Planning Your Walk

As with any physical activity, it’s best to begin gradually, learning the basics in safe surroundings and perhaps with other, more experienced walkers. Start by underestimating rather than overestimating your capabilities: you’ll soon learn how far you can walk before you start to feel tired. Don’t push yourself too hard on distance and terrain: the idea is to enjoy yourself, and if you end up too stiff and sore it might put you off going out again.

First try out short walks along level paths, in populated areas where there is transport and accommodation near to hand and you can easily cut your walk short if you get tired, or get help if you get into trouble. Consider towpath and riverside walks, or low-level walks near to population centres.

You can start with very short walks, of say 2-3km/1.5-2 miles, and increase the distances covered once you get to know your capabilities. There’s no target to aim for: do only as much as you enjoy. While some long distance walkers might easily walk around 30km or 20 miles in a day, most walkers are satisfied with much less.

Most people can walk 3km/2 miles in an hour, but allow plenty of extra time to take rests along the route, and to enjoy your surroundings. Experienced walkers generally walk a little faster. Climbing hills also slows you down: the usual rule of thumb is to add half an hour for every 300m climbed. You’ll find you walk faster on smooth surfaces such as metalled paths and good tracks, while more difficult surfaces such as mud, sand and uneven ground will slow you down.

There are countless guidebooks covering particular areas and themes, ranging from glossy productions by commercial publishers to collections produced by local walkers. Most favour circular routes starting from a point such as a car park or station, but may also include linear routes, where you return from another station or bus stop. Most guides include suggestions for refreshment stops and notes on interesting features along the way. Check carefully before you buy to see if the book contains routes which are within your capabilities in terms of distance and difficulty.

Regular walkers usually find that carrying and using a good map enormously enhances their enjoyment and opens new opportunities. With a map you can devise your own routes, get a better idea of the surrounding countryside and possible detours and shortcuts, and get back on the right track more easily if you get lost.

Britain’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey (OS), publishes the excellent Explorer series of maps at 1:25 000 scale, ideal for walkers since they show public paths, longer signed routes, locations of circular walks, access areas and all sorts of other useful information.

Basic map-reading skills are easy to learn. You can gain experience by walking a route from a guidebook and attempting to follow the same route on the map, relating what you see on the ground to the map. Choose an easy, safe route and go in good weather where you can clearly see the surrounding countryside. Once you’re confident with reading a map, you can use it to plan your own routes. There are numerous books, leaflets, CD-ROMs and even taught courses that will help you learn these skills.
For most walks in Britain, you will need very little in the way of specialist equipment and clothing. For short walks in urban areas or easy countryside, all you need is a good, comfortable pair of shoes that won’t cause blisters, and ordinary comfortable clothing.

Use tough walking shoes that are a good fit, with arch support, a slightly elevated heel and ‘breathable’ uppers such as fabric or leather: casual shoes or quality trainers with heavy soles will do. If you go walking regularly, you could invest in a pair of proper walking shoes, or some lightweight walking boots: these will give your feet and ankles proper support, and will be much more waterproof. Wellingtons may be adequate for short walks in very wet conditions but are not recommended for longer walks. If you only intend to go on easy, lowland walks, there’s no need to buy a pair of expensive heavy-duty boots which will only weigh you down; for highland walks over difficult terrain, however, good walking boots are essential.

Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes appropriate to the weather: in Britain it’s always advisable to take a waterproof top layer or anorak. Several layers of clothing are best, since they insulate better and you can take them on or off as needed - for example, a T-shirt; then a sweatshirt or fleece, then a waterproof jacket on top.

As with any other physical exercise, you will need to replace fluids lost through exertion: still water (tap or mineral) is by far the best for this, though some walkers also like to take a hot drink in an insulated flask, especially in colder weather. Food will boost your energy, and also give you the opportunity for an enjoyable break.

A small rucksack or backpack, sometimes called a ‘daysack’, is the best way to carry food, drink, maps and guidebooks, spare layers of clothing and other essentials: it will be much more comfortable and better-balanced than bags held in the hand or over one shoulder.

If you walk regularly, there is a huge range of clothing and equipment on the market to make your walking more comfortable: a good pair of boots, proper walking socks, a lightweight breathable waterproof jacket and a well-made daypack are all very useful items and for walking in challenging terrain, proper clothing and equipment are essential.

Time to get out into the wonderful British countryside and explore what the great outdoors has to offer!

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