Guest blog by Christine

If you have walked in Europe you will have come across signs giving you an estimated walking time to a destination. If you have walked in different countries you may have noticed that the basis for the estimation varies. The variation is down to the flawed implementation of the EU Walking Time Directive. A brilliant concept, realisation of the vision would have allowed citizens from any member state to plan walks both in country and across borders on a standard basis. Not only would this have promoted walking as a hobby it would also have fostered European solidarity.

It's easy to forget that it was the UK who originally pushed for this piece of EU regulation. British civil servants believed that walking was an English invention and saw the Directive as an opportunity for orderly adoption of Naismith's Rule across the continent.

The French of course had Hercule's Convention. Although this was only used in France, parts of Canada and Polynesia, they insisted that this was adopted as an alternative. At this point English newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, ran a scare story that British walking would have to be speeded up if it was to comply with Europe. The Minister of Walks denied this was the case but the John Major Government panicked and negotiated a British opt out.

The rest of Europe continued to develop the Directive without the solid basis of Naismith's rule. Perhaps the most damaging intervention came from an alliance between the Dutch and the Danes. The so called "flat land standard hour" meant no account was given to any variation in altitude.

The resulting Directive was duly implemented in all member states but experience reveals the following:
- Spanish walking times are regionally specific
- the French erected signs with dual walking times depending on whether you had eaten the plat de jour
- the Italians had a special time for walkers wearing lycra and designer glasses
- the Greeks doubled walking times
- the Germans doubled walking speeds (triple on the autobahn)
- Austrian walking times speeded up in the afternoons and failure to maintain the pace meant denial of access to mountain huts
- the Irish wrote a song about it.

Perhaps the only country to have realised the vision of the early Directive pioneers is Switzerland which of course is not in the EU. Using permanently positioned satellites the Swiss constantly monitor average walking times and recalibrate signs on a daily basis to ensure that times accurately reflect evolving walker capabilities.

I'm personally a devoted European but the troubled history of the EU Walking Time Directive shows the distance that can sometimes exist between vision and reality.


Location:The EU Walking Times Directive


  1. Thanks Christine for your interesting notes about the curiosities of the European walking standards.

  2. Another effort at consumer empowerment which proved misguided then.