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; for company, security, or the benefits of walking with an experienced leader, especially when venturing into more challenging terrain where you would not feel confident on your own. The easiest way to do this is to join an organisation that has a regular programme of led walks.
Vital walking facilities exist because walkers and outdoor enthusiasts banded together to campaign for them
Even if you always walk alone or just with a regular partner there are other good reasons for joining a walking organisation. The freedoms all walkers now enjoy are the result of many decades of constant work by various walking organisations that have relentlessly campaigned on behalf of walkers and strived to protect landscapes for everyone to enjoy them. Vital facilities such as the public footpath network, long distance routes, National Parks and the promised 'freedom to roam' over open country only exist because walkers and outdoor enthusiasts banded together 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 over 400 local groups across Great Britain, thousands of dedicated local volunteers and offices in London, Wales and Scotland.
The Ramblers' aims are to:
- Encourage walking
- Protect footpaths
- Work for responsible freedom to roam
- Defend the beauty of the countryside
- The organisation also provides a comprehensive information service, website, and a range of authoritative publications, including a quarterly magazine (also available on tape) and the popular Rambler's Yearbook with its extensive accommodation listings.
Local groups of the RA also organise an extensive programme of walks throughout the UK. These are led by experienced guides and non-members are welcome on these on a trial basis, but will be asked to join if they walk regularly with the group. The walks cover a range of distances and degrees of difficulty. Some groups organise 'easier' walks, for example to encourage families or people with disabilities. There is also a growing number of groups specifically for younger walkers. Local groups often offer free walks for the public as part of Ramblers' events like the popular countrywide Festival of Winter Walks, and they also play an important role in campaigning and undertake practical work on paths in the area.
Walking group © Anton Gvozdikov
There are also numerous independent local walkers' groups in Britain. These vary tremendously; some are mainly social and walking groups, and 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.
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. Ask about them at 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.