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Planning History Routes

BACKGROUND

As a volunteer run leader for nearly two years, I’ve supported many people during their early stages of running and spent much of my time exploring every footpath, ginnel and scenic view point in the area to ensure I can provide original and satisfying experiences.  I find exploration and discovery helps to divert attention from the cardio effort and provides other rewards to continue getting out.  

Taking folk around hidden green-spaces that few visit or even know about means more awareness of what is being lost when development naturally occurs in the city.  However, sometimes I like to reverse that concept and look at what has already disappeared or uncover history hidden in plain view by planning historical routes.  These work better for beginner groups as they provide a purpose to stop or slow down to talk without people feeling the group is holding up for the newer runners.

Obviously you could discover already planned routes by local history groups, but it’s rare that these will fit well to a training scheme (distance, hills, starting point etc.).  Therefore, this is how I plan a history route from scratch.

APPROACH

My approach is pretty simplistic to be honest and keep in mind that the purpose is a run, not a full blown history tour.  Start with skeleton details and allow it to grow, correct and come to life as more detail and personal recollections come to light.

1) Route plan with old maps

Use of map archives (such as https://www.old-maps.co.uk) to look for larger named houses and buildings that existed on older maps.  Some places will still exist, others often replaced with streets named after the house that was originally there.  Build a route of the desired length passing a number of these locations without being too convoluted.

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2) Points of interest

Now armed with a list of named locations, add the first level of detail to your notes by looking for people’s births, marriages, deaths and census details registered at the house names.  Other than using paid-for services, this detail is patchy around the country; in our area we luckily have http://www.calverley.info .

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3) Investigate online

Now armed with names and addresses simply start searching online to see what detail you can flesh out.  For more industrialised areas, you may find key figures have been written about by other historical minded folk.  Where you find old photos, incorporate a few in to your run so you can stand and compare with present day.  You may find local memories Facebook groups can add stories to your points of interest, which helps bring locations to life.

Occasionally, you may discover a life story of a key local figure, so you could consider building one of the last points on route as being by their graveside to really make things human rather than simply architectural.

Try to keep a track of where information is sourced for courtesy acknowledgements.

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4) Run

Even with minimal detail, you probably have an interesting a route. Often the people you lead may know a bit more so you can continue to elaborate your route over time.  Accept and declare that your detail may be inaccurate which may help encourage others to chip in.

When out and about, now you’re been armed with detail from old maps, keep and eye out for markings in grass, especially during dry spells, to see what else you can discover!