Long Distance Walking Advice
[Index of Walks]
The are lots of walking tips available in almost any walking magazine or book, so it is not my intention to repeat all of these here. Instead I will concentrate on the things I have found from my own personal experiences, particularly those relating to long distance walking, rather than walking in general, although there is obviously a large overlap between the two. Many of these things have been mentioned in various places throughout my walking diaries and in other pages relating to boots and other items of equipment, but it is probably more useful to collect them all together into one place.
I often have people asking me how I can manage to keep going day after day for two or three weeks of continuous walking through all sorts of weather conditions and over terrain that is often steep and difficult. To those who only ever stir from their armchairs to walk a hundred yards down to the pub and back, and go everywhere else by car, it seems an almost impossible feat of stamina and endurance, and certainly not one that could ever be enjoyed. However, it is something that most people in good health are capable of if they are prepared to spend some time building themselves up to it. With youth, it is often quite possible to embark on a strenuous schedule with only a small amount of training, as muscles and general fitness can be built up fairly quickly, though it may involve quite a bit of pain and suffering in the process. With advancing age, the process can be a lot slower, so it is much more sensible to work up to things gradually, but the end result can be the same. It is true that age limits the absolute peak of fitness that can be achieved, but walking is not an activity that demands such intensive levels of exertion; it is more dependent on achieving a moderate level of physical fitness but having a lot of stamina, which older people are quite capable of. Despite my earlier comments, I met a chap who looked like he was in his sixties walking the Pennine Way. He had not done any serious walking for twenty years and only did a couple of walks before embarking on the Pennine Way. His chosen schedule was fairly moderate over 20 days, but he was carrying all his own things, which weighed a few pounds more than mine. Although he was finding the walk a bit hard going, he managed to keep on at a steady pace, and I felt sure that he would have made it to the finish, though I left him behind a bit before the halfway point.
At the time of writing (2013), I am coming up to 69 years old and have not yet found any serious decline in my walking ability. I am perhaps a little slower now than I was at my peak, but I am still able to keep up a good walking pace over considerable distances and over mountainous terrain. My peak fitness was probably in my mid fifties, but I think this was more because of the amount of work and exercise that I was doing at the time than a matter of age. Hence, I am certainly fitter and better able to undertake strenuous walks than I ever was in my teens and twenties, simply because I now do much more exercise. It is often not old age itself that causes too much decline in walking ability, but the effects of illnesses and diseases. So long as it is possible to stay healthy, there is only a gradual decline in physical ability with advancing years, and I have been lucky enough so far to remain in good health.
The amount of build up that is required for a long distance walk depends very much on what level you are starting at. If you already do a lot of walking, albeit only on a one-day basis, then it is relatively easy to gain the extra fitness required, but if you have spent many years doing very little physical activity then a considerably longer period will be necessary. Whatever your level of fitness, the thing to do is to start off with whatever level of walking you are capable of and try to do this on a regular basis, gradually pushing the limits up as you build up in fitness. For those with busy work schedules and other commitments it is not always easy to find the time to do so, but if it is only a half-hour walk out from the office at lunchtime, it all helps. Ideally, a longer walk should be attempted about once a week, but not everyone can find time to do this, so it is just a matter of fitting in whatever you can do whenever time is available. I have never bothered with working out in a gym, always preferring to do any training outdoors, but for people who do not have easy access to hills and mountains, the gym may be a viable alternative. Retired people often score best, as they generally have much more leisure time and are also better placed to go walking when there is fine weather, which always makes it much a more pleasant experience.
One big factor with regard to sustaining the necessary effort required keeping up with a demanding daily schedule is weight. By this I mean the total weight to be propelled along the way, which is comprised of ones own body weight combined with the weight of the load to be carried. There can be a lot of time spent debating on whether items should be taken or left behind, but quite often this can be overshadowed by an excessive amount of body weight. Even for someone who is only a little overweight, this can amount to perhaps half the weight of a typical pack, and for someone considerably overweight far more. Keeping weight down to a minimum can considerably ease the burden on feet and legs, and often more can be achieved by losing weight than by limiting the luggage to be carried. Quite often the pre walk training achieves some progress in this direction, but all too often people increase their food intake to compensate and little weight reduction is achieved, whereas a combination of more exercise and restricted food intake can result in the shedding of a significant number of pounds. It has often surprised me, however, on long distance walks and in other activities, that some people who are overweight to quite a large extent are, nevertheless, very fit and able to cope without any problems. This doesn't mean that they would not benefit by weight loss, but simply that their muscles have developed sufficiently to cope with the extra burden.
You may think from my exploits that I have always been a fit and athletic person but, as a child, I was just the opposite. I was always one amongst the small group of boys who tried any excuse possible to get out of school games and PE, as I could never see the point of competitive sports such as football and rugby, nor could I see the point of doing exercise for its own sake. Consequently, I was somewhat overweight and not very fit, although I did get some exercise when out playing, as we lived in the village of Rawdon, on a steep hillside about 600ft above sea level. Wherever I went from home generally involved walking up and down hills, even coming back from the bus stop on the way home from secondary school meant walking up a steep hill. At the age of 13 I started an evening paper round and the regular exercise of an hour's walk every day made me lose my excess weight and made me considerably fitter, though I still had no interest in sports. The change in my attitude came about once I found outdoor activities that I enjoyed doing, and then I was willing to exert myself without considering it a chore. Once I was introduced to mountains, I had a great desire to climb up to the top but, at this time, not to walk any further than was required to get to the summit and back. My mountain ventures were only spasmodic, so I never managed to achieve a high level of fitness and always ended up exhausted with tired and aching legs and often sore and blistered feet. I can remember few occasions in my teens and twenties when I could contemplate anything other than a very gentle walk the day after climbing a mountain, and mostly I ended up doing very little the next day.
Although I never lost my desire to climb mountains, family activities and work occupied most of my time for many years, so I only occasionally got the opportunity to do so. Note that in the early stages, my main enjoyment was from reaching a mountain summit to enjoy the view; walking was just a means to an end rather than a pleasure in itself and, had there been a road to the top of every mountain, I would have driven up rather than walk. As time progressed, I started to develop a yearning to go further; perhaps to one or two peaks further along a ridge, or round a horseshoe, but this never advanced to doing a walk of more than one day.
The turning point came later in life as a result of two things. The first was that I had a heart attack at the age of 39, mainly induced by stress, and the second was that, as my daughters grew older they no longer wanted to participate in family things, nor did they want to go away so much on family weekends and holidays. My heart attack did a very good job of focussing my mind on what was important in life, and gave me a big incentive to wind down my stress levels, whereas the second factor meant that I had more free time to do the things I wanted to do. Walking is very therapeutic in that the exercise helps to reduce the effect of adrenalin, and the wide-open spaces help to take the mind off day-to-day cares. After a good long walk, the physical tiredness helps to induce good, sound sleep that is often difficult to achieve when stress levels have built up too much.
At first I started walking around the nature reserve in the valley near to where we lived at the time. A full circuit was about five miles with a few small hill climbs up the valley sides in places. At first I found this quite tiring and would have to sit down for a good rest at the end of it, sometimes nodding off to sleep as well, but after a while, it started to be much easier and I was able to extend the walks further whilst feeling less tired in the process. After a while, I started to go walking around the High Peak District with some colleagues from work from time to time, and then started to venture on walks by myself in the same area. I took part in one or two challenge walks of 18 or 20 miles which at first I found hard going, but after several long walks, I found that things got easier and I was not quite so exhausted at the end, to the extent that I would often add a few extra miles to some of them just for good measure.
The frequency of these long walks was generally only once every three or four weeks, and less often in winter, so after each one I still tended to suffer from aching muscles and sore feet for a few days. However, I started to find that these after effects decreased as time went on, and I could often wake up the next day feeling fit enough to take on more walking or other physical activities. The one thing that always struck me about walking was that unless it was with other people, enabling two cars to be taken, a walk always had to end up where it started. This limited the scope to half the walking distance, so was often somewhat limiting. I often found that I looked out into the distance, with hills going off as far as the eye could see, and thought that it would be so much better to just carry on without having to turn back every time.
As much of my walking around the High Peak area brought me in contact with parts of the Pennine Way, I started to wonder what it would be like walk the whole way, but I still had grave doubts that I could ever achieve it. My wife sensed my desire to do the walk, even though I had never really expressed a wish outright, and urged me to go ahead. This then started me into a regime of training, which can be seen near the start of the first of my diaries. There were a number of mistakes with this, largely because I tried to push myself too hard by walking too fast, rather than just walking at the same sort of pace that I would be doing on the real thing. Although much of the training was beneficial as far as muscle building was concerned, the fast walking resulted in my setting off with serious problems caused by the rubbing of my ankle on my boot, and it was only by the last minute addition of some padding in my boot that I was able to walk without being in agony. The moral of this was that it is far better to train by walking normally in the way that you would do on the real walk rather than doing it 'at the double', which is much more likely to lead to twisted ankles, sprains and problems cause by rubbing.
In subsequent long distance walks, I learnt from my earlier mistakes and realised that if I just kept up with my routine of doing a walk comparable to a day on the trail every few weeks I would not have many problems. However, over the years I have not always managed to achieve this due to pressure of work, family holidays and other such things, so have experienced long distance walking with and without the benefit of the best sort of build up. My ideal training for a hilly or mountainous long distance walk is to get out about once a week on a hill or mountain walk of between 10 and 15 miles with an ascent of between 3,000 ft and 5,000 ft in the couple of months before the start, as well as doing regular daily walks of 2 to 3 miles walking the dog. Mountain walking is possible for me because I have both the spare time and the convenience of a whole range of hills and mountains within a reasonable distance of where I live in North Wales. With this level of regular walking, I find that I have only minimal after effects from a strenuous walk, feeling only a little tired at the end of the walk and hardly aware of anything the next day with no stiff or aching muscles, no problems with my feet and only a minimal level of residual tiredness. In this state, I feel confident to embark on my next long distance walk without difficulty. The only extra things I have to adjust to on the walk itself are the extra weight of a larger pack and the continuous walking day after day. However, the mountain walking that I undertake locally is considerably more strenuous than a typical day on the average long distance trail, so this helps prepare me for these extra things.
On the number of occasions that I have embarked on a long distance walk having not had the benefit of the best sort of training schedule, the result has been that the first few days were much harder, and there was much more discomfort from stiff and aching muscles, sore feet and general fatigue, which made part of the walk that much less enjoyable. The first day is not generally too bad, although the weight of a heavier pack is quite noticeable and it can be tiring if there are a lot of miles to walk, and/or a lot of ascent. The next few days tend to be worse, as aches and pains start to build up and a general level of fatigue and weariness sets in, making it difficult to raise the enthusiasm to get going both at the start of the day and after every rest break. By about day four or five things start to get easier as muscles build up again and the body gets used to the increased level of physical exertion of the daily routine. From then onwards it is generally OK except that there always tend to be good days when everything feels fine and bad days when things can be a bit of an effort. Much of this is tempered by the state of the weather, the level of exertion of the previous day, and whether any blisters or other discomforts have started to become a problem. There is no doubt that, although it is possible to regain ones fitness as a walk progresses, it is far better not to have to so by following a training programme before the start of the walk.
