Clubs and associations
One of the many attractions of walking is that you can go out entirely on your own initiative, and for free, and many walkers value their sense of independence. But there are good reasons for walking with other people, too. You might want the company, you might feel more secure, and you may also appreciate the benefits of walking with an experienced leader, especially when venturing into more challenging terrain where you would not feel confident on your own. And the easiest way to do this is to join an organisation that has a calendar of regular led walks.
There are other good reasons for joining a walking organisation, even if you often walk alone. The freedoms all walkers now enjoy are the result of many decades of constant work by walking organisations, campaigning on behalf of walkers and striving to protect landscapes for walkers to enjoy. Such vital facilities as the public footpath network, long distance routes, National Parks and the promised "freedom to roam" over open country only exist because walkers banded together into organisations to campaign for them.
The biggest walkers' organisation in Britain is the Ramblers' Association, with a history dating back to 1935. Today it has 130,000 members in around 425 local groups across Great Britain, thousands of dedicated local volunteers and offices in London, Wales and Scotland. The Ramblers' aims are: to encourage walking, to protect footpaths, working for responsible freedom to roam and defending the beauty of the countryside. There's a comprehensive information service, an excellent website, and a range of authoritative publications, including a lively quarterly magazine (also available in digital format) and the popular Rambler's Yearbook with its extensive accommodation listings.
Local groups also organise an extensive programme of walks led by experienced guides - non-members are welcome on these on a trial basis, but will be asked to join if they walk regularly with a group. Walks cover a range of lengths and levels of difficulty, and some groups organise 'easier' walks, walks aimed at families, people with disabilities and so on. There are also a growing number of groups specifically for younger walkers. Local groups also offer free walks for the public as part of Ramblers' events like the popular countrywide Festival of Winter Walks. Local groups also play an important role in campaigning and undertake practical work on paths.
There are also an uncountable number of independent local walkers' groups in Britain. These vary tremendously, and while some are mainly social and walking groups, others are vigorous campaigners for local footpaths and open spaces. You can usually find out about these groups from local sources such as libraries and council information centres.
Many clubs are affiliated to the BMC: download the full list here.
Special interest groups
Then there are user groups associated with particular countryside areas and long distance paths: for example, the Friends of the Lake District, or the South West Coast Path Association. These groups work to protect and expand facilities for walkers, and many of them also organise walks and other events. You can find out about them from National Park offices and information centres, or from the officers who look after National Trails and other routes; most of these are listed on the Ramblers' website. Finally, the Long Distance Walkers Association not only organises walks and challenge events but does much to document and promote the network of longer trails: see their website for details.
Rambling clubs and many hill walking clubs would not ordinarily participate in scrambling. Even if they do, they may not have vast experience, particularly of technical climbing equipment (whose use would be sensible on some of the harder or more exposed scrambles). It is best to find a mountaineering, or climbing club whose members would be experienced in this. Then, you could be more confident that they are undertaking an activity which is well within their abilities.
Contact one of the national bodies for mountaineering; The Mountaineering Council of Scotland, The British Mountaineering Council and the Mountaineering Council of Ireland. They can give you advice, contacts for instructors, guides, courses and clubs.
Des de Moor
Des has a passion for walking and in particularly loves to share the many wondrous walks in London and the south east, which can be found in his blog
. He has previously worked for The Ramblers - an outdoor recreation charity at the heart of walking. Another of his interests is good beer and in summer 2014 he combined this with his love of walking to create organised walks for London Beer City week.
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