A guide to walking holidays

Posted on: 25 January 2010 by Mark O'haire

From beginner rambles to expert walking hikes, follow the 50connect guide to planning the perfect trail.

walking trailsIf you’re just starting out on this fabulous pastime your first adventure into the countryside can be quite daunting.

As you watch others strapping on their well-worn boots, donning expensive-looking wet weather gear and peering knowledgably at their extensive range of maps and GPS units, you may wonder whether you’ll ever exude the same confidence.

But don’t worry, there isn’t really that much to it – it just takes a bit of practice.

Walking as a pastime

Walking is one of the most accessible pastimes and you can safely walk in towns or easy countryside without any specialist clothing, equipment and skills.

If you plan to go deeper into the countryside however, you will be more comfortable, safe and secure if you take a little time to prepare and follow a few simple rules. And if you intend to go into more remote and rugged countries, good preparation and planning are essential.

What to wear?

Yes it is true you can spend a fortune on specialist outdoor clothing and equipment but you don’t need to. There are now plenty of outdoor outlets that sell perfectly good kit, often at a fraction of the price of the leading outdoor brands.

Countryside Code

  • Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs.
  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Protect plants and animals and take your little home.
  • Keep dogs under close control.
  • Consider other people.

Berghaus, Lowe Alpine and North Face labels will certainly offer you high performance kit that has been researched and tested in the most extreme of conditions but do you really need it for your first forays into the British countryside? Unless you are – very unwisely – starting out with an adventure into the Scottish or Welsh mountains in winter, probably not.

However, you should be aware that conditions in Britain can change quickly. A sunny stroll on the Lakeland fells can turn into something altogether more serious if it starts to rain and the wind begins to blow.

When this happens you need to allow for the ‘wind-chill’ factor – if your inner clothes get wet you will feel colder still. So, unless you’re going on the shortest of outings in the height of summer, you should carry a small rucksack with a spare top, hat and waterproofs.

They key is being able to put on and take off layers of clothing at will and so keep an even, comfortable temperature throughout the day. A hat is an extremely effective temperature regulator – you lose a lot of heat through your head, so covering your head makes a disproportionate difference in cold weather.

On your feet

Footwear is very important, not just for comfort but also to support your feet and ankles on uneven ground. In most cases boots are best as they provide you with ankle support and protection. A lightweight pair should be fine if you have no intention of venturing up big hills or over rugged terrain.

Walking breakMake sure you have boots that fit well and feel comfortable. If you’re not sure what to get, go to an outdoor shop and ask for some fitting advice.

The alternative to walking boots is the traditional welly. These fantastic pieces of footwear are much derided and wouldn’t be suitable on a rocky hillside, but they are superb for sloshing through muddy country lanes and fields.

First-time boot wearers may find they rub and you could start to suffer from blisters. ‘Moleskin’ or ‘Sore Spot’ as it is now known has totally transformed the process of wearing in a pair of new boots. The sticky-backed plaster sticks directly onto your foot, effectively forming a second skin.

The trick is to put some on the moment you feel the boot rubbing – don’t leave it until the skin is sore or blistered. You can buy ‘Moleskin’ from chemists or outdoor shops; sometimes it comes under a different name, depending on the manufacturer.

Top Tip - Always have some in your rucksack, along with a penknife or some scissors to cut it into suitably sized pieces.

What else is needed

On all but the shortest of strolls it’s a good idea to carry some food and drink. Walking is exercise and you need to maintain the fluid you lose through perspiration.

Walking in JerseyTake a bottle of soft drink or water and sip it regularly rather than downing it in one. If you pass a fast-flowing mountain stream replenishing your bottle shouldn’t cause a problem.

The occasional chocolate bar or biscuit can work wonders when energy levels are flagging. Make sure you’ve eaten well before setting out. If it’s a long walk with no stopping point at all then by all means take some sandwiches.

You may also want to consider buying a pair of walking poles – the modern version of the walking stick. They help you to balance and allow your arms to take some of the strain when going uphill. They also lessen the impact on your knees going down.

As with the wellies, don’t be concerned about the image you project. Besides, walking poles are now standard issue for mountaineers and trekkers across the globe.

Finding your way

It really is unwise to think that you can follow a walk from a set of descriptive instructions, even if they are accompanied by helpful pictures.

The map is an essential component to navigation, giving vital clues to your location and the route you should be following. The map describes, in a very precise and formal way, the landscape through which you are walking.

It will, for instance, tell you whether a path heads north-west, a fact you can check with the real path on the ground - providing you have a compass, of course. Apart from anything else, descriptive instructions are only good if you remain ‘on track’.

Walking in InvernessMost walkers in Britain use Ordnance Survey maps, rightly considered to be among the most accurate, up-to-date and ‘walker-friendly’ in the world.

The 1:50,000 scale Landranger series has long been a favourite of outdoor enthusiasts. The more detailed 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure and Explorer series show details such as field boundaries, farm buildings and small streams. They are certainly worth having if you are venturing into remoter areas and may have to pick out your own route through the landscape.

If you are going to use a particular map often, consider getting one that has been waterproofed. This stops the map getting soggy and tearing, although it adds a little to the bulk, weight and expense.

Having a map and compass - and knowing how to use them - are vital to being safe in the countryside. If you have never learnt how to navigate with a map and compass, find someone who already has some expertise and insist that they give you a blow by blow explanation, preferably on a real walk. Thereafter your compass and map skills will simply improve with practice.

Above all, don’t worry too much about getting lost. Everyone has done it – in fact it is all part of building up your experience. You are unlikely to come to much harm unless you are on a featureless hilltop or out in very poor weather.

If you want to build up your confidence, start with shorter routes through farmland or along the coastline – the sea being an unmistakable feature into which it is difficult to stray without noticing. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time, so even if you do get lost you can still return before nightfall.

General safety rules

Walking should present no problems even to a beginner, provided you follow a few simple rules.

  • Don’t risk tackling overly long or difficult routes.
  • Know where you are or have a map and ability to read it.
  • On longer walks, be aware of ‘escape routes’ in case you need to cut your walk short.
  • Make sure you have plenty to eat and drink and are adequately dressed for the length of time you’ll be out.
  • Check the weather forecast before you set out, always take a waterproof and keep an eye on the sky.
  • Make sure someone knows when you expect to be back.

Inspirational starters from 50connect

Britain's Top Coastal Walks - From windy cliff-top scrambles to seaside strolls, Martin Wainwright's coastal walks all have one thing in common, a healthy dose of sea air.

Britain's Best Walks - Find out where 50connect members recommend and add your own favourite walk to the list.

Walk Hadrian's Wall - The coast to coast National Trail that takes in city and country as well as Roman ruins.

A Walk Around Dinas Head, Wales - A circular walk around an 'island' on the north Pembrokeshire Coast Path.

Web links

HF Holidays - www.hfholidays.co.uk/

English Heritage - www.english-heritage.org.uk

Forestry Commission Offices - www.forestry.gov.uk

Natural England - www.naturalengland.org.uk

National Trails - www.nationaltrails.co.uk

Ordinance Survey - www.ordsvy.gov.uk

Ramblers' Association - www.ramblers.org.uk

Wildlife Trust - www.wildlifetrusts.org

Travelline - www.traveline.org.uk

Are you new to rambling? What's your favourite walk?

Let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts with other readers in the 50connect forums.

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