In many ways, I think that successful completion of a walk depends more on a person's mind than upon physical factors. With a strong will, a positive attitude, and determination, it is possible to get through all sorts of physical discomforts along the way. I have seen people hobbling along with blisters, limping with sprained ankles and all manner of problems, but still making it to the finish. I have also seen people drop out as soon as the going got tough simply because they lost the will to continue and just took the easy option to head for home. When embarking on a long distance walk for the first time, it is often easy to become dispirited when difficulties arise, whereas with previous experience it is easier to take things in ones stride, realising that most difficulties can be overcome and that things can seem a lot better next day. For this reason it is important to avoid as many problems as possible on a first walk and this is best achieved by good preparation and adequate training. On subsequent walks, the confidence of having completed one or more walks in the past means it is possible to take a few more chances, such as not doing as much training as would be ideal, though this may still cause extra pain and difficulty.
Most of my previous comments are based on training over hills and mountains, as that is the type of walking I prefer, and thus the type of long distance walk that I prefer. For those who prefer gentler walking over lower ground, the training needs only be of a similar nature to that of the long distance walk to be attempted. Ideally I would suggest doing a walk comparable to an average day of the planned walk about once a week for a few months beforehand. However, if time or other circumstances do not permit this, then try to do one every two or three weeks, with as many short walks as possible in between.
For those who are planning one of the more strenuous walks, but who live a long way from high hills and mountains, a suitable training programme poses more of a problem, as trips to suitable walking areas become both expensive and more time consuming. There is no point in thinking that a walk of say 15 miles along easy paths in lowland areas bears much resemblance to a typical day on a hill or mountain trail, as the extra effort required on ascent and descent puts much more strain on muscles that are not taxed very much on the flat, and walking over uneven ground, boggy areas or craggy paths adds further to the problems. It may be possible to compensate for this a little by doing extra distance during training, but it still cannot beat doing at least some of the training over hilly ground. However, as with most aspects of life, things are seldom ideal and compromises have to be made, so it is often a matter of doing the best training that you can and taking the rest as it comes, even if this does involve some hardship on the walk itself.
Ever since the opening of The Pennine Way in 1965 as the first National Trail in Britain, new long distance walks have been added to the list. Some of these have official status as National Trails, some are promoted by local authorities and other interested bodies, but many are put together as unofficial walks by individuals who publish a book on a walk they have devised themselves. The advantage of official walks is that they are waymarked (although the standard of this is variable); they are normally shown on Ordnance Survey maps, and any rights of way issues should have been resolved. Unofficial walks, by their very nature, have no official recognition and generally rely on the use of existing rights of way, though sometimes disputes can arise, especially if a walk becomes popular. It is not normally expected that an unofficial walk will have any waymarking or be shown on maps, but where one becomes very popular, as is the case with Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk, waymarking may be found in at least some sections of the walk. The Long Distance Walker's Association (LDWA) has a very good website listing nearly every walk in Britain, from National Trails and other official walks to relatively unknown or unofficial ones. A lot of useful information is listed for each walk such as distance, ascent and relative difficulty as well as which other walks it crosses or joins up with, guidebooks and/or maps required, and a host of other things.
My preference for high level hill and mountain walking tends to limit me to a very narrow selection of walks, as so many avoid the hilltops and follow valleys and other low lying areas. The choice of walk comes down to personal preferences; some people preferring wild and rugged upland walks and some preferring the more gentle scenery at a lower level. The choice of walk also determines the difficulty of the walking itself and, therefore, the amount of effort required and the time taken to complete each section. The type of terrain encountered also determines the type of weather conditions that may be encountered and the additional equipment and precautions that may be required when undertaking the walk. When considering the relative difficulty of various walks, do not be deceived by coastal walks which, although they may never go more than a few hundred feet above sea level, can be just as difficult as mountain walks as they wind their way up and down cliffs around a rocky coastline.
In my opinion, there are a number of factors that help to make a long distance walk more enjoyable.
Once a suitable walk has been chosen, there follows what is often a lengthy process of planning each stage. The first decision that has to be made is what form of accommodation is going to be used. There are three main types of accommodation to be considered; B&Bs or Hotels, Youth Hostels or Bunkhouses and Camping, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.
One of the first essentials when planning a walk is to obtain an accommodation list. Although lots of accommodation can be found on various web sites and in books of B&Bs, most of this is generally located around a number of larger towns with very little in the more remote areas of a walk. Generally, someone will have put together an accommodation list for the walk, which will have places listed in all parts of the walk, not just in the popular areas. This may be part of a guidebook for the walk, or issued as a separate publication, but is one of the most valuable assets when planning commences. However, in some remote places, accommodation is very scarce and may either be some way from the route, or not at a convenient point for the ideal daily mileage. At busy times, places can be booked up early, often several months ahead, so cannot be relied upon for last minute availability. For this reason, it is preferable to plan and book things well in advance to be sure of a bed for the night at every stage of the walk.
The only problem with booking in advance is that it does not allow the flexibility to adjust ones schedule along the way without a major upset to all the planning. If this is the first attempt at a long distance walk, there is much more uncertainty as to whether a pre-planned schedule is going to work out right, and a worry that the walk may have to be abandoned with the loss of many deposits. For this reason, many people choose to book only a day or two ahead, armed with their accommodation list as they progress along the way. This means that adjustments can be made to either increase or decrease daily mileage to cater for the level of tiredness, aches and pains, weather conditions and various other factors. This often works very well, although it may mean having to opt for more expensive accommodation at times if everywhere else is booked, and there may be times when nowhere convenient is available and a compromise has to be made. If anything causes an upset to the schedule or a cancellation of the walk, there are then only one or two numbers to ring to cancel anything that has been booked, and deposits will not normally have been paid if they have been last minute bookings, unless credit card details have been requested by larger establishments.
All my walks have been undertaken with accommodation booked several weeks in advance for the whole of the way. The main reason for doing this is that my wife insists that I do so, as she wants to know where I am expected each night in case I have an accident and need to be rescued. As a lone walker over hills and mountains and other remote areas, this is a wise precaution, so I have been happy to go along with it, though I have never had a problem in any of my walks so far. On my first few walks, I tended to agonise over the bookings, as I was never quite sure whether I would have to abandon or delay the walk, but as I gained more confidence, it didn't bother me much, as I was felt sure I would manage to keep to my schedule.
An increasing number of people now entrust all the planning and accommodation booking to organisations that operate these services as a walking package. On popular walks there are companies who operate guided walks and will arrange all the accommodation and transport. In remote areas they often use accommodation in larger towns or villages nearby and transport walkers to and from it at each end of each day's walk, thus overcoming some of the problems of arranging more equal lengths for each stage. They also transport baggage to the end of each stage so that walkers only have to carry light packs with their daily essentials.
As well as organised walks, there are also baggage transfer services available on many popular walks. These can be booked as needed and are generally charged as a price per bag per day. Some of these services deliver bags door to door, whilst some use one central pickup and drop-off point in each place. In the latter case, it is best to check properly where this is, as it may be perhaps a mile from the accommodation that you have booked. When using these services, people tend to pack much more into bags than they would if they had to carry it all the way, so it could be quite an effort to carry a heavy bag to and from the pickup point.
At one time, there were very few banks, and hence cash machines along the route of many long distance trails, and it was necessary to plan carefully just how much cash would be needed at various stages of the route. The number of banks, particularly in small towns, has decreased over the years but, fortunately, the number of cash machines has increased considerably. Many rural shops and pubs now have cash machines in them, albeit ones that generally charge for withdrawals, so there is a better chance that cash will be available. It is still advisable to top up well and not let funds run too low, as it is not guaranteed that a cash machine is going to be available when you need one. It is wise to take a cheque book along as well, as B&Bs generally do not have facilities for taking credit cards, though most youth hostels now do. It may also be possible to find someone who is willing to cash a cheque for you if you are desperate, and shops may be willing to give cashback on a debit card transaction.
The daily schedule of the walk depends very much on an individual's own walking capability. When there is a group of people involved then the schedule should be based on the capability of the weakest member of the group. This is why it is important to do a number of training walks covering similar terrain to that of the actual walk. It should be then possible to gauge what the average daily mileage should be, although availability of accommodation often means that the ideal distance cannot always be met. However, if one day's mileage is greater than desired then it may be possible to follow this by a shorter day to compensate. Rest days or rest half days can be fitted into the schedule also, but it is difficult to know at the outset whether they will be necessary when the time comes, or whether they will just hinder progress. When thinking about a rest day, it is important to consider what you intend to do with the time, especially if the weather is unpleasant, as in many remote places there is very little to do in these circumstances other than try to find somewhere to keep warm and dry.
Mileage is not the only factor to consider when planning a schedule. The amount of ascent and descent can have a considerable bearing on how quickly progress can be made and how tiring a day's walk will be. Yet another factor to consider is the roughness of the terrain - it can be very slow going over craggy hilltops or walking over rough moorland without a decent path. Of course, most of the National Trails tend to avoid difficult routes, and because of the number of people walking them, most of the paths are well trodden. In boggy areas, where progress can also be slow and difficult, path work has generally been undertaken to make the walking easier. However, this is not always the case on some unofficial walks, especially those that have not grown very popular, and extra time needs to be allowed for these. There is a rough guide to calculating walking speed known as Naismith's Rule, allowing for a walking speed of three miles per hour plus half an hour for every 1,000 ft of ascent, but this does not allow for rough ground, rest stops, meal breaks, delays due to map reading and route finding, photography etc., nor does it allow for a slower speed when carrying a heavier pack, especially in the first few days of a walk. There are more accurate ways of calculating walking speed, but this is where ones own experiences of walking over similar terrain often acts as a better guide. It is not necessarily the case that walking over mountains is going to be slow, except for the ascent, as many mountains are relatively flat topped with easy ridge top paths that allow a good walking speed, whereas clambering around over rocky and craggy areas, whether on mountain tops or in lower lying places such as some sections of coastal paths, can slow things down considerably. I have encountered many places where it is difficult to achieve a walking speed of more than one to one and a half miles per hour despite the expenditure of a lot of effort. Fortunately, in most cases, these conditions do not persist for more than a short distance, so the impact on the day's walking is not too great, but there are some stretches where the going is very slow and difficult for several miles, and this then becomes a very significant factor.
A number of guidebooks show the amount of ascent involved in each stage, but for some reason most of the official National Trail Guides seem to omit this very important information. It is possible to make a calculation by poring over maps and counting contour lines to give a rough figure, which is what I have done for many of my walks, though this can be a considerable underestimate when it comes to craggy places where the route is constantly going up and down over rocky outcrops and the contour lines become too confused to make proper sense of them. Of course, where there are sections like this in a walk, it is normally pointed out in guidebooks so that people are warned to expect slow progress. When I am planning a walk, I like to average about 15 miles a day, but over steep and rugged mountains, 10 miles can be more than enough. In fairly gentle country with easy paths, it is not too difficult to do 20 miles or more, though I prefer not to have many days of this length, as there is a constant need to keep pressing on without time for many diversions or interruptions. It is also better to avoid any particularly long sections within the first few days of a walk unless it is unavoidable, as it generally takes a few days to build up to full strength and to get used to carrying a heavy pack day after day.
