Planning a Walk

April 10, 2013

Plan a walk correctly and the enjoyment is increased tenfold. Planning a walk does not need to be a strict military process that it often becomes but a task that is enjoyable, inclusive and  can be done in harmony. All you need to do is spread a map out on the floor and, if you can relate the map to the what is outside,  be the person who plans it.

It is disheartening to hear people say that they cannot read a map, that their (usually male) spouse insists on doing it and that they would not know where to start. Anyone can read a map given enough time and experience, open your eyes next time you are out walking, take a map and soon it will become alive. It is so much more fun. Have you ever tried?

So what are the stages in planning a walk

  • First of all decide where are you staying and how far you are prepared to travel to walk. This will almost certainly be a little vague ie: Northern Lakes, Southern Dales, coastal.
  • Have a look at a good website which shows walks in your chosen area. Clearly Where2walk is the best (other websites are available….!) and the site shows, either by map or list, what walks are available.
  • Relate the walks to you and/or your party, do you want to go high, stay low, visit a piece of history or take the family.
  • The website itself should present a broad outline of the walk, maybe a map, some pictures which the type of terrain you will be walking in and maybe some highlights you could expect to see.
  • Then spread out your own 1.25,000 O/S map (or the Harvey 1.40,ooo which are also excellent) and follow the walk round, in particular looking for the start point, any steep sections and then come to a conclusion on roughly how long it will take (this will inevitably be rough but it is straightforward to estimate within half an hour)
  • That is it, go for it.

When I was putting together Where2walk one of my guiding principles was to use the pages on individual walks as an informative list of the best walks in an area and NOT a route by route guide book. To me there is nothing worse than seeing people out on the fell with a guidebook in hand, solemnly following an instruction to walk 110 metres to a gate where they are told to turn left, walk another 55 ms…… Aside from the impracticality of this , it severely curtails the enjoyment of the walk. For a start you are looking at the book too much instead of what is around you and in addition it is potentially dangerous. Ask yourself what would happen if, for whatever reason, you lost the book and then had to find your way back. You may not lose the book but you could make a mistake, the guidebook may have an error. One simple error and the book is useless. What you need to do is be able to rely on the landscape around you.

At Where2walk the individual walks are described using just the key factors. There is information on where to start, what the terrain will be like, a map showing basic detail, a length and of course where to have a pint afterwards. It will not offer a step by step guide to each walk. Finally and most importantly it offers a variety of good quality photos as well as my very personal description which is intended to provide character and an understanding to the walk and who it may suit. Hopefully it is also a good read. Click here for a typical example of an individual walk 

The only guide books I have ever taken on to the fells are the splendid Wainwright guides of the Lakeland Fells but not any more, now I enjoy them only as a good read indoors. However I always have a map (and if the walk is likely or even possibly going to be in bad visibility, a compass)

Despite everything I have already said many will still claim that they cannot use a map properly, they just cannot read it. If a map is properly explained to someone (usually by a person with more experience) then I would strongly argue that, with a little practice, it will all become increasingly clearer. The key things to understand on a map are

  • Understand the distances and the square grids that are on the maps. On the 1.25,000 series it takes roughly 15 minutes to walk 1 grid (1 kilometre).
  • If you are going up hill, add 1/2 again to the time taken to climb so a kilometre may take up to 25 minutes. The steeper the hill add a little more and on a steep path it may take 30 minutes (or even a little longer)  to cover a kilometre on a map.And if someone mentions Naismith’s rule and draws out his calculator just ignore him (her).
  • Understand contours and which way signifies going up and which is more of a valley.
  • Understand where you can walk, what is a public path/bridleway and what may not be. Same with Access land
  • Finally make sure you orientate your map correctly so it points in the right direction!
The other thing to understand, but only if you are going in to higher ground that is either featureless and/or in cloud, is to be able to take and follow a compass bearing. The only health warning I will say today is that many many walkers become lost when they start walking downhill from a summit when the cloud is down. Take a compass bearing and you will be infallible (except on the Cuillin of Skye where the compass does not work). If you would like to know more about this side of navigation or map work do have a look at our Navigation Courses in the Dales.
To finish off I would leave you with these 3 thoughts
1. Buy Guide Books for a pleasant read but not to aid navigation on a walk. Take a map
2. Understand the key features of a map and how to relate it to the land around
3. Encourage any government to include a Navigation course in the National Curriculum, to me it is an essential life skill
And finally remember ANYONE can plan a walk using just a good map….

Previous Posts

Risk & Reality. How a guide can balance the need of enjoyment with safety

The Joy of Maps. A look at what a map can show you about the land you are walking in

Please, some proper snow . Photos of proper snow conditions in the Dales

Christmas Gifts for walkers (not socks) . Mugs , photos and maps for sale

My favourite Walking Books . These are my choices but what are yours

Walking Challenges. Each person has there own walking challenges, here are mine

Volunteers run the show. How they help keep the National Parks alive and well

Hats & Cairns. The satisfactions of climbing a good sized hill

10 Dales Favourites. Some of the most popular walks in the Yorkshire Dales

10 Lakeland Classics. A list of my favourite 10 full day walks in the Lake District

Walking Holidays. Choose a walking holiday in the Lakes or the Dales, many choices.

Buses & Trains . Save on cost and hassle by looking at the Buses and Train options

Why go walking? Many good reasons to get off your backside and get out and about

Fell Top Assessors. What do they do and how are they funded

Windfarms – simply no need. As wind farms continue to be built why are we doing it?

Inspired by Autumn Watch? Some photography of animals in the countryside and the pleasures of limestone walking

Extending the National Parks. Views and news on the decision to extend the national parks of the Lakes & Dales

Using a map to navigate. Why using a map and compass adds so much to a good walk.

Walks for the family. How to educate your children to enjoy the great outdoors.

Away from the Crowds. Some tips and suggestions on where to still find peace and solitude when many walks are crowded out.

My favourite villages in the Dales. The villages in the Yorkshire Dales which are extra special.

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