gain (by counting contour lines), and calculate section times in our heads.

I’m still proud of my ability to write (and rewrite) a traditional route card but it is a time consuming process.

So these days I often use a route-planning app to speed things up.

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UK watersports centres you can get to by train

Outdoor adventures by train aren’t just possible, they’re great fun. To help me live a more sustainable life, I’ve been researching train adventures for the the last two years now, and I’ve discovered that travelling to my adventure destination by train adds to rather than detracts from my outdoor experience.

Because I can see so much outdoors from the train window. 

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5 fun ways to use your route-planning app

It’s no secret that I think the best route-planning app is OS Maps but whichever map app you choose, you’ll be pleased to hear these clever geographical gizmos aren’t just useful for planning walks, runs and cycle rides.

Route planning apps can also be a whole lot of fun.

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Breaking news! You don’t need a changing robe for outdoor swimming.

It might be a shock, for anyone who has recently visited a UK lido, beach or riverbank, to hear that outdoor swimming is entirely possible without a changing robe.

Scandalous I know!

Sea swimming skies, Fi Darby

As my toes are ably demonstrating above, when it comes to swimming, all you really need is some water.

But the pull of the change or drying robe is strong. So strong that the number of manufacturers supplying them appears to increase daily.

‘The best swim robes: 20 options.’ (220 Triathlon)’

’13 best changing robes.’ (Glamour Magazine)

Which must surely be contributing to the 140 million pounds worth of clothing sent each year to UK landfill.

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Sustainable outdoor knitwear. How long will my new Finisterre jumper last?

Just before Christmas I was gifted a merino wool outdoor jumper by Cornish fashion-sustainability pioneers Finisterre. My mission was to try it out, and share my findings on my social media channels.

I loved the jumper and it suited my outdoor lifestyle so it got a really positive review.

How long should a jumper last?

A few weeks on, the jumper has been everywhere with me, and is clearly a piece I’m going to get a lot of wear out of.

So much so, it’s given me an idea for an experiment in sustainability.

Reading the comprehensive environmental impact information on the Finisterre website, I became interested in the idea that, from its start to its end, I could trace the whole life of my jumper.

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Sustainable New Year Resolutions for Outdoor Adventurers

Last year’s new year resolution

I’m not really a new year’s resolution type of girl. Mainly because I don’t have a good success rate, but this year I did manage to complete (just about) the new year’s resolution (some might call it a challenge) I set in January 2023.

I didn’t shop in supermarkets for a whole year.

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Are outdoor gear ‘essentials’ too expensive?

What kit do I need for a DofE expedition?

The topic of outdoor gear essentials has, in the past, been a favourite of mine. From Ten Tors kit lists to wild camping tent recommendations, I have been just as keen as the next outdoor expert to insist people need certain kit to take part in certain outdoor activities.

But this year, as I faced my first group of 2024 Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trainees, I realised how much my thoughts on the topic of essential outdoor kit have changed over the last 20 years.

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Outdoor gear advice? Walking route? Can you tell if it’s been generated by AI?

Welcome to Dartmoor, where the wild and mystical landscape of Devon unfolds before you. I’m Fi Darby, and I’ve been exploring these moorlands for years. With my guidance, you’ll embark on a magical journey through Dartmoor, filled with ancient legends, rugged terrain, and captivating beauty. Grab your walking boots and let’s uncover the secrets of this enchanting place. 

Well? Was the above written by me or by a computer?

It’s difficult to tell isn’t it. The piece tells the truth, I have been exploring Dartmoor for years and I do think it has rugged terrain and captivating beauty.

But I didn’t write the paragraph above.

It was an excerpt from an article written by ChatGPT, at my instruction to ‘write about Dartmoor in the style of Fi Darby’.

It’s quite an impressive piece.

And includes some of my favourite outdoor advice concerning walking boots and waterproofs. It even suggests (as I often do) the correct Ordnance Survey map for Dartmoor, and advises the reader to ‘practice good navigation skills’.

So ChatGPT clearly has a picture of the type of advice I usually give.

You would too, if you had the ability to speed read all I have ever written on the topic of Dartmoor (there’s nearly 15 years worth). The bot also goes on to offer some comments on the Dartmoor landscape, even its flora and fauna but these are more in the form of general motifs rather than actual locations.

With the exception of the already over-exposed Wistman’s Wood.

Is there a style to AI generated writing?

To my mind, this ‘in the style of Fi Darby‘ piece isn’t written in my style at all but it is written in a style I recognise.

The style of a (not so good) general copywriter.

For a long time now, I’ve been able to differentiate between expert and non-expert online writing. I’ve also been able to pick out writing that has been written with the sole purpose of selling a product, idea or service.

That’s because as a copywriter I have been used to writing as a non-expert on many topics.

How to spot AI generated writing

You can spot low quality online writing in a few ways, and the same markers can help you work out whether or not you’re reading a piece of AI writing.

Remembering that the majority of online writing is generated to make money, here are a few things you might want to look out for if you prefer your outdoor advice to come from a human.

  • The overuse of keywords. If a set of words sounds strange in a paragraph or keeps appearing in different forms, this is because the writer (AI or human) is using keywords to attract search engine attention. For example, ChatGPT has included ‘Dartmoor letterboxing’, ‘Dartmoor National Park Authority’ and ‘Clapper Bridges’ because they are mentioned so often in other Dartmoor articles.

 

  • The avoidance of detail. Detail brings a piece of writing to life but it also offers the possibility of mistakes. Mentioning Hound Tor is easy because so many others write about it but talk about a type of lichen that can be found on the south-facing rocks or the strange shape the stones appear to make from a certain angle, and you’ll have a more interested audience. AI currently finds this as hard as writers who have never visited an area.

 

  • The absence of personal experience. Have no doubt about it, sooner rather than later AI will be able to fake personal outdoor experiences (see my AI tent review) but for now, looking for evidence of personal experience is perhaps your best clue to deciding whether or not an actual person has written the text you’re reading. For example, if I talked about clapper bridges in a Dartmoor article, I might mention the time I squatted like a troll underneath one, or the great photo I got of a sheep posing on one. Experience-based writing like this builds connections between the writer and the reader. The type of connections that AI is also looking to achieve.

Can AI write sensible walking routes?

If your usual walking route planning app isn’t already using AI in some capacity, it will be soon. But using artificial intelligence to enhance information (for example provide fly-through videos) is one thing.

Using AI to create a whole walking route might not work (yet!)

But it seemed only fair to give ChatGPT a go so I asked it to find a walking route between two of my local towns, Teignmouth and Newton Abbot. If you’re interested or know the area, here’s a map I created from ChatGPT’s instructions (I used the Snap-to-Path tool in the OS Maps app).

There were several issues with ChatGPT’s route:

  1. It crossed the river twice and didn’t mention the ferry.
  2. It suggested a visit to the Botanical Gardens, which are up a steep hill in the wrong direction.
  3. It suggested the South West Coast Path at Bishopsteignton, which isn’t on the coast path.
  4. It suggested a footpath between Bishopsteignton and Newton Abbot that doesn’t exist.

All of which would be a bit of a shame if you were walking because there is a lovely foreshore route up one side of the river that ChatGPT hasn’t noticed at all. Yet!

My Teignmouth to Newton Abbot walking route.

I can only conclude that bots haven’t yet learned how to sensibly read maps.

Can AI learn to write like a human?

Would you trust a tent review written by artificial intelligence?

The difference between the algorithms we have become used to in our online lives, and artificial intelligence, is that AI uses machine learning to get better and better at tasks.

AI can learn what people like to read and what they don’t.

This means that although some AI writing is currently discernable from human writing, it is becoming more difficult for us to tell the difference.

Soon it might be impossible.

Because AI can learn really quickly. Much faster than we can. In my role as a writer I get invitations every day to use AI tools to generate copy. I don’t use them, and I don’t intend to but I do know that many other writers do.

Even writers who specialise in the outdoors.

Sooner or later I will miss out on work because of AI. I suspect I already have. But I am adaptable and a bit stubborn.

Here’s why I don’t want to join the artificial writing race.

  • It’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between human and AI generated writing. I think this matters because the same applies to video and images. When you put together radical written ideas and deep fake images, problems with veracity are bound to follow. By using AI tools, we help them to learn. I’m not sure I want to do that. Incidentally, this AI detection tool (there are loads out there) gave the ChatGPT writing above an 81% likelihood of being human.

 

  • AI is going to make the internet more boring. To get good search engine results, there is already a tendency to write more and more copy on ‘popular’ subjects. For example, I’m more likely to get asked by a client to write about a walking route on the South West Coast Path than my recent pilgrimage in Herefordshire because more people are going to search for information about an experience they have heard of than one they haven’t. AI generated writing is going to enhance this effect.

 

  • AI generated writing has enormous potential to mislead. We’re already seeing the disturbing impacts of fake online information but imagine that impact multiplied exponentially by a tool that can keep generating writing on the same topic for as long as is necessary to persuade everyone it is right. This obviously has some pretty big implications but it has smaller ones too. Read what the UN has to say on the topic of disinformation.

 

  • AI presents massive copyright issues. All that perceived artificially intelligent cleverness doesn’t come from a vacuum. AI bots mine information at a super-fast rate from online texts that have been (for the most part) written by hard-working human writers. Then they learn from that information and pump out a version of it, without indicating any sources. Read what the Writers Guild has to say about the use of AI tools in writing.

Should I be concerned about the use of AI in outdoor writing?

Whether you trust AI generated information or not is up to you. There’s plenty of human-generated, ill-informed nonsense already out there. I plan to spend my time reading from trusted sources who have developed their opinions and thoughts through years of experience but you might enjoy something new.

There are times however when intelligence (especially the artificial kind) is no substitute for experience. 

Who would you trust to guide you up (and more importantly back down) a mountain? A bot that’s re-churning any old information it found online? Or a local expert who’s done the job many times before?

I know exactly where I stand on that one.

 

 

Walking boot review – the KEEN women’s Zionic waterproof

These walking boots were given to me in return for an honest review here on my blog and on social media.

Description: The KEEN women’s Zionic waterproof hiking boot is a lighter-weight walking boot that is as comfortable and attractive as trainers but has the technical features to take you as far off-track as you would like to go.

Stars: 4 ****

Pros:

  • Very lightweight and flexible
  • Surprisingly supportive
  • Brightly coloured and attractive
  • Waterproof and breathable
  • No PFAS (‘forever’ chemicals)

Cons:

  • Slightly slim for wider feet
  • Shorter tongue bellow

Summary

This is a lightweight walking and hiking boot that bridges the gap between a trainer and a more substantial leather walking boot. With a flexibility of use that is lacking in some more traditional boots, the KEEN Zionic hiking boot will take you happily from town pavement to muddy field footpath but perhaps not through winter upland bogs.

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Any faith or none. Pilgrimages in the UK.

What does the word ‘pilgrimage’ mean to you?

  • Dusty churches?
  • Kind strangers?
  • Flat-footed sandals?

If you answered yes to the above, you were probably thinking of the Camino de Santiago, which is a collection of routes that cross France and Spain to meet at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

Like me, you might have first heard of the Camino de Santiago whilst watching Emilio Estevez’s pilgrimage movie ‘The Way’.

If you did watch the film, you might have resolved, also like me, to one day walk the Camino de Santiago yourself (although probably not in sandals).

Once again like me, you probably haven’t found the time, the inclination or the right footwear in which to do so. Some people are obviously more committed to the idea however; according to Statista in 2022 around 439,000 pilgrims finished this particular pilgrimage.

For those of us who didn’t even start it, the good news is that we have a wealth of UK pilgrimage routes just waiting on our doorsteps for us to discover.

And no, I’m not talking about Pizza Pilgrims here, although I do love their story of driving a three-wheeled Piaggio Ape van back from south Italy, learning about pizzas as they went.

Which brings me to my second piece of surprising pilgrimage news.

Not all pilgrims visit churches.

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