Once a rough idea of how much walking is to be undertaken each day has been decided upon, it is then necessary to see how this fits in with available accommodation. It is inevitable that some sections will be longer than envisaged and some shorter, but these can balance themselves out if the longer sections are not all in succession. It may also be the case that some accommodation is a considerable distance from the route in a few places, and allowance has to be made for this in the overall schedule, unless lifts are being offered from and to the route. This should now give a reasonable estimate of the number of days that the walk will take and it should then be possible to start booking accommodation, unless it is intended to book as you go along. It is advisable to book in the order in which they will be required as you may find some places where there is no accommodation available making it necessary to alter the schedule somewhat. This may mean having to change some subsequent overnight stops, which is more difficult if they have already been booked.
Of course, many people want to fit a walk into a certain period of time that they have available rather than allowing whatever time is best. This means that daily mileages may end up being greater than desirable. This is all right to a certain extent, provided that it does not result in an excessively difficult schedule. There is far more chance of failure if unrealistic targets are set, as disillusionment can soon set in when struggling to keep up a pace beyond an individual's capability. Most people who set off on long distance walks manage to make it to the finish, but those who don't have often set themselves over-optimistic targets, then started to drop behind and, before long, started to look for the next transport back home. It is much better to complete a walk in a slower time rather than suffer the humiliation of dropping out. If a walk cannot be completed in the time available it is better to choose a shorter walk or decide to do part of the walk and the rest at a later date.
Most people tend to start off a walk at a weekend, so it is generally found that there are large numbers of people walking each stage on certain days of the week and very few on others. As the walk progresses there is more of a spread as some slower walkers lag behind and some faster walkers press on ahead, but there still tends to be a few days of the week when there are not many walkers. If you find that a lot of the accommodation is fully booked, it is worth considering setting off midweek. This also helps if you like having a lot of the walk to yourself and do not want to be meeting up constantly with other groups of people along the way.
When planning and carrying out a walk, it is necessary to decide just how much information will be required to follow the route without too much time being wasted getting lost. Most recognised walks have a guidebook showing the route on map sections, and also describing things to look out for on the way to help with navigation. Guidebooks sometimes give lists of accommodation but, because these are likely to change from time to time, they are often issued as separate publications. Ordnance Survey maps also show the routes of most officially recognised walks, whether they be National Trails or other walks promoted and maintained by local authorities. A decision has to be reached as to what are the best things to use on the walk to give enough help with route finding, whilst not being too expensive or difficult to carry.
Some guidebooks such as those produced for National Trails have sections from 1:25,000 O.S. maps for the whole of the trail, as well as some small scale maps showing the overall route, whereas other guides only have sketch maps with insufficient detail to use on their own without a set of separate maps. Where detailed maps are included, it is generally possible to complete a walk without additional maps, but a few problems can occur when doing this. Although the same level of detail is contained as is on the O.S. maps themselves, it is restricted to a narrow strip either side of the route and does not give a broader picture of the landscape further afield, which may have good landmarks to use as an aid to navigation. It is only necessary to drift a short way off course before being in uncharted territory as far as the guidebook is concerned, which can make it very difficult to find ones bearings and get back on the trail again. With popular walks that are both well waymarked and well trodden, this is not generally too much of a problem, as the lack of waymarking soon becomes apparent once the route has been missed, and it is generally just a matter of backtracking a little way to find where a mistake has been made. Where there is little or no waymarking, problems are more likely to occur and constant vigilance is required to avoid getting lost. For those with a GPS unit (Global Positioning by Satellite, the walkers' equivalent of sat-nav) the difficulties are greatly reduced, as it is possible to get an accurate grid reference from the GPS unit and thus to know exactly how far and in which direction it is necessary to go in order to regain the route.
For those who like to be extra secure, a full set of maps may prove to be the answer, but these can be both expensive and an additional burden to carry, especially if the more detailed 1:25,000 maps are used. Where there are a number of people walking together, the cost and weight can be shared and it is, therefore, a more reasonable option, but to a lone walker like me, it is more than I want to either spend or carry. For most walks having a good guidebook (or guidebooks where the route is split into two halves) with detailed maps, I have managed with that or those alone, possibly taking an O.S. map or two if I happen to have them for some sections of the way. These include the Pennine Way, Offa's Dyke Path, Southern Upland Way and Pembrokeshire Coast Path, which all have National Trail Guides, the Westmorland Heritage Walk with less detailed maps, and Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk using his own guidebook with sketch maps of the route. For some walks such as the Cleveland Way I have used only 1:25,000 maps with the route marked on them and managed without any guidebook. I also did a similar thing for the Lakeland Round, which I adapted to my own youth hostelling route and used 1:25,000 O.S. maps. The guidebook for the Cambrian Way is not sufficiently detailed to follow without additional maps, but for this I had only the 1:50,000 maps rather than the 1:25,000 maps that are recommended. This did cause a few problems at times, but I managed to cope.
One of the most significant differences between the 1:25,000 maps and the 1:50,000 ones is that the former show field boundaries, whilst the latter do not. This is particularly useful when navigating across farmland, where a path goes through several fields and is often not very clear on the ground. The smaller scale maps are still useable in these circumstances, with a little care, but there is then more reliance placed on spotting where stiles are located over distant walls and fences.
As mentioned previously, O.S. maps can be quite expensive, as a long distance trail is likely to require several maps over its full length. For some popular walks Footprint maps have been produced. These are available from Stirling Surveys and are stripline maps of the route on one sheet. Longer trails spread to two sheets, but cost considerably less than a set of normal maps. Unfortunately, the scale of these varies from 1:40,000 to 1:50,000, so they do not have the same detail as the 1:25,000 maps, but they are generally good enough to follow.
Another means of obtaining maps is to use the OS Maps service, which replaced the Getamap service on 1/8/2015. A zoomable map is available for free to view and to print at A4 size for registered users, but although this does show faint contours, it lacks much of the detail that is useful to walkers. However, the full Landranger and Explorer mapping is available by subscription with unlimited printing of A4 or A3 sheets. Subscription costs £19.99 for 1 year, £14.99 for 3 months and £7.99 for 1 month with some special offers from time to time. In either case, routes can be plotted and exported or imported to and from GPX files or directly to some GPS devices. For routes where guidebooks do not show enough detail and require additional maps, it may be cheaper to subscribe to the service and print off all the map sections required rather than buying a set of O.S. maps. It should be remembered, though, that printing cost can be expensive on some printers and that inkjet prints can run or fade if they get wet.
As you can see if you read my diaries, I have made my fair share of navigational errors, whatever maps or guides I have used, but these have often been because of my own failures to concentrate on route finding rather than shortcomings in the maps or guides themselves. There is no doubt that a full set of detailed maps can make things easier, but I have never considered the expense and extra weight to be justified for the few times when they are really necessary. It is only in recent years that I have owned a GPS, so all my earlier walks were undertaken using normal map reading skills, with occasional compass readings and I never found that I went so far wrong that I couldn't find my way back to the route by conventional means, though I am not saying that this can't happen. If there is any reason to believe that you are not following the right route, the most important thing is to stop and check before going too far astray. With the use of a GPS, it is still just as easy to make mistakes and to go astray, unless you have inputted waymarks for the whole route and are using the GPS all the time, or if you have one of the more advanced units which has mapping pre-loaded. However, even with a basic GPS, it is possible to get an exact grid reference for where you are at the time and, therefore, to know exactly how far and in which direction you need to go to regain the trail. Generally, I use conventional map reading to find my way, just using my GPS if I am in doubt. This is partly because I cannot generally be bothered to input a whole lot of grid references manually (I do not have a computer interface for my old Garmin eTrex), and partly because I do not want to have to hold it in my hand all the time - it can also be uncomfortable in a pocket over a long distance. I, therefore, normally leave it in the top pocket of my rucksack, where it has good reception from satellites to keep track of my walking distance, but it means that I have to stop and take off my rucksack if I need it. This has the disadvantage that I only tend to do so when I am well and truly lost rather than just a little unsure of where I am, though at awkward times I do revert to holding it in my hand for a while.
One thing to note is that whilst everything is going well with route finding it is possible to walk for miles without much thought of the passage of time. However, as soon the route is in doubt and you start to get that nasty feeling that you are lost, time seems to go very slowly. This is often the case when the weather closes in and visibility is very limited so you are left wondering how far it is before you have to take a turning somewhere. In these circumstances, I have often thought that I must have walked about a mile since I last saw a landmark that located my position but, on checking my watch, found that it was only five minutes ago and that I had probably only walked a quarter of that distance. If you know your typical walking speed, it is possible to get a fairly good estimate of where you are by keeping a note of the time each landmark is passed. This is one situation where a GPS is invaluable, as it can pinpoint your position at any time without need of visible landmarks or walking time.
The use of a GPS raises a few additional issues that seldom present themselves with conventional navigation techniques. Normal map reading relies on being able to match landmarks and other features with those shown on the map. Grid references are seldom needed unless they are specifically referred to in the text of the guidebook. With a GPS, though, the opposite is true because everything is driven by grid references. Some old style guidebooks such as those produced by Wainwright make little or no use of grid references thus rendering a GPS useless unless additional maps of the route are carried. Even the Ordnance Survey have not put much thought into this. Grid lines are normally numbered at the edges of maps and at every 10 km boundary in between. On a 1:25,000 map that is folded in a map case, only a square of about 6 km by 6 km of the map is visible, which means that there is only about 60% chance that grid numbering will be visible on either axis, giving only about a 36% chance that both sets of grid numbers will be visible on any particular folded section. It is a considerable nuisance to have to remove a map from a map case just so that it can be unfolded enough to find sets of grid numbers, especially in the wind or rain. Fortunately, this can be anticipated in advance and repeats of the numbers can be inserted with a marker pen close to the route for ease of use on a walk. This problem seldom arises on the 1:50,000 maps, as there is normally a repeat of the numbers within every folded section, nor is it a problem in the National Trail guides, as each map section has grid numbers shown within its boundaries.
If it is decided not to carry a full set of maps, there may be places where accommodation is some way off the route and not within the bounds of the map sections in the guidebook. In this case it is useful to work out where the most convenient turning off point is and to mark this in the guidebook, as well as noting down directions. With the availability of maps online nowadays, it is also possible to print off map sections to use in these or similar circumstances. However, the replacement of Getamap service by the OS Maps service by the Ordnance Survey means that this is no longer free if detailed mapping is required.
Whilst on the subject of maps, they are not of much use if you don't have the basic skills to read them. I have met a number of people on my travels who have been unable to interpret maps or to take compass readings and were relying to a large extent on waymarks and on meeting other walkers who could point them in the right direction. This can be fraught with danger, especially when weather conditions deteriorate, so it is well worth while spending time before the walk gaining proficiency with map and compass. However, it not generally necessary to acquire advanced orienteering skills of the level required to find the way accurately for miles over featureless terrain as in SAS training, which requires accurate bearings to be taken. Most of the time, all that is required are a few pointers to get back onto the route for which approximate compass bearings are adequate.
