Home Computer: Route march made easy by drivers' little helper: Mike Gerrard reports on a road test of a journey planner

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The Independent Online
'THE computer told us we should have been going through Bridestowe at 12.06,' Greg Lambert said. 'When we arrived at Bridestowe I asked my wife what time it was, and she said it was 12.06. As we'd been walking for three hours by that time, I think the accuracy was pretty impressive.'

All the more impressive because the Lamberts had been using an IBM-PC computer program, AutoRoute Plus, that was designed as an aid to drivers, not walkers.

The program is a computerised map of the UK, although versions for Europe, France, Germany, Benelux and the US can be bought. At the moment it is only available for PC-compatibles and the Macintosh.

From the 33,000 places listed in the British version, the user chooses the start and end points, selects the anticipated average speed and chooses the type of route preferred: avoiding motorways, using only A roads, the fastest, the shortest, or avoiding towns or roads with height and width restrictions. The computer then plots and prints it.

Users so far include the Automobile Association, Ford, Sainsbury's and Shell. And now the Lamberts as foot soldiers. They input their average speed at 3mph and let the computer plot their route: no ordinary route, though, as they were planning to walk from Land's End to John o'Groats with their sons, Christopher, 11, and Joseph, 9. If they complete the walk - and AutoRoute says they will arrive in John o'Groats next Wednesday at 12.49, 40 days after they began - Greg believes that Joseph will be the youngest person to make the 900-mile journey on foot.

The Lambert family take on climbs and walks in order to raise money for diabetic research and so far have collected more than pounds 10,000. Joseph was diagnosed as diabetic when he almost died after a collapse at the age of three.

Greg, head of computing at Peterhouse Middle School, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, made contact during the Devon leg of the walk. He said: 'Planning even a short walk - well, short to us - takes several hours, and we have to order Ordnance Survey maps from the library. The prospect of doing it for 900 miles was pretty daunting. I asked a friend if he had any maps we could borrow, but he suggested Autoroute. So I gave him the basic details - 3mph, no motorways and 40 days to do it - and the next thing we knew the route turned up in the post.

'It could have provided a more detailed route if we had said that we wanted to avoid all major roads and only walk on side roads, but unfortunately, due to the constraint of 40 days, it's picked out main A roads, which, when we've looked on our map to check, is logical. If we had several months to do the walk we would have avoided all roads.

'It is suprisingly accurate on the timings . . . plus or minus 5 per cent, which is impressive. We started off this morning walking from Lifton and three hours later we went through Bridestowe at 12.06, spot on.'

'One drawback we noticed is that it will come up and say 'no name' quite a lot for the side roads. It will say 'bear right on (no name)'. That has created confusion once or twice, though you can usually back that up by looking ahead at which A or B road we should end up on,' he said.

'It's designed for a motor vehicle, not for walkers, and we have asked it to do things it wasn't intended for. It's about time somebody brought out a similar program for walkers. There are enough footpaths and bridleways in this country for a computer program to be altered to take them in. Grid reference points would be more important for walkers than the names of roads.'

He added: 'What would have taken us hours and hours poring over OS maps to do ourselves, AutoRoute did in a few minutes, telling us where and when we were going to stop and how many miles a day we would do.

'Planning for a diabetic is very different from planning your own walks. If I was walking on my own and looking for somewhere to stay for the night, and the first B & B is full, I'll just walk on to the next one, but you can't ask a diabetic to do that. For Joseph, another two miles on his day could be drastic. You can go hungry for a few hours, but Joe would collapse and it's a hospital job, so we have to be ultra-careful, as accurate as we can get it. Using the computer with AutoRoute, we feel it's as accurate as you could get.'

Donations to Joseph Lambert's appeal fund can be made through Lloyds Bank, Beccles, a/c 77392320 in the name of 'Little Joe'.

Vital statistics

System: PC-compatible; also available. for Mac.


Hardware: 3 megabytes of hard

disk space.

Software: DOS or Windows.

Supplier: NextBase (0784-421422).

Availability: Retailers, mail order.


List: DOS pounds 99.95; Windows

pounds 149.95; Mac pounds 176.19.

Street: from pounds 70 (inc VAT).

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