Starting out in walking

Starting out in walking

Walking is reckoned to be the biggest recreational activity in the UK. It is gentle and low impact yet the pleasures and benefits are tangible - even a short walk can invigorate and refresh you. Once you progress onto more challenging fell walks or scrambles you can reach a real sense of achievement and exhilaration.

When I began hill walking as a young teenager it was an exciting adventure. I lived close to the North York Moors and many of my first walks were around these heather and bracken-clad moors; not particularly mountainous terrain, but ideal for relatively easy first rambles. Nowadays when I return from a Himalayan mountain expedition I can't wait to get out into the British hills for a walk, alone or perhaps with a group of friends, then enjoy a drink afterwards.
 

Walking is personal; you do it for your own benefit, not to impress others
Walking is also a great hobby for making new friends and developing lasting friendships. And you can carry on enjoying walking into ripe old age - you may not do the long arduous walks or knock a route off in a rapid time like you did in your youth, but who is judging? Walking is personal; you do it for your own benefit, not to impress others.

Even as a teenager, after a good day out walking in the hills I felt refreshed and I realised then that I would always be 'a walker'. I certainly had a desire to progress onto climbing and mountaineering and to go to higher and more difficult peaks, but I knew that walking in the hills would always be a basic underlying passion.
 
Walking in the Peak District © Sarah Stirling
Peak District Sarah StirlingThere are many aspects to walking, such as hill walking, fell walking, hiking or rambling. The military call it yomping or tabbling. Essentially it is putting one foot in front of the other - and we start doing it as toddlers. Once you start using your hands on more rugged walks it becomes scrambling and when you are using your hands more often and rope up, it is rock climbing. For me the word 'ramble' conjures up an image of a gentle leisurely walk in rolling countryside, whereas a 'fell walk' is a good day out in a hilly area such as the Lake District.

If you have no walking experience and want to get started it is easy; there are many clubs you can contact such as the Ramblers Association or the BMC. Check online for information, contact your local walking club or just go for it with friends.

Venues

To enjoy walking you do not need to travel very far as there are good walks everywhere in the UK; even in our cities you can enjoy pleasant walks through interesting terrain and countryside. Birmingham, for example has a network of canals and towpath walks away from the roads; the flat Fenlands of East Anglia have easy walks in pleasant open countryside; and the South East of England has rolling Downs with gentle hilly walks to the south of London, and the Chilterns to the west and north of the city. Once you are hooked on walking you will probably aspire to bigger or more challenging walks, such as the long distance paths like the Pennine Way or Coast-to-Coast walk.

Weather
Britain has some of the most varied walking areas in the world; it also has varied weather

Britain has some of the most varied walking areas in the world; it also has varied weather. You can go walking in the south of Spain for example and usually get good weather, but for me the varied weather in the British hills makes a day out much more interesting - you certainly need to be prepared for wind, rain, snow or sun and appreciate it.

With any hill area, bad weather can quickly close in and completely change the environment. But even winter can be a good time to walk, with the added challenges of snow and ice but the rewards of different and spectacular scenery and extremes of tranquillity or ferociousness. You'll need more experience and skills to tackle full winter conditions safely, plus equipment such as crampons and axes.

Equipment

The Alt-berg Yan Tan boots are reviewed in our gear section
Alt-berg Yan TanFor serious walking it is worth investing in a good pair of boots. They do not have to be heavy and stiff, comfort is the key. For low-level, easy rambles even a pair of training shoes are okay if you do not mind getting wet muddy feet at times.

Buy a comfortable rucksack, big enough (about 25-40 litres) to carry your needs for a day trip; food, drink, a small first aid kit, torch, map, compass and waterproof jacket.

See the Walking kit section for more information.

Precautions
  • It is always a good idea to plan your route beforehand with the map.
  • If you are walking in particularly remote or difficult areas, leave details of your walk and an estimated return time with a responsible person -- just in case something happens, such as a sprained ankle or worse. For long routes you could write a route card and leave a copy with someone. Do not forget to let that person know when you are back safely, in case they call the rescue!
  • Always check the weather forecast before you go out and take suitable waterproof clothes.
  • For steep, exposed scrambles you'll need some knowledge of rope techniques to safeguard some sections.
  • If you ever decide to go on a two or three week trek through the high mountain ranges such as the Andean or Himalayan foothills - perhaps up to 5500m (around 17,000 ft) - you will need to be aware of the dangers of altitude as well as having the necessary fitness.
Look through the other pages of the site, there's a wealth of information here. Follow the Countryside Code and you'll be enjoying your walking for years to come. Maybe I'll even see you on the hill!

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