Now that a wide range of GPS units are available with the ability to hold a large amount of mapping and route data, it is possible to dispense with paper maps and guidebooks altogether, relying on a GPS unit alone. Personally, I have not tried this, as my GPS is an old one without any mapping, but I see no reason why there should be a problem with doing so. National Trails are shown on the maps already, so it should be easy to follow the routes of those directly from the mapping data. Unofficial walks, such as Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk or Tony Drake's Cambrian Way are not marked on OS maps, but there are generally a number of walking websites with GPX files available for download that can be used to show the route. The advantage of doing this, in addition to ease of navigation, would be a reduction in the cost and weight of maps that have to be carried, though there is obviously a cost for downloading the mapping data for areas not already covered. Although 1:25,000 maps are preferable to 1:50,000 maps when using conventional route finding techniques, this is not particularly necessary when using GPS with mapping data or when following a detailed GPX file of waypoints, as there is no longer a need to identify landmarks along the way. 1:50,000 mapping is often supplied pre-loaded into GPS units and, if not, is available to download at a reasonable price, whereas 1:25,000 mapping tends to be considerably more expensive.
For GPS units that do not support mapping, but have the ability to store a fairly large number of waypoints, it is possible to download GPX files to aid route finding, but it would not be advisable to walk the route without the additional help of maps or guidebook. However, with the full route downloaded to the GPS unit, it would be possible to manage with less detailed maps and guidebooks.
It is sometimes worrying to put too much reliance on technology, as there is always the possibility of some equipment malfunction. GPS devices are generally quite robust and watertight, so will usually withstand moderate knocks and exposure to bad weather, so you need to be fairly unlucky if anything goes wrong from this point of view. The main risk is that of flat batteries, as the units have a rather limited battery life when switched on continuously, so it is essential that spare batteries are carried if GPS is the only means of navigation. In very cold conditions, some batteries lose their output, but power can be restored by the use of body heat. Occasionally the GPS system itself goes haywire due to a fault in one of the satellites. This can result in faulty positioning, sometimes by a fairly small amount, but occasionally by huge distances. These faults disappear when either the rogue satellite has been corrected or shut down, or when it disappears from view in the sky, so problems do not generally persist for very long, but could potentially persist for half an hour or so if no corrections were to be made whilst it was still in view. Sometimes these malfunctions are due to the GPS unit itself, so it is always worth powering it off and on again to see if this corrects the problem.
One of the most important things on a long distance walk is the correct choice of footwear. On walks that traverse a lot of rough terrain that is hilly and often muddy, walking boots are the most suitable answer and you can find a lot of general information on the choice of boots in my walking boot review. Boots are not always the most comfortable items of footwear and many people find either trainers or walking shoes to be easier on the feet. For walks that are predominantly over good paths and tracks where there is not much mud or wet ground, it may be quite feasible to walk in trainers, but where there is a lot of boggy ground to contend with, boots are generally far better at keeping feet dry. Wet feet are more prone to suffering problems such as blisters and other complications, so it is advisable to keep them as dry as possible but, at the end of the day, it is a matter of individual choice.
On a long distance walk, particularly if you are not used to it, weight can be one of your biggest enemies. I would strongly advise keeping the weight of a pack down to the minimum possible without sacrificing safety. Spare clothing can weigh quite a bit, so this is one of the key areas to target. It is best to forget about having lots of spare sets of things to change into and narrow it down to just a few things that can be easily washed along the way. Drying things can be somewhat of a problem when there is only a limited time from washing them to when they have to be either worn or packed the next morning. B&Bs and hostels vary greatly in what washing and drying facilities are available for clothes. In some cases it is possible to get everything dry overnight, but more often things are still damp. One of the main problems is in getting rid of the bulk of the moisture before leaving things to dry, especially when hand washing, as no amount of wringing out by hand achieves a great deal. I often resort to wrapping the wet clothes in a bath towel and then wringing the whole lot together, or even resort to trampling on the whole lot with my feet to apply more pressure. Sometimes washing machines are available, but I seldom have enough things to wash to be worth using a washing machine, though when there a few people together it is more economical to do so. At one time, many hostels had old-fashioned mangles, which did an excellent job of squeezing out water, but these days most of them have gone. Similarly, spin dryers were often available and extremely effective, but these have mostly been abandoned in favour of automatic washing machines for which there is generally a charge.
I always favour walking in shorts, as I am generally walking around midsummer when it is not too cold. One advantage of this is that it is much easier to wash muddy legs than it is to wash out muddy trousers. Shorts still need to be washed from time to time because of sweat, but not as often as trousers would be, especially in wet and muddy conditions. If I find myself in a situation where it is too cold for shorts, the most convenient thing is to put on my waterproof over-trousers, which keep off the wind and usually do the trick. Generally, though, there is enough heat generated in my legs when I am walking for me not to find it too cold. It is only if I stop for any length of time that I find a problem, but then it is better to keep going in cold, exposed places and stop in more sheltered spots. In an emergency, I can always put on clothing that is normally reserved for evening wear as well as my waterproofs and that should be enough to keep out the cold.
As most of my walks involve a lot of time over hills and mountains, I carry a plastic survival bag in case of injury, or in case I get caught in exceptionally bad weather condition, which can occur even in summer. So far, I have never had to use this, but it doesn't weigh very much, so it is worth taking just in case. I have never bothered to take a sleeping bag, as I consider that this would weigh too much just for use as an emergency item, though some modern ones are quite light. However, if you have the intention of using bothies or mountain refuge huts for overnight accommodation then a sleeping bag is essential if you want to keep reasonably warm. Similarly, a tent may seem a good option in case you are caught out on the hills, but the extra weight is hardly justified unless you have the intention of making significant use of it rather than it just being for emergencies. The situation may be different for anyone contemplating a walk either early or late in the year when there is a much greater chance of extreme weather conditions and hence more need to worry about mountain safety. There are not many places in England or Wales that are so remote as to cause major problems in reaching safety if the weather deteriorates, though in blizzard conditions, it can still be difficult to walk even a few miles. Generally, by taking the first reasonable route down to lower ground, the weather conditions are likely to improve, and more shelter is likely to be available, though it pays to check on the map to see which route is going to lead to somewhere with habitation. In some parts of Scotland, there may be much larger distances involved to reach a place of safety, and dropping down into the nearest valley may still involve a very long walk to the nearest road or inhabited building.
Though some people take only their boots to wear at all times, I always prefer to take something else to wear on my feet in the evenings. As with everything else, weight is an important factor, so I spent a long time looking around for trainers that were as light as I could possibly find, regardless of whether I liked the look of them or not. Also, I always like to change into a different set of clothes in the evenings after having a shower, as the ones I have been walking in all day are invariably sweaty.
A waterproof jacket and over-trousers are essential on a long distance walk. I favour thin, lightweight ones, which are easier to carry. It is preferable to have ones with taped or welded seams to prevent wet getting through the stitching. Breathable fabric is also useful, though, at the times when breathability is most needed in warm but wet weather, it is least effective. If rain is combined with strong winds, it is very difficult to keep out the wet: water always seems to find its way though any zips, even if they are covered by flaps, and starts soaking into clothing until everything is eventually saturated. For this reason, a cagoule is preferable to a jacket with a front zip, though it is less convenient to put on or take off. Capes also appear to be very effective, though can be caught more by the wind. In prolonged periods of severe weather, I have not met anyone who has managed to keep completely dry, though people get wet to different degrees depending on the waterproof clothing that they wear.
Rucksacks can be virtually guaranteed to let in water when there is a lot of wind and rain unless they have additional protection. Waterproof covers are available to fit over the rucksack itself and also large capes can cover both walker and rucksack. I have never tried these myself, as I always hope that I am not going to have too much rain in the middle of summer, though this notion is often proved very wrong. The most effective way of dealing with wet without additional covering is to provide extra waterproofing inside by use a good plastic liner. In addition, strong plastic bags can be put round vulnerable items in rucksack pockets. Particularly sensitive items are best put inside a plastic bag inside the rucksack liner for extra protection. Bear in mind that any water that gets into a rucksack is going to drain to the bottom, where it is unlikely to be able to escape, so the bottom compartment is the worst place for getting things wet. I never understand why rucksacks are not made with drain holes in the bottom compartment so that the water has at least some chance of escaping rather than collecting in a big pool. It is best to avoid putting anything in the bottom that can be affected by the wet, which is rather limiting, though I have found that my sandwich box works fairly well.
Normal towels can be bulky and heavy, so I now only take a lightweight sports towel which, though not very nice to use, keeps down the weight and is not too difficult to dry. When using B&Bs, there is not really any need to take a towel, but many hostels and bunkhouses do not provide them, so taking one becomes a necessity.
There are many items that are taken to cater for all sorts of things - toothpaste, soap, sun lotion, antiseptic cream, deodorant, boot wax and many others, and these can weigh quite a bit when added together. To cut down on weight, it is best to take part used containers of things with just enough to last the walk rather than full ones. For washing out clothes, hand wash powder is much lighter than liquid wash, especially as quite a bit may be needed for a long walk.
These days, mobile phones have become an essential part of everyday communication. However, in remote areas and around hills and mountains, mobile coverage can be very limited and certainly cannot be relied upon. I still find it worthwhile to take a mobile, especially as modern ones are generally quite light and, more to the point, battery chargers are so much lighter than they used to be. It is important to realise that mobile communication is pretty much a line of sight thing, so if a mast is blocked by a hill, it is likely that there will be little or no signal. In hilly terrain, there is much more likelihood of a reasonable signal at the top of a mountain or hill, even if the nearest mast is several miles away, than down in a valley closer to, but out of sight of a mast. When wanting to make a call, it is better to think about doing so from high up, watching for signal strength as you walk along, rather than trying to do so after dropping down where any signal may be lost completely. One tip suggested by a visitor to my website is to use text(SMS) facilities when reception is poor. The phone will connect and send the message whenever reception is good enough to do so, and it is often possible for a text to be sent when a voice call keeps breaking up and dropping out. However, I have sometimes found that texts sent when signal strength is poor may appear to have been sent but never reach their destination. Also, after making a few unsuccessful attempts at transmitting a text, further attempts may become less and less frequent even when a good signal has been established, so there may be a long time delay.
Although mobile phones can potentially be a lifesaver, they cannot be relied upon at the present time. This could change with the use of satellite technology, which gives coverage to everywhere outdoors, but the last satellite phone system was abandoned because of the weight of the phones and their cost. As technology improves though, this may become a more workable and cost effective system, and may come back into use again. It is also proposed that a new European satellite system to rival the American GPS system will have the facility to receive distress signals from hand held units, which will be a great aid to mountain safety and rescue, but this is still some years away.
I couldn't go on a walk without a camera to record some of the scenery along the way, but this is a luxury item rather than a necessity. I used to take one of the larger digital cameras, a FinePix S7000, but I now have a compact Sony camera that I carry on my belt where it is always at hand and not likely to get left behind, lost or damaged. One advantage of digital cameras is that there is no longer a need to take several films on a walk. Modern memory cards can hold hundreds of high-resolution photographs and weigh very little. One problem arises because of all the equipment that requires batteries, which either means carrying quite a number of spares, or using rechargeable batteries and taking a battery charger. Recently I have opted for taking a battery charger and this adds to the weight, as it is not as light as one for a mobile phone. In fairness, my camera will take a lot of pictures on one set of batteries, provided I am not using flash, and also that I don't spend a lot of time composing the photos or looking at the ones I have taken. My GPS can run through batteries at quite a rate if used continuously. I now generally do this so that it measures the distance I have walked and also so I do not have a long wait for it to search for satellites when I do need it. As I carry a battery charger, I use it to charge my GPS batteries every day. Cameras built into modern mobile phones have improved in resolution so much that it possible to dispense with a camera altogether and just use the one in the phone, saving more weight, though I have not yet bought into this technology myself and only have a low resolution camera in my phone.
