Rules of Walking!

May 22, 2015

This is not a Health and Safety piece, anyone who knows me would realise this is then last type of blog I would ever write. However with a little bit of thought before you head out a walk your day can be so much more satisfying.

Here are some key tips and advice to ensure you are both walking safely and responsibly but also helping you enjoy the walk to its fullest.

Ingleborough from the Old Hill

1. Always take, and understand how to use, a map

I have written many times before about my love for the superb maps of our countryside (click here). I tend to use Ordnance Survey 1.25,000 or 1.50,000 maps but recently have been looking closely at the excellent Harvey’s maps for walkers. However based on the 1.25,000 O/S maps here are the areas you should understand

  • Distance. One Grid Line (the faint blue lines criss crossing the map) represents 1 kilometre and therefore takes roughly 15 minutes to walk. This assumes a good straight path along near flat terrain
  • Height. Each contour line (in orange) represents a 10 metre height gain. When the contours are close together this represents steep land. The steeper the land the slower people will walk. Add 1 minute for every contour line you cross.
  • Boundaries. The black (usually straight) lines that pepper the map represent boundaries, either fences but more often stone walls
  • Paths. These fall in to 2 main categories for the walker; public footpaths/public bridleways and permitted footpaths
    • Public Footpaths/Bridleways are represented by either short green dashes (footpaths for walkers only) and longer green dashes (bridleways for walkers, horse riders and non motorised bikers). Public footpaths are official paths where you are free to walk as long as you do not stray from the path, it is a combination of landowner and council/national park to ensure their upkeep.
    • Permitted footpaths are represented by either short black dashes or short orange dashes (in recent maps). Permitted paths are footpaths open with the land owners’ discretion and could be closed by them at any time. They may not be there when you arrive on the walk!
  • Access Land represented by pale yellow shading on a map. In the last 10 years much of our uplands have been designated ‘Open Access’ and theoretically this means that a walker can go anywhere on the land and not just stick to paths. This is usually fine in the Lake District but the reality is that in much of Yorkshire (Dales/Moors) and the Pennines the landowner has placed restrictions on movement, particularly people with dogs which are often banned.
  • Orientating the map so the map faces the same direction as the land. This may be just common sense but the best way of doing it is to take a compass and make sure the North arrow points directly up one of the grid lines. It may be only 99% accurate but good enough for the average walker on a good day out.
Compasses are mainly for when the cloud comes down and the land is featureless, they are important but not essential to understand.
Navigation Long Preston

2. Should I take a Guide Book out?

My simple answer to this is No.
Guide Books (good guide books) have there place. They are excellent when you are sat at home and wish to know where the best places are to walk. For example you have decided to take a holiday in Grassington and would like to know where the best walks are – then buy a guide book of the area and read up on the nearby or not quite so near walks (it may be worth travelling a little for the best ones). Basically they provide ideas and, if well researched, good ideas.
What I tend to really dislike with guide books is the step by step instructions you are expected to follow ie: turn left after 100 metres, turn right past the big tree etc:
  • If you go wrong at any stage there is no recovery. A guide book will not bring you back on track and because it is a linear description the person (unless they have brought a map along as well and know how to use it) will have no awareness of the landscape around.
  • So much of the enjoyment of a walk is lost if you are aware of the landscape around you and in the distance. Taking a map here makes all the difference.  Short detours for the best views, names of nearby hills are missed but in particular you may want to change your mind on a walk, increase or shorten the day. A guide book is too rigid.
  • They are heavy and take up unnecessary room!

On the many circular walks I have on this website I have always provided a broad outline of what the walker can expect. There is a map with any key features and a route outline marked on, a start point, parking details, drinking details, how long in miles the walk is and most importantly details of the type of terrain you will be walking through. There is no step by step guide as I hope the walker will transfer the information on to a map and use it. It is certainly what I do.

One other thing that guide books do that I find irritating is give a time for a walk. Anyone who has been on a Navigation Course with me knows that I only ever provide a minimum time that a walk will take, never an exact time. There are just too many variables to take in to account. Quoting an exact time is too vague whilst suggesting a rough time (say 4 to 6 hours) is of no practical use. We all walk at our own pace and use up time stopping, slowing and doing our own thing on a walk.

Romantic Stockley Bridge

3. Respect the Countryside Code

The full details of the Countryside Code can be found by clicking here. I have outlined what I consider to be the most important issues although, in fairness, it is mainly just common sense and politeness.

  • Work with the landowner (who is not necessarily a farmer), after all it is their land. In particular shut all gates that you pass though, do not block access whilst parking your car and try wherever possible to stick to the path. Do not climb over dry stone walls, they are a vital part of our landscape.
  •  Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home. Of all the people on our mountains many of the worst are the idiots on the National 3 Peaks Challenge – the summit of Scafell Pike is like a pig sty thanks to them in no small way. However they are not alone.
  • Do not light fires/drop cigarettes. The North York Moors has particularly suffered due to fools starting gorse fires during the recent hot/dry spell.
  • Check the weather forecast before you leave and pack clothes accordingly. Also take plenty of water and snacks in case the walk takes longer than it should.
  • You may have a time target for a walk but if you take longer…so what. Do not ruin a walk by clock watching, just make sure you have plenty of water/snacks.
  • Keep dogs under effective control. The key here is ‘effective control’, if your dog may chase animals (sheep in particular) keep it on a lead, if not make sure it sticks close to you when sheep are nearby*

* I would like to briefly elaborate on walking with dogs (it is something close to my heart) . In my opinion most people should be able to train their dog so they do not chase sheep – my own Border Collie came from working stock but will not chase sheep after some concerted training. She is alert and watchful in their company but sticks to my feet like glue. Nothing annoys me more than seeing dogs chasing sheep and ruining it for the rest of us. I do not blame landowners for their anger (although shooting dogs is draconian and unnecessary) but I also dislike the sight of some poor dog which is straining to race around being restricted by a lead. However increasingly sign posting gets in right – “dogs under close control” NOT “dogs must be on a lead”. However Open Access land restrictions on dogs (banning them or insisting on a short lead)) does also not make sense, it hardly harms the grouