Walking and Hiking and Open Spaces

First let me explain my primary interest is in the areas of countryside (in the UK) for walking and hiking. So the features I want to work with most are footpaths, bridleways, tracks (unsurfaced roads for vehicular access). In the UK we also have “green lanes” favoured by off-road motorcyclists. In common with all countries we have natural land features (cliffs, rivers, streams, lakes, heaths, woods, springs) as well as man_made features such as reservoirs, parks (urban parks as opposed to designated “National Parks”), tracks, walls (drystone walls for example), fences, farms, barns and so on.

It could be argued that our moors are anything other than “natural” because they are managed - heather burning and drainage for instance. Our woods are seldom “natural” too - we are very few ancient forests (in Canada it’s probably the other way round)

Landuse is a possible way of defining an area: landuse=forest seems a good one because it doesn’t differentiate between natural and man-made. But land use is never so simple. We have commons - areas designated common land - that is definately “usage” (to be used by the public) but says nothing about land cover (heathland, grassland, shrub, wood). Overlaying that we have “Open Access” land - which may or may not coincide with any other land designation. Then we have “Nature Reserve” - which may or may not coincide with the other areas and finally, but not exhaustively, we have “National Parks”, “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty”, “Areas os Special Scientific Interest” and so on.

This sounds really messy - and it is. But the planet is messy, nothing quite adds up and there are always exceptions - that’s why the planet is interesting. But it is a headache for cartographers. And OSM doesn’t (yet) seem to have the facility to designate boundaries with shading that will overlay existing features and existing areas without applying a solid polygonal fill.

There is a cycle way initiative (gravitystorm) - and I love the fact that the contours are showing. An overlay for the outdoor walker would be great too - showing areas where you can wander freely, areas of wood (or is that forest?) where you won’t see anything except, er trees, and areas of heathland where you might expect to have open views and vistas. All of this is useful to those who want to enjoy the countryside, plan a walk and so on.

Two things: is such a hiking / walking map possible taking the features from baseline OSM data? Second, what’s the mechanism for people with similar interests to get together to work up proposals for classification? I’d sure like to contribute to the latter in respect of everything I’ve said earlier.

Other than that - OSM’s a truly great project.


Yes. you have footpaths I guess you can extract those.

What is most needed is people who map their favourite walking paths. There are some people who are doing this:


And Nick Ws freemap.

and his talk on stat of the map 2007

Yeah. Nick Whitelegg also organised a few Countryside Mapping Events, but there is more potential for coordinating collaboration on the wiki. Could create a project page called “Countryside Mapping” for example. The wiki is the mechanism.

Lake District was the last countryside group meeting I think, and that was pretty good, and everything got paid for by sponsers.

natural= isn’t literal. Almost nothing is natural, fields, hedges etc. The plants themselves are though and thats why there under natural=. A planet forest is just man organising a natural thing, unlike a house or road for example, which are in no way natural.

For woods I add landuse= if the wood is actually the export, rather than it being used for walking or for nothing. So natural=wood and landuse=wood would go together in a managed wood (forestry commission)

If your looking for a render of OSM data that is countryside/footpath orientated then I use freemap, which was made by Nick also as emj mentioned. It has contours, as well as linking to geograph. I think it needs some updating and work, but it’s pretty good.

I myself am very much just a wood/fields/footpaths/byways mapper. I have hit a lot of big hurdles that OSM’s tagging scheme provides, and made alterations to the way I tag, and as a result I’m pretty happy just tagging like I now do, and everything I’ve mapped in the last 6 months or so seems to be easy to add with this method, and the headache went away. The only thing you listed in that first post that I don’t regually tag are ‘springs’, as round here streams form from marshes rather than springs.

Ben: thanks for your reply. I can differentiate quite clearly between what I can see and touch or feel - so physical elements to me comprise one data set - the real world. Even with just the real world, it isn’t always easy to create an all-inclusive and suitably differentiating classification. However, Linnaus managed to classify the animal world quite neatly so tracks and cliffs and rivers ought to be easy. That gives me optimism and encouragement.

Overalying the touchy-feely things are the constructs we apply to the world. I guess it’s the classic percept-concept divide yet again. But the path that I can clearly (physically) see can have altogether different designations: It’s a sheep track (dumb, but habitual little creatures); it’s a footpath; it’s a footpath on private land, so access is permissive; it’s got permissive access for horses, but not yet a designated bridleway; it’s a right of way and so on, and on…

The accepted tagging is highway=footway. I’m not 100% happy with the field_name “highway” - it gives me the impression of roads and motorways, but if there is nothing better then I’m happy that many of the historic highways (little more than tracks for coach and horses) will do.

Land-use is different. The natural land-cover sits on a continuum between completely natural (ancient forest, jungle) and completely “engineered” (agricultural land, coppices, shelter-belts and so on). So land-cover depends today largely on land-use. I see a similar problem with crop-use. It’s real and very physical but also transient and can change from season to season, year to year and even with EU subsidy. (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/index.php/Proposed_features/Crop).

I think my post is about convergence - how do we get from where we are - with several different ways to designate map features to one where it much of the differentiation and conceptual framework has been worked out? For me, as a relativley new user, I try to use the existing fieldnames and values where possible - but I’m never sure I’m doing the right thing.

emj: The freemap stuff looks good. So does the gravitystorm stuff. So do OS maps. To me maps should be accurate, have appropriate detail and “look good”. So should I be conservative with tagging? or should I designate a highway=bridleway with an additional tag horse=yes. Or is this just plain stupid? (or at least redundant)?

ben again:

Do you have any examples? Is there a page reference to “good practice”?


For the footpath question I agree and have said the same many times before, and was met by a wall of urban-bitchin. There are multiple footpaths types as you say. Private paths, permissive paths, Rights of way. Routes that are suggested within an area which as a whole is in effect a right of way (open space) or routes that are suggested within an area that is permissive (forestry commission). I have a temporary way of tagging all these differently so that once it is sorted how best to do it, I can alter them all easily. I only stick Rights of way under highway= though.

Some would say that you could add it as highway= then add access= additionally, but theres 3 issues.

  1. access doesn’t allow multiple variations as the key remains only ‘highway’
  2. If you add it as highway=x access=private, then you are in effect saying highway(public)=yes, private=yes. Which isn’t right.
  3. It’s harder to filter data. I.e. if only RoW’s are highways then a person can just filter all highways and they would have all public roads/byways/bridleways and paths, which is easier than the other option.

Also as you say there may be a private bridleway which has a public footway down it. Hence why I only put the RoW under highway=, so it allows multiple definitions, which is how reality works.

I’m therefore happy using highway= for footways provided they are the rights of way. so byways-bridleways and footways. For just paths and trails in that exist in generally public areas which are common in other countries though I don’t think is entirely correct.

As for tracks…well don’t get me started on that. I haven’t used the highway=track tag for about 20 months, and it’s worked a lot better since.

For forests I don’t think the origins of the wood are relevant. You have to remember that OSM is a map, not a visual encyclopaedia, so data should be added as it is seen on the ground. So unless the history of a forest really helps you navigate, then that sort of data belongs in wiki articles. Although I do understand that there is a difference between row upon row of pine and an ancient wood. The tagging could be more detailed here. Although other information is more or equally as important, such as showing the access status of the wood.

Crops is tricky, and I think a lot of people will suggest tagging these with insain accuracy, but won’t actually do it in practice and realise how much of a mammoth task this is. I have kept a note of a lot of field uses for if and when there becomes a way of doing this, but I think a plausible target would just be livestock/crop/market gardening/flowers etc. (the main groups).

If your not sure your doing the right thing, then don’t worry, there is no right thing, and most people that say there is refer to map features, which is far from ‘right’. Tag things how they are in reality, and tag consistently so that when it gets sorted it’s easy to convert.

note: Blackadder is’ (ish) working on STAGS which is ment to be a more methodically devolved tagging scheme which splits appart physical/political/access rights/name etc better, but this all remains quite a mystery currently.

For examples, I’m not really sure where to begin, so I shall use the most common debate I think I get involved in which is tracks. A track is physical, a footway is an access. So a footway may go down a track. Therefore I tag tracktype=xyz highway=footway. This avoids the problem, as well as being slightly more specific than just ‘track’ for those people who map so many that they notice there is a huge range of types. This keeps ‘highway’ to state a public routes signage, and takes tracks to be phisical.

Eat that wall of text!

(note: If you wonder why it seems that I avoid quoting example tag’s, it’s because as soon as I do it is guaranteed the debate will move to nitty-picky-word-choice rather than tagging strucutre, so I avoid that in the hope of progression!)

I like “Freedom to Roam”, life seems more compicated with Rights of Way. Scandinavia is a lot more care free in this regard. England: 337 hab/km2, Sweden 22 hab/km2, might be why… :wink:

So every thing I say will be coloured by the idea that you can walk anywhere, and all that matters is mapping where you can walk and the state of those paths. Size, quality, seasonal changes.

Remember if you have firm ideas how things should be mapped, you are going to be mapping with a thousand apes. Blackadder who is the founder of the Highway/map features tagging system seems to have a lot of experience with classifying roads, which made the adoption of map features pretty painless.

Remember that KISS is important, but simple doesn’t mean short, just easy to understand. So let’s say you want to tag how many wheatstalks there are in a field and I really don’t even want to tag more than just stating that this isn’t forrest anymore.

Helping people who won’t tag as much as you, and in the same time setting an example of how much you can tag, is probably most important.

About English rights to roam

Sadly limited, I hope you are for extending this. Sorry for getting political.

PS Just a note I live at a beach property that would benefit a lot if I could just put up a fence, but I would loose more if everyone would do the same. DS.

Hello sparky_lad, I’m the developer of Freemap so can answer a few questions.

It would be very nice to be able to map “right to roam” areas… I did look into this a while back but unfortunately the Government database is proprietary and doesn’t allow third party use… how ironic is that? :frowning: Until it is in the public domain it seems we’re restricted to guessing them from surveying.

Re tagging, everyone seems to do this a slightly different way but I can offer some recommendations to ensure that the paths appear correctly on Freemap (i.e. official paths in red, unofficial paths in purple). Starting with the highway tag:

if the path can only be used by walkers, use highway=footway.
if the path can be used by horse riders use highway=bridleway.
if the path is a byway, Restricted Byway or “Road used as Public Path”, use highway=byway.

You should then use the foot, horse and bicycle modifiers to describe the exact permissions of the path. If the given mode of transport foot,horse,bicycle has official access, use yes. If they only have permissive access (at discretion of landowner) use permissive. If they have no access, use no or don’t add.

For instance, an official public footpath would be highway=footway; foot=yes.
A permissive (unofficial) footpath would be highway=footway; foot=permissive. #
An official bridleway would be highway=footway; foot=yes; horse=yes; bicycle=yes.
An unofficial bridleway with no cycle rights would be highway=bridleway;foot=permissive;horse=permissive.
An official footpath with unofficial horse rights would be highway=bridleway;foot=yes; horse=permissive.

Finally if you leave the foot/horse/bicycle tags out, Freemap assumes that:

highway=footway is a permissive footpath
highway=bridleway is a permissive bridleway (foot and horse access only)

Hope that helps.
Ben: noticed your comment about Freemap needing further work - have a few ideas but are there any specific things you could feed back to me?


Sounds very strange, do you have a link to it? I did a quick Google search and there seems to be a vast number of sites writing about this.

See terms and conditions on


I’m not aware of any other way of getting at the data under a less restrictive licence.


Thanks, I’m intrigued by this, as a Swede it feels wrong and interesting. :slight_smile:

Has any one tried to get a free shapefile from them, or WMS service? I mean considering their search is date related it would seem that importing this data to OSM is kind of useless. I wonder if those 28 days a year that a land owner can prohibit access have to be reported in advance.

Seems like they publish their info on top of a map, which would explain why they wont let you sell the map. That’s why the WMS service would be great. Download hiking maps from OSM print with WMS overlay from that website…