Modern Smart Phones now often have GPS built in, and applications can be loaded to use OS mapping, so these can be used to serve as phone, camera and GPS. Earlier Smart Phones, however, sometimes used the mobile phone network for positioning rather than the satellites that are used by GPS. This meant that, when out over the hills and mountains or in remote areas where mobile signals were poor or non-existent, they would not work. There are a few points to note when using mobile phones on a walk. Whereas GPS units are designed to used in wet weather, mobile phones are generally much more vulnerable and need to be kept dry. This is not too much of a problem if they are kept in a waterproof bag in wet weather and only taken out when there is shelter, but this is not much use if you are trying to use them as a GPS for route finding. However, some phones are available that are designed to work in the wet, and waterproof cases are often available for others. The other problem with using a mobile phone to perform many functions is battery life. Addition applications such as GPS use extra battery power, as does the use as a camera. Also, where mobile reception is poor, the phone itself runs at maximum transmitting power in an attempt to communicate with the network, and this uses a lot more battery power than in areas of good signal strength. It is quite possible in these circumstances that a fully charged battery will not last for a whole day's walk and this could prove disastrous if too much reliance is to be placed on its use. As most phones use custom made batteries, it may be necessary to carry a rather expensive spare battery, although a cheaper option may be to use an emergency phone charger that runs on standard AA batteries. There are also Portable Battery Charging Packs that can be recharged from the mains when available, though these are somewhat more expensive. However, they hold enough charge to then top up mobile devices several times, so are able to keep things going for much longer.
Although I have stressed the need to cut down weight to a minimum, I must confess to taking some non-essential items with me, such as a small pair of binoculars. On some walks I wonder why I have bothered to take them whilst on others I use them quite a bit, so I generally continue to take them, but sometimes leave them behind. I have also found that, with the advent of extra useful gadgets and the batteries that they require, my pack weight has increased somewhat from that of earlier walks. Having done many walks, I now know what weight I can carry without having too many problems, so I do allow myself a few little extras that I could possibly manage without. A typical list of equipment shows all the other items that I generally take, many of which weigh very little, but I include them as a checklist so I don't forget things.
When carrying a considerable weight in a rucksack for long periods day after day, it is essential that the load is being carried in the proper way to avoid a lot of aches and pains in the shoulders. A modern rucksack is intended to place most of the weight on the base of ones back, where it should be held tightly in place by a broad, comfortably padded waist belt. There should be little weight taken on the shoulder straps, which serve mainly to stop the pack swaying around, and it shouldn't feel as if there is much load on them. It pays to take a little time adjusting the various straps on a rucksack until the best carrying position and height is achieved, as this will avoid a lot of pain and discomfort as time goes on. More care is also required when climbing stiles and any other activity that requires balance, as the extra load reduces stability, particularly in the early stages of a walk, until the body has adapted itself to the extra load. I always consider it best to have as many different compartments as possible in a rucksack, as it allows things to be stored in their own particular places and makes them easier to find without having to empty out everything to unearth them. I prefer to have side pockets to hold my water containers, as that ensures they are kept upright and are therefore less likely to leak. If there are any leaks then water is less likely to get onto other items that are being carried.
Problems often occur when trying to decide where to put items that are in frequent use on the walk, such as maps, guides, compass, glasses, camera etc. Many small items could be conveniently placed in pockets, especially if wearing trousers or shorts with several pockets and a shirt with top pockets, but there are some drawbacks to this:
Many people do not like using map cases, so put maps into rucksack pockets. The problem with this is that it is generally not possible to access them without removing the rucksack each time, which can be a nuisance. When two or more people are walking together though, it is possible for one person to get out the map from another's rucksack, which is much easier, but this is of no use to a lone walker. Pockets in clothing are more convenient, but are not always large enough for maps and guidebooks, and often large pockets in jackets are obstructed by the waist belt of the rucksack. In addition, maps and guides get a lot more wear and tear when not protected by a waterproof cover, especially when it is wet.
I always carry my map and/or guidebook in a map case slung over my shoulder. If I am using both a map and a guidebook at the same time, I face one each way so that both are visible. Carrying a map case like this can be a nuisance in windy conditions, as it can blow around, so I have to hold it steady under my arm in these conditions, which can be a nuisance when scrambling over rocks when both hands are required. If I need to do a lot of scrambling then I generally put the map holder in my rucksack for a while.
Glasses can be a problem if you do not wear them all the time and just need them for reading maps and notes. I used to be in this situation and had the problem of where to put them. The ideal place was in my shirt pocket, but this could lead to the 'jogger's nipple' problem that I have already mentioned. When this started to become a problem, I put my glasses inside the map case, which was not as convenient, but still left them reasonably accessible. After a while, I could generally start putting them in my shirt pocket again until they started to cause discomfort again. This may seem like a lot of bother about a small thing, but it is surprising how much of a nuisance little things like this can become on a long walk if a suitable solution is not found. The last thing that you want to do is to be stopping every five minutes to fish out items from a rucksack. Now, however, I tend to wear my glasses all the time and only have a problem if I have to remove them because there is too much rain.
One of the things about long distance walks, especially those involving a lot ascent, is that a lot of energy is used in the course of the day. This means that there is a constant need to consume food to provide that energy. Even when eating quite a large amount of food, it is seldom enough to provide all the energy required, so most people lose weight by the end of the walk. This can vary from a few pounds to twenty or more depending on how much excess fat a person starts out with and the amount of food they manage to consume. A note of caution, however, to those who want to maintain this weight loss - during the walk appetite is increased considerably and it is all too easy to continue eating at the same rate after the walk but with much less expenditure of energy. Consequently, all the weight that has been lost can very quickly be regained.
On my earlier walks, I could eat anything that was put in front of me and still have room for more, but as I get older I find I cannot eat the same quantities as I used to. My own experience tells me that it is important to have a good breakfast, as I can soon start to suffer from low blood sugar levels if I do not. If ignored, this can be quite dangerous as it can result in light-headedness leading to loss of balance and falls. This seems to affect me more in the middle of the morning than at any other time of day, though other people are affected in different ways. If I do start to notice this, I now know to stop and have something to eat straight away rather than trying to ignore it or think that I can stop a bit later. Generally, by the afternoon, having had some lunch, I am alright for the rest of the day, though some people find the need for regular snacks all the time they are walking.
Whilst walking, it is preferable to eat small amounts often rather than a lot of food at one time, as the latter requires a lot of blood to be diverted to the stomach for digestion, making less is available to supply leg muscles and other parts of the body. It is possible to suffer from pins and needles in fingers and also to feel rather weak and cold when walking straight after a big meal, so it is better just to have regular snacks or to have a rest before setting off after a larger meal.
The constant exercise of walking generally results in quite a bit of perspiration, so a considerable amount of fluid may be required. This varies very much depending on the temperature and the difficulty of the walking, but I usually reckon to need about half a litre of liquid for every five miles in moderate temperatures and average walking conditions. However, in very hot weather the requirement can increase dramatically and may double or even treble in the worst conditions. I generally start off the day with two litres of water, though I may reduce this if the weather is chilly and there is not a lot of steep ascent, and this is generally sufficient to see me through a day's walking. I work on the basis that I use about a third of the water every quarter of the distance, and then the last quarter can be covered without any water, as there is no point arriving at the end with any more than a small amount of water left. If I find I have more than I really need by about half way, I tip some of it away to save weight. As an example of how much difference the temperature makes on the amount of drink required, on one occasion I walked from Dufton to Alston on the Pennine Way, a distance of nearly 20 miles with over 3,000 ft of ascent in terribly cold, wet and windy conditions. The only drink I had was one 250 ml carton of fruit juice, and I didn't feel the need for any more, whereas in very hot weather I have sometimes had as much as four litres to drink and still been thirsty at the end of the day.
One problem I have always found is that water only tastes palatable when it is cold, and once it has warmed up in the heat of a sunny day it is neither pleasant to drink nor refreshing to taste. Sometimes I have bought concentrated orange squash to mix with my water, but this then means that I have to carry the remainder of the bottle as well as everything else until it gets used up over a period of a few days. I have often thought it would be a lot better if I could buy some powdered flavouring to add to my water rather than liquid concentrate, but have never seen anything suitable in the shops. In recent years, however, I have used Kool-Aid, which comes in sachets of various flavours. It is an American product but can be ordered online, either from the USA or from other distributors in the UK. I have found this to be fine, the only thing being that the instructions say to dissolve the sachet in four (US) quarts of water, about two litres, and add one cupful of sugar, more or less according to taste. This seems an excessive amount of sugar and I use only a fraction of this, though the drink then has a rather bitter taste, but is quite refreshing. The large amounts of sugar somewhat defeat the object of having something that is light to carry, but the alternative is to use artificial sweeteners, which are much easier to carry and more convenient to use. There are also a number of sports energy drinks available in powdered form, but these are more expensive and not necessarily the type of thing I am looking for anyway, though they may suit some people.
On a long walk on a very hot day, the amount of water required is generally considerably greater than I am prepared for, so it becomes necessary to plan where I may be able to replenish supplies. If there are shops or pubs along the way then it is possible to buy drinks to supplement what I am carrying, and where there are mountain streams, they can be used to refill my water bottles. The problem is that in times of drought, many of the watercourses dry up, particularly near hill and mountaintops, so that streams shown on maps may only start to flow much lower down the hillside. Also, the quality of water may be poor and the level of E. coli may be much higher than recommended safety levels. Water flowing from springs in a hillside is generally of good quality, but in areas where there are impervious rocks, which means that water has to drain over the surface, there is much more contamination from sheep and other animal droppings, thus increasing the risks of drinking it without treatment. One solution is to take water purification tablets such as Puritabs, which can be used to kill off bacteria, but they do affect the taste of the water considerably. I have heard of other people who use domestic bleach with one drop per litre of water. For many years I carried Puritabs everywhere I went walking, but never ever used any as I always managed to find something suitable to drink without them. However, they weigh very little, so there is no harm in having some just in case.
Where there is little or no possibility of obtaining water along the way, the only thing is to stock up with extra cans or bottles of drink at the start of the day and try to ration drinks along the way, although this can still lead to dehydration in extreme weather conditions. If this starts to become a problem then it may be necessary to consider diverting from the route in order to obtain drink. This may mean dropping a long way down a hillside until a stream is found, or diverting to some inhabited place where water can be obtained. In very hot weather there is a risk of heat exhaustion, which can have very serious consequences if ignored, and this can be made worse when coupled with dehydration.
It may be very tempting when encountering a pub along the route of a walk to partake of a few pints to quench ones thirst, especially on a hot day. The only problem with this is that it tends to have a detrimental effect when it comes to summoning the energy for steep climbs afterwards. If the remainder of the walk is fairly level and easy then it is not too difficult to undertake after a few drinks, but when faced with a steep ascent up a mountainside, it is a completely different story and it then takes a great deal of willpower to overcome the lethargy that sets in. Some people who are accustomed to doing hard manual work after drinking may manage to fare better, but for most people it is best to avoid, or strictly limit the amount of alcohol consumed in these circumstances and leave the drinking until the walking is over for the day, or at least until any strenuous sections have already been completed.
Most people, unless they are very fortunate, suffer a few problems with their feet on a long distance walk. This is hardly surprising, as the feet take a lot more pounding that they would ever get normally, with several hours of continuous walking over all sorts of surfaces, carrying more weight than they are used to. This is why it is so much better if footwear is comfortable with a good fit and, in the case of leather, properly broken in before the start of the walk. If boots give a few minor problems on a one day walk, it is almost guaranteed that this will get worse after a few days' walking, although the problems may go away later as things get bedded in, or feet get hardened.
By far the most common problem is blistering, which is generally caused by excess rubbing. There is no sure fire way of preventing blisters, but a few things may help:
In recent years I have found considerably more problems from boots in the region around the back of my heels. There has been a trend in boot design to include soft padding on the inside of the boot for comfort. However, with constant rubbing around the heel, this soon starts to wear away leaving either rough edges or abrasive padding exposed and these can quickly wear through the heels of socks and also cause painful blisters on the heels. Older boots tended to have either a more durable leather lining or no lining at all and, whilst they may have taken a little longer to break in, tended to cause fewer problems afterwards. It is now very difficult, however, to find any boots with durable linings and subsequently I have suffered far more with blistered heels on long distance walks. One thing has become apparent is that the greatest problems occur when walking over rough, steep or boggy ground when the foot tends to flex around much more in the boot and more rubbing occurs. Over smooth, level ground the foot tends to remain in a reasonably fixed position within the boot so there is far less rubbing and fewer problems with blisters. Also, walking more quickly makes the foot flex more and aggravates the problem as do wet feet. On a number of walks, I have wondered why I have managed most of the way with few problems from blisters only to get them near the end. I have now realised that one of the reasons for this is that I tend to walk at a slower pace early in the walk whilst I am building up my fitness and getting used to carrying a heavy pack. This means that my feet are not subjected to a lot of flexing and movement within my boots as I take shorter, steadier strides. As the walk progresses and my fitness increases I also increase my walking pace, taking slightly longer strides and flexing my feet more in the process, and this can lead to more blisters. Once I have got blisters then my walking pace reduces because of them and this helps them to heal up. In many ways it would be a lot better just to keep up a slower, steadier pace throughout the whole walk, which would make things easier on my feet, though it is difficult to remind myself to do this when I am feeling fitter and wanting to stride out more.
Sore and aching feet can result from there being too much pressure on small areas of the foot around the heel and the ball of the foot. This is made worse if boots have a very flat, hard footbed that is not shaped to the foot. Ideally, the weight should be spread over as large an area of the foot as possible, and this can be achieved by using shaped, padded insoles and/or arch supports. When buying boots, it is best to allow extra room for additional insoles when choosing the right fitting, as boots that are too tight can restrict circulation and cause as many problems as the insoles are trying to cure. Whilst walking, each time a foot is lifted it should feel as if all the pressure on the sole has been removed so that blood is allowed to circulate freely. If this is not the case it means that the boot is too tight and ways should be investigated to reduce the tightness, possibly by slackening the lacing. Good boots generally have hooks half way up the lacing that are a tight fit on the laces to enable half of the lacing to be tightened whilst the other half remains looser. If boots do not have this facility it is possible to thread the laces in different ways so that some of the lacing is missed out, thus relieving the pressure on that part. It is also possible to knot the laces half way up with a reef knot then continue the rest of the lacing as normal, which again allows different tension in two halves of the lacing. Even with all these precautions, there is still a tendency for feet to start aching towards the end of a day's walk, though a few good rests can help, if time permits.
Despite best efforts to minimize foot problems, I have found no way to guarantee that they will remain problem free throughout a walk. One thing that I have found is that wet feet give far more problems than dry feet. Wet feet go into wrinkles and folds that start to rub, and these are far more likely to cause blisters and other aches and pains. Good boots will keep feet dry for a while but, in very wet conditions, water will eventually soak through and problems will start. Changing into dry socks can help, but on a long distance walk it is not easy to keep enough pairs of socks dry in prolonged periods of wet weather. Foot problems vary considerably from one person to another; some people being capable of walking long daily distances with few problems, whilst others suffer considerably doing much shorter distances. Like many other things, it pays to find ones own limitations and then plan a walk accordingly.
Although feet may be sore at the end of a long day's walk, it is surprising how well they can recover by the next morning. Blisters can cause a lot of discomfort, but they do not have to put an end to a walk unless they are very bad. After bursting a blister, it remains painful for a couple of days or so, but then starts to heal over and recover. By using gel blister treatments, the discomfort is greatly reduced, as it is like having a new layer of skin. Generally blisters feel worst when just starting off on foot, but after about half a mile the pain tends to reduce considerably as the nerves become numbed by the constant walking. Each time a rest is taken, sensitivity returns and it takes another half a mile of walking for the pain to diminish again.
When trying to burst a blister, it is generally not much good just pricking it with a needle, as the white blood cells in the fluid block any small hole almost immediately and stop the fluid from escaping. It is better to make small slit in it which will not block so easily. This can be done with a very sharp blade such as a razor, but I prefer to use a small pair of very sharp scissors. Any attempt with less sharp implements tends to be far more painful because of the pressure required.
Another type of foot problem that may be encountered is plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is the hard layer of tissue covering the sole and heel of the foot. It is quite normal for this to become tender after a long period of walking, but sometimes it becomes inflamed and the subsequent build up of fluid can be very painful. The way this can generally be distinguished from normal aches and pains is that it is most painful when weight is first put on the feet after a period of rest, particularly overnight. The pain is most likely to be on the base of the heel, as this generally gets more of a hammering than the sole. The pain often decreases and may go away completely after a period of time as the pressure of standing on the affected area tends to disperse the fluid that has built up. If this occurs just for a small period first thing in the morning, it may not present too much of a problem, but without rest, which is generally not an option on a long distance walk, it can build up to something much worse. Anti-inflammatory medicines such as many of the common painkillers may help, but in severe cases only more powerful medication prescribed by a doctor will have any real impact. As with most things, prevention is better than cure, so at the first sign of this problem it is worth using padded insoles, arch supports or anything else that eases pressure on the affected area.
It is not uncommon for ankles to get twisted when covering a large distance, especially over uneven ground. This can be extremely painful and because of this it often seems far more serious than it really is. The pain normally occurs in the upper part of the foot in front of the ankle. Unless it is very severe, it will only result in swelling and some bruising which may or may not be visible on the surface. Having suffered from this more times than I care to remember, my reaction now is to just carry on walking without even stopping to inspect any damage, as I have never found anything that I was able to see and if I had been able to see anything there is little I could have done about it. The result of walking on like this is a minute or two of agony, but the pain then eases off and, after a while, is hardly noticeable. The continuing movement of the foot and ankle, rather than making matters worse, tends to help disperse any build up of fluid. Immediate rest tends to have the opposite effect and allows the ankle to swell and pressure to build up, which can make it more painful. However, if the pain is so bad as to make it impossible to walk, or if it persists for a long time this may indicate damage to ligaments from which recovery will take much longer and there may be need for medical assistance, which may not be easily available if you happen to be in a remote place. In this case, it may be possible to walk to find assistance by using some support such as a trekking pole if one is available, or it may be possible to find some wood to use as a stick. If none of these are available then the only option is to try to summon help by whatever means possible, say by mobile phone if these is reception, or from another walker.
Depending on the severity of the injury, things may feel better or worse after a period of rest. For lesser injuries the rest gives time for healing, but increased swelling may make things feel worse. In the latter case, walking will be painful to begin with but may well improve after a period of gentle walking. Though I have twisted an ankle on numerous occasions, I have never had to abandon a walk because of it, nor have I been unduly delayed, but I may have been lucky in having not had too serious a sprain.
The worst thing about a twisted ankle is that having twisted it once it is far more likely to get twisted again in its weakened state. It, therefore, means taking great care to try to avoid this happening, though over rough terrain this is not always easy without severely reducing walking speed. On some walks I have twisted the same ankle several times, each time suffering a short period of agony and a gradual increase in lasting pain, but there has never been a long term problem. A period of reduced activity or rest after the end of the walk normally cures any remaining difficulty without medical intervention.
There are a number of hazards that may be encountered on a walk, so it is well to be prepared for them should they be encountered.
As most long distance walks spend a considerable time crossing farmers' fields, it is very likely that some of these will contain livestock such as cows, bullocks and occasionally bulls. Dairy cows, despite their large size and weight, are generally quite placid and do not present much of a threat, though some people may still be afraid of them. They will generally move out of the way when anyone approaches and it is usually possible to walk through a field of cows without having to get very close to any of them. However, there are times when some may become inquisitive, especially if they have become accustomed to humans bringing fodder or taking them away for milking. In these circumstances, they will often move away with some waving of arms and shooing noises, though care should be taken not to frighten them unduly. The main thing is to avoid panicking and just try to make steady progress towards the exit from the field. Sometimes they may have collected in a corner where your exit lies, in which case it is best to approach from one side and hope that they will make their way away along the other side. If all else fails, it may be necessary to turn back and try to find another way around.
A more intimidating situation can occur when encountering young cattle, particularly bullocks, though it can be true of young heifers as well. They are very prone to being inquisitive and may start to group together and approach you, either from the front or more likely from behind. They may not mean any harm, but can be frightening, especially when there is a large number of them. I have often been walking along with the sound of heavy footsteps behind and breathing down my neck. I turn round and shoo them away, but this tends to be only momentarily successful and a few seconds later they gather closely again. It is not very wise to make a run for it, as they are likely to do the same, which means that there could be a serious risk of trampling if you were to trip and fall. I just try to keep cool and walk briskly to the exit, breathing a sigh of relief when I get there.
Another worry with cattle is when there are very young calves with their mothers, which brings out the protective instinct, making a normally docile cow ready to do anything to protect her calf. In this situation it is important to avoid any confrontation and try to keep a wide berth wherever possible. It is also important to realise that direct eye contact is perceived as a threat to many animals, whereas averting the eyes downwards and to one side is seen as submissive and less likely to be treated with an aggressive response.
There are rules for farmers regarding bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way. A bull in a field of heifers is generally not aggressive, unless he feels the need to protect the heifers, as he has other things on his mind. On their own, bulls can become aggressive and should not normally be kept in a field with a public right of way. Warning signs should also be displayed where bulls are kept, though I have often found these signs where there was not a bull to be seen. This is sometimes done by farmers to deter walkers, but may just be because the farmer has forgotten to remove the sign. I am always very wary when passing through a field containing a bull, even when it is with heifers. I try to give the bull a wide berth and try to avoid anything that may be perceived as a threat. Contrary to popular belief, red rags or clothing are no different from other colours as bulls are colour blind, but flapping items may arouse interest or possibly anger.
Although I have seldom had to turn back from anywhere because of cattle, I have had a number of tense moments despite the fact I have had plenty of experience dealing with them. Situations can be made worse by dogs, as they may either frighten the animals or chase them thus making the situation more dangerous for both themselves and anyone who is nearby. Quite often this is because the dog itself feels threatened or is trying to protect its owner, but even so it generally makes matters worse rather than better.
Other farm animals such as sheep and goats will generally keep their distance and do not present any threat, though again there are exceptions if they have become accustomed to having food brought to them, either by the farmer or, in busy tourist places, by people giving them bits of their packed lunch. I have sometimes found sheep that are very determined and somewhat aggressive once they realise that I may have food. Once they sense this they are very reluctant to go away and can become quite a nuisance. It is best to deter any approach at the outset and not give them any encouragement if you don't want to be pestered.
Recently there has been a tendency to farm some more exotic animals such as llamas, ostriches and, not knowing what to expect from these animals I tend to treat them with caution. This is also true of the wild ponies and horses that are found in places like Dartmoor and various rural commons. People often approach these ponies thinking that they are tame, only to find that they can get a nasty kick if they are not careful.
In many parts of the country, insects are no more of a problem than they may be in your own back garden. At certain times of year they can become a bit of a nuisance, but not generally a serious threat except for those who have an allergic reaction to stings or bites. However, there are some places, particularly the West of Scotland between May and September, where they can make life unbearable. Midges and clegs (horseflies) can abound in such numbers that they are extremely difficult to contend with as many of the insect repellents fail to get rid of them and they hover around in vast clouds making life a misery. There are a number of places on the Internet offering advice, but there seems to be no ideal solution other than to avoid the area at this time of year. It is estimated that the Scottish tourist industry loses many millions of pounds because of them. I have not undertaken much walking in this area, but had a very bad experiences many years ago when camping. A vast cloud of midges descended whilst we were trying to erect the tent. All attempts at dispersing them failed and I even tried putting paraffin from the old Primus stove on my face, but even that didn't stop them, nor did a fire with lots of smoke. We were only saved from the menace once we had erected the tent and were able to shelter inside and generate a lot of smoke to get rid of them.
I have heard it said that midges and clegs are the biggest cause of long distance walkers abandoning their walk in these parts of Scotland. Other areas can get problems, but not generally on the same scale. My walk of the Southern Upland Way was not unduly disturbed by midges, though I did encounter a few problems now and again. Some areas of England and Wales, especially near forests, can suffer at times, but seldom to anything like the same degree as Western Scotland, and normal evasive or protective measures are likely to have more success and the attacks are likely to be less frequent in these areas.
Although the Britain is home to four snake species, the only venomous one is the adder. Throughout my many years of walking over many thousands of miles, I have rarely seen any snakes. However, this does not mean that there were none around just that they may have been hiding in long grass or undergrowth. They tend to be shy creatures and are only likely to attack if they feel threatened. Unfortunately, this may happen if a walker comes close to stepping on one without realising it. An adder bite can result in some very painful swelling, but this is not generally serious unless it results in an allergic reaction and fatalities are very rare.
Despite the rare occurence of adder bites, two friends of mine were bitten on separate occasions. The first one was whilst I was with him walking through bracken in the Lake District. We didn't see the snake and at first he thought he had disturbed a wasp's nest and had received a number of stings, but on inspection there were two distinctive pairs of teeth marks on either side of his ankle. His foot swelled up badly and was very painful, but this cleared up after a few days without medical attention. The second friend was bitten whilst he was actually riding a trials bike (now called a motocross bike) close to overhanging ferns and brambles. The snake attacked his arm and bit him though his motorcycling jacket. Knowing what it was that had bitten him, he rode his motor bike straight to the doctor's surgery and had an anti-venom injection, thus avoiding much of the painful swelling.
Despite these examples, I seldom worry about snake bites, as they are far less common than bites from wasps or bees and the consequences or not very serious. I do try to keep an eye out for them when walking through bracken, but it is unlikely that I would see one in time to avoid it anyway.
The weather is something that cannot be planned, as it can change so much on a day-to-day basis. The only thing is to be prepared for as many types of weather as possible and hope for the best. Even in the middle of summer, severe weather can be experienced in mountainous areas, so there is a need to carry waterproofs and enough warm clothing to cope with this possibility. When out walking for a day, it is easy to cancel or abandon the walk if weather conditions get too bad, but on a long distance walk it is not so easy, as it may affect the whole of the remaining schedule. Because of this there is a tendency to press on regardless whatever the weather, though there comes a point where a line has to be drawn and other options have to be considered rather than putting oneself at too great a risk. On some walks there are alternative low level routes to avoid high and exposed places and, if so, these should be considered - there is little point in battling along a mountain ridge in driving rain or worse when there is no view beyond fifty yards in any direction, if there is an easier and safer alternative. Where no official alternative is offered, it may still be possible to find a low level route on the map, even if it is only along roads. Those who have not booked too far ahead can always consider having a rest day to avoid the worst of the weather and then either extend the end of the walk or try to fit in extra miles later on to end at the planned time.
I must say that in all my walks so far I have never had to abandon any part, although there was one occasion when I seriously considered doing so. I was scheduled to walk from King's Youth Hostel at the foot of Cader Idris, through Barmouth and then over the first half of the Rhinog Mountains. A ferocious wind was driving heavy rain into my face as I headed from the hostel and I thought that if it were this bad lower down then it must have been terrible over the exposed mountaintops. I decided to head to Barmouth and see if there was any improvement by then and, if not, to stay overnight and try to reschedule the next part of the walk. When I reached Barmouth, it was not quite so bad, and I realised that part of the walk at least could be done along the sheltered side of the mountains rather than along the ridge. When I eventually had to ascend the ridge, conditions had improved somewhat and, although I was still in rain, mist and wind there was a wall along the ridge to give some shelter, so I was able to reach my planned destination, but it wasn't a pleasant experience and I arrived somewhat behind schedule cold, wet and tired. On many other occasions, I have walked on through bad conditions, but not so bad that I considered myself at any serious risk, though there is always a greater risk of accidents in these conditions. Wet rocks can cause slips, and strong winds can upset ones balance. Swollen streams can be difficult to cross and it is all too easy to fall in when trying to use wet stepping stones to get across, especially if there are large gaps between them. In such circumstances, I often walk up and down the stream in search of the safest footholds. Rather than trying to leap onto rounded, wet stones slightly above water, it is often better to look for footholds in recesses between stones even if this involves getting wet feet. The alternative could result in a total immersion, as has happened to me on a number of occasions. Rivers can present even more problems when footbridges are overrun with flood water or have been washed away. Trying to wade across a river in flood can be a very dangerous exercise, and it is far safer to look for another crossing, even if this involves a long diversion. Mist can hamper visibility and make route finding more difficult thus making it easy to get lost. At the end of the day, discretion is the better part of valour if you don't want to end up with a mountain rescue team searching the hillsides for you or even worse.
On the other side of the coin there are conditions of blazing sunshine and scorching hot conditions where any strenuous effort becomes extremely difficult, and when there is a serious danger of heat exhaustion. In some ways, this can be worse than bad weather - at least in bad weather it is possible to put on extra clothing to keep warm, but when it is too hot there is no escape, though a hat can be used to protect ones head from the sun, and sun block can be used to avoid sunburn. Fortunately, on high level walks, the initial struggle up a hillside is often rewarded by lower temperatures and a cooler breeze, though there are times when there is no breeze at all even high up, and the effort of climbing there can be exhausting. The quantity of liquid required in these conditions can be staggeringly high and few people manage to carry enough for comfort. If these conditions persist for long they are more likely to be the cause of a walk being abandoned than bad weather conditions. For most people a long distance walk will not involve too much of either type of extreme weather conditions, but when planning it is best to bear in mind that some such conditions may be encountered and to be aware of the dangers. The death of three soldiers on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons due to heat exhaustion in 2013 is a stark reminder of what can happen if warning signs are ignored.
There are a number of mentions earlier about the importance of psychology in long distance walking, or any other endurance activity for that matter. It cannot be overemphasised how important 'mind over matter' is in the successful completion of a walk. This is even more important when attempting a long distance walk for the first time, as it is largely an adventure into the unknown. In subsequent walks, this becomes less important, as the confidence and experience gained from previous walks helps to dismiss thoughts of despair when things are getting tough. However, if a previous walk has been abandoned, psychology is again very important, though hopefully lessons will have been learned from previous failure.
It has to be appreciated that, unless you are extremely lucky with the weather, manage not to get lost, don't have many aches, pains or blisters and haven't tried to fit too much walking into one or more days, there are going to be times when you are feeling low and dispirited and start wondering if you have bitten off more than you can chew. It is easy then for negative thoughts to start creeping in making the option of heading straight back home seem very attractive. This is where good planning and training come in, but this still can't account for weather conditions and several other factors that are not easily predicted or prevented.
How people cope with problems depends very much on the individual's personality and state of mind. To those who generally have a positive attitude to life, difficulties become just another challenge to overcome, and once conquered add to the sense of achievement making them ready to face further challenges ahead. There is an old saying 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going!', which tends to sum this up. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to look on things this way, so there is a need perhaps for some encouragement and reassurance from the experiences of others. When a few people are walking together, there is the possibility of a boost in morale from other members of the party who may help them through with encouragement, sympathy and practical help such helping to carry some of their load. For lone walkers this is not generally an option, though they may get some encouragement from other walkers they meet on the way.
As I have mentioned before, in the early stages of the first long distance walk it is important not to dwell on how little distance has already been walked and how much further there still is to go. Try to think only about getting to the end of each day. Even if you feel exhausted footsore and downhearted it is surprising what a good meal, a few drinks and a good night's sleep can make. Even though you may still feel weary in the morning, a bit of steady walking generally gets the system going again ready to face another day.
When spirits are low, there are things that can be done to overcome the difficulties. For thousands of years, people with hard tasks to perform have resorted to singing songs to take their minds off their toil. Many of the sea shanties originated from this, as well as some rousing marching songs, such as Onward Christian Soldiers - it doesn't matter what your beliefs are - if it is a good marching song and you know the words why not sing it? As well as having a rhythm that fits in with a walking pace, singing gives the mind something else to think about other than the body's aches and pains. If, like me, you have a terrible singing voice, what does it matter - the sheep aren't going to worry about it and you can stop singing when within earshot of anyone else. Even singing under one's breath can still be effective.
Another rather bizare thing you can do to urge yourself on to is to swear! This may seem odd, but Stephen Fry demonstrated on television that he, and others, could endure pain for much longer whilst continually swearing than whilst they stayed silent. I had already found myself doing this at times and just thought that I was being a bit weird, but it was interesting to discover that I was not alone in finding this beneficial. However, I would caution about doing this out loud unless you are sure that you are alone. It is still quite effective if done under your breath. However, for people who habitually swear, the effect is much reduced, as it is not any different from what they do normally, so the impact on the mind loses its effect. I sometimes wondered what tennis commentators meant when they said that Andy Murray should stop beating himself up, but I think this is because he was seen to be cursing at himself in order to bring out that extra bit of effort. It looks like he knew better than the commentators what was good for his game, though perhaps, like me, he wasn't really aware of how it was helping. The instinctive response when bashing a finger with a hammer is to swear out loud and this is presumably the brain's way of creating a distraction from the pain.
