Recently, I was tagged in another YouTube video to share my five tips for people who might be new to this world of walking, hiking, camping and the outdoors.
I’ve already uploaded my own video response to this but I thought it might also be useful to get some things down on paper (or screen).
1. Read the Countryside Code
It’s not very often that I see the suggestion from others to read the Countryside Code and I imagine that many people (especially those newer to ‘The Outdoors’) may not even know of its existence.
In this past year of pandemic and lockdowns in the UK, we’ve seen a huge increase in the volumes of people and vehicles heading out in to the countryside for recreation and exercise. It is completely understandable and good to see.
But there is also The Other Side to that coin. We’ve seen an increase in litter being left on our landscapes, where it was already a growing concern. Gates are being left open – with the intention of being helpful and “safe”, so that others don’t need to touch them and risk contracting or spreading the virus. People have parked their vehicles in a manner that creates a hazard for other road users and, sometimes, damage to these landscapes. Likewise, walkers, cyclists and horse riders have been seen wandering where they simply don’t have permission to be.
All I’m asking is that people read the Countryside Code. You don’t have to learn it and I certainly haven’t memorised it all. But the more we learn as individuals, the more we can practise, encourage and share.
2. Always Carry a Paper Map
We live in an age where almost everyone seems to own an app on their phone. I favour OS Maps, while others prefer Viewranger (which I think is now called something else). In many situations, this can be very convenient. But with technology, there is always the danger that batteries can run low, even when you’ve downloaded your route in advance and can still find a GPS signal.
When I started walking in 2012, I bought my first OS map and began learning to use it. I also acquired a £5 compass and soon figured out the absolute basics of how to use them. At the time, I don’t think I even owned a smartphone. I’ve always had a preference for using the ‘old methods’ and by box of 30+ OS Maps would support that.
So, I would always advise people to carry a paper map of some sort. It could be one you’ve printed online or copied from a book. Keep it dry and it will never run out of juice. Drop it on the floor and it won’t shatter.
If you feel you lack confidence in reading, understand and using a paper map, there are plenty of videos and articles available online. The Ordnance Survey link above is a good place to start.
3. Try to admit to and correct any mistakes you make…
This is one I’ve learnt from personal experience… Even if I don’t practise it every time I go out… Learn from my mistakes!
If I’m following a footpath, knowing I need to turn off at some point and then, further along, I realise I’ve accidentally passed that turning point… I won’t simply turn around and correct myself. Instead, I’ll soldier on. Boldly. Foolishly. Arrogantly? In the hope that it’ll work itself out and I’ll still (somehow) get to where I need to be.
Sometimes, yes, it does work out! Then sometimes, it doesn’t and I’ll either find myself feeling lost or at a dead-end and having to face up to a long walk back (or along a busy road – I’ve done that one a few times).
A few years ago, I was walking along Biddle Combe in Wells – across the A39 from Penn Hill and very close to a Lorry Escape Lane where I once got my car stuck… I was following the main path up through the combe and alongside a stream. Somehow, I passed the obvious footbridge on my left, crossing the stream and leading to a path climbing up the hill. I soldiered on, following a “path” (possibly animal tracks) alongside the stream. I was determined that I was going the right way; even ducking beneath two lines of barbed wire before reaching a dead-end at a boundary fence.
I could hear the traffic of a road somewhere beyond. I knew I’d gone wrong somewhere but decided I could “probably find my way on to that road, even if it means illegally crossing a few fields”. Next, I hear a man shouting at me! He was holding a gun. I was standing behind wooden targets! More than anything, he was terrified that he could’ve shot me. There was no “Gerroff moy land!!”. I explained my situation and soon followed his advice to turn back they way I’d come.
All of which, could’ve been avoided. Had I turned back at that first wire fence, questioned my action and looked again at that footbridge.
4. Record and Report PRoW Issues
This is one I’m very passionate about. In more rural areas, away from the National Parks and AONBs, it is not uncommon to encounter locked kissing gates, stiles devoured by the undergrowth and blatant obstructions placed along a Public Right of Way. These issues can also be found in the more pristine areas.
As walkers, we almost have a duty to report anything we encounter. Take photos of the chain around that gate. Make a note (ideally noting the grid reference) of where the obstruction occurs and the date. When you get home or, the next day, go on to the website for the relevant county council and find a way to report it.
One council’s setup may be slightly different to the next. For example, North Somerset Council have a form that you can fill in after logging in to your account. Somerset County Council have an interactive map where you can drop a pin, fill in the details using drop-down menus and also, view reports from other people across the county.
I’ve also found that some councils are ‘more responsive’ than others. Funding is often an issue (thank the Tories for that). North Somerset Council, in my experience, are often very quick to respond to my reports. If the path is used often, they’ll normally rectify it within weeks. Somerset, however, are much LESS likely to act on a report. In Cornwall, if there’s an issue on the coast path, they’ll attend to it immediately. But if that issue lies further inland, they’ll deem it to be less of a priority.
If we spot something but don’t report it, there’s no guarantee that the next person will and you cannot be certain that the person before you has. Even if they did, your extra voice will encourage the council to take action. It demonstrates that the path is in regular use and demand. Lanowners own the land and have a duty to keep a PROW open. They do not own the PROW and have no right to obstruct or redirect it (unless it’s a Permissive path).
5. Make a regular habit of walking
As I said earlier, I started walking in 2012 and I haven’t really stopped since. I’m out most weekends. In the summer, I’ll head out in the evenings. Now again, I’ll tackle longer walks in excess of fifteen miles but the distance is not my priority. It’s the regular and repeated action that I feel is most important.
I quite often walk with friends and groups of others. People will sign up for a walk of ten miles or more without hesitation. It’s the ones who “haven’t walked for several weeks” who end the walk in agony.
Throughout Lockdown 3.0, I’ve been averaging 8 miles as part of my once weekly Doorstep Walks. With fewer restrictions, I’d probably be reaching for 12 miles each time. But this regular activity helps me a lot. On top of that, I also run 2-3 miles in the evenings (not every night) but again, making that a regular habit means I can then run 3-4.5 miles with a greater sense of ease.
Little and often. Like a cat!
Thanks for reading.