I have generally found that, unless I have got myself into peak fitness before the start of a walk, the first few days can be the hardest, and there is a tendency for morale to suffer when thinking how much longer I will have to keep going to get to the end. However, experience has told me that after about four or five days I will get fully into the swing of things, feel comfortable with carrying my pack, and find each day's walking to be not too taxing. My advice to anyone would be not to despair in the first few days but to be reassured that things should get better after the initial stages. The only walk I have done where this was not the case was a modified version of the Lakeland Round with an average of 4,000 ft of ascent per day for twelve days. Although the scenery was magnificent, I just got more and more exhausted as the walk progressed and was glad when it was all over. I struggled at times to keep up morale and, had it been my first long distance walk, I might well have been tempted to quit or cut out some of the more difficult sections of mountain climbing. This highlights the need for not taking on a schedule that is beyond your capabilities. It is far better to take a little longer to do a walk so that it can be enjoyed rather than having a tighter schedule that spoils it.
It may be assumed that all National Trails and other published walks are on public rights of way. This, however, is not the case. Just because a National Trail has a bold green marking on an O.S. map does not imply a public right of way. Although a considerable proportion of these walks are on existing public footpaths and bridleways, there are often significant stretches where permissive access has been negotiated with landowners. Since the Countryside Rights Of Way Act 2002 (CROW), many areas of unimproved moorland in England and Wales have been designated as Access Land and marked with new brown signs depicting a walker on the entry to Access Land and a similar signs crossed out by a red line on exit. On Access Land and permissive footpaths, the rights of walkers are somewhat more restricted than on public rights of way. This does not cause much of a problem to walkers themselves, but does place tighter restrictions as far as dogs are concerned (see next section).
When looking at Ordnance Survey maps showing public rights of way (marked in green on 1:25,000 maps and red on 1:50,000 maps), it must be borne in mind that not all of these paths are actually in existence on the ground. The reason for this is that when rights of way started to be marked on O.S. maps in the 1960s these were taken from local authority definitive maps at the time which, in many remote areas, did not accurately represent the actual route of footpaths themselves and may have been based on very old and inaccurate surveys. In some areas of the country, a great deal of effort has been put into the marking and maintaining of rights of way, so that those shown on maps are actually a true indication of genuine footpaths on the ground. Unfortunately, in other areas such as in many parts of Wales, the local authorities have ignored their legal obligation to do so, meaning that they cannot be relied on at all, and often only serve to create confusion. To make matters worse, the actual footpaths are marked as very faint dotted black lines on 1:25,000 maps, and these are hardly visible in poor lighting. In theory, for a right of way to actually exist on the ground, the bold green dotted line should be superimposed on the faint black one, but this is extremely difficult to see. I have found instances around Wales where a public footpath is shown going through the middle of a tarn, another one going down the middle of a river for a while, and another going over the edge of a steep crag a few hundred metres from where the actual waymarked footpath runs. When a right of way is shown as straight line or smooth curve over land that appears from contour lines to be rugged and uneven, it can be almost guaranteed that there will not be such a path on the ground and it is quite likely that there will be no clear path at all or that the path will follow a somewhat different route. There are countless rights of way that have been blocked by hedges or are completely overgrown making them impassable, as well as those having missing or broken stiles and/or being unmarked from the road (another legal obligation that has been ignored). Where a right of way has been blocked, for instance by barbed wire, a fence or hedge with no crossing provided, a gate or stile that is tied up with wire, or any other obstruction, the law allows for a minimum amount of force to be used in order to permit passage. However, it is important to check that there is not a legal diversion in place. There are normally signs to indicate this for a while, but once the diversion has had time to be shown on the latest Ordnance Survey maps, signposting may be allowed to disappear. When using old maps, it is important to remember that rights of way may have been altered.
The situation is gradually improving, but it will still be a long time before the public rights of way in Wales can be relied upon. In the meantime, walkers need to be aware of the situation; otherwise even more confusion can arise. Of course, the routes of long distance paths have been researched by the writers of guidebooks, so these routes themselves should be accessible, but if you need to go off route, for instance to reach some accommodation, the right of way that should take you there may not exist on the ground, or may not follow the exact route shown on the map.
Even in England, where the rights of way are generally maintained to a higher standard, not all of local authority footpath records are complete. Tony Drake, pioneer of the Cambrian Way, was a keen researcher of rights of way in his local area and around Wales. On his death in 2012, Gloucestershire County Council expessed interest in obtaining his rights of way documentation for their archives, as it was considered to be more comprehensive and accurate than their own.
It is often said that in Scotland there is a 'right to roam', but there is no such legislation to support this. It has only come about by an uneasy truce between landowners and walkers whereby landowners allow walkers on their land provided that walkers respect their property and take care to avoid damage when climbing over walls and fences. In most parts of Scotland, particularly in the hills and mountains, there tend to be fewer walkers than in popular areas of England and Wales, so there are less reasons for landowners and farmers to be concerned by their presence.
Whilst he was alive, I used to regularly take my dog walking on day walks over hills and mountains, though I never took him with me on a long distance walk. This is partly due to the logistics of finding suitable accommodation that will allow dogs, places to eat with a dog, and also the extra problem of either carrying or finding dog food along the way. However, some people are inseparable from their dogs when going for walks, and there are ways to overcome the problems for those who want to take them on long distance walks.
Many farmhouses and other rural B&Bs will cater for dogs, and may be able to provide dog food as well. Packets of dried dog food are much lighter than cans, so are not too difficult to carry if none is available along the way. However, there are a few other points that have to be considered when planning to walk with a dog.
Whilst many dogs that are fit and active are quite capable of a long distance walk, not all dogs are capable of the continual daily mileage required. I have heard of one case where a dog was taken on a walk of Offa's Dyke Path and, after the first few days, someone had to collect the dog and take it back home, as it couldn't cope with the pace.
In hot weather, dogs can have more difficulty than humans in keeping themselves from overheating. They rely on blowing air over their tongues to keep cool rather than sweating, and this becomes very difficult when exerting a lot of energy by climbing hills in very hot weather. The only time I have seen my own dog having to keep stopping and resting was on a hot day when his frantic panting just couldn't manage to keep his temperature down. At the time, I found it hot work, but was far better able to cope with it than he was. In these circumstances a dog's water consumption goes up dramatically, so if faced with a long distance to walk with no water available on the ground, not only does a walker need to carry increased quantities of water for his or her own consumption, but even more is required for the dog. I have also heard a case where someone took a dog on holiday to Portugal intending to take it out walking, but faced with the high temperatures, the dog just decided that it was too hot for walking and refused to budge.
As mentioned in the Rights of Way section, there are considerably more restrictions on dogs than there are on walkers. My understanding of the law with regard to dogs is that on a public right of way a dog must be kept under 'close control', which does not necessarily mean being on a lead, whereas on Access Land the requirement is that a dog must be on a short lead of no more than 2 metres in length. However, Access Land does allow the right to roam without the need to keep to rights of way. On Permissive Paths, the landowner allows access but may apply his or her own restrictions, which should generally be displayed on entry to the land. This often involves restrictions on dogs.
Many farmers and gamekeepers try to make up their own rules regardless of what is stated in the law, and put up notices insisting that dogs should be kept on leads at all times even on public rights of way. Hill farmers have a difficult job to do, and I would be the first to support their right to protect their livelihood, but they often see a dog as public enemy number one regardless of how well trained and well behaved it is off the lead. I have had farmers threatening to shoot my dog even though he has been walking along a public right of way minding his own business and making no motion whatsoever towards the sheep. Quite rightly, farmers have the right to shoot dogs found worrying sheep, but they should also respect the legitimate rights of dog owners. On Access Land the law offers landowners further protection by requiring dogs to be on short leads regardless of whether there are any sheep in the area.
In addition to restrictions on dogs above, there are also restictions enforced by local authorities. These were often set out in a host of separate by-laws, but there was a move around 2012 to consolidate these into Dog Control Orders, which can ban dogs from certain areas and require leads in others. Each local authority is responsible for its own Dog Control Orders, but typically these may exclude dogs from children's play areas and marked sports areas in general, as well as certain specified public areas such as parts of beaches. In other places, dogs may be allowed but only on leads and this may include pavements in built up areas, certain areas of parks and beaches, sometimes only at certain times of year. In addition there are regulations with regard to dog fouling in most public places, especially in urban areas. In theory, all these restrictions should be displayed on signs, with maps of areas in which the restrictions apply, but these are often not as clear as might be desired and the standard of signage tends to vary from one authority to another making it very difficult for dog owners to know where they stand, especially when away from their own local area. Sometimes signs merely refer to website where full details are avaiable, but this is not much use to the average dog walker, who cannot reasonably be expected to have internet access wherever they walk their dogs.
During a long distance walk, the body is subjected to a far higher level of physical stress than most people encounter in normal, everyday life. The effects of this have to be considered when getting back to a normal routine.
After all its exertion, the body, quite naturally, wants rest and this can result in a general feeling of tiredness and lethargy. Whilst it is quite reasonable to give in to this for a while, it is all too easy to adopt a very lazy approach to everything whilst the feeling persists, but this can be very detrimental to a proper recovery. If allowed to continue, it can take several weeks before a feeling of well-being and vitality returns, and during this period every little thing can seem like a great effort. By far the best way to overcome this is to undertake some good physical exercise fairly soon after the end of the walk, either by having one or two strenuous walks or by doing some other exercise to achieve the same level of physical activity. This has the effect of overcoming the body's desire for rest and triggers it back to its normal state far sooner than would otherwise be the case.
When the body is subjected to a high level of physical stress, resistance to infection and disease can be considerably reduced, so it is not uncommon, shortly after the end of the walk, to succumb to whatever bug is going around. I read an article recently about the use of large doses of vitamin C to help prevent colds. The conclusion of the study was that in normal circumstances there was little to be gained from this, but in the case of people who had been subjected to extreme physical stress, such as marathon runners, there was a 50% reduction in the chance of catching a cold by taking large amounts Vitamin C. I would consider that long distance walkers also come into the same category in this respect, and also assume that, although the survey related only to colds, there may also be some benefit with other viruses, though this is only speculation and not something I have tried myself.
It is not uncommon to find at the end of a long walk that the region from the ball of the foot to the toes feels numb and this feeling can remain for quite a long time, possibly for some months. I have always assumed that this is because nerves serving the toes have either been damaged or desensitized where they run through the ball of the foot by the constant pounding they are subjected to during the walk, and it, therefore, takes some time for them to get back to normal afterwards. This doesn't generally cause any problems apart from having to live with a somewhat odd feeling for a while.
As mentioned earlier, it is quite usual to build up a hearty appetite during a walk, and there is generally some loss of body weight despite eating more food than normal. It is very easy to keep on eating at the same rate once the walk is over without the level of exercise required to burn off the calories. This can result in putting back on any weight that was lost and possibly more besides within a short period of time.[Top] [Building Up] [Planning & Accommodation] [Choosing a Walk] [Schedule] [Maps, Guides and GPS] [Equipment] [Food and Drink] [Feet] [Hazards] [Weather] [Morale] [Rights of Way] [Dogs] [Aftermath]
I hope you have found this advice useful, but if you disagree with any of it or have anything useful to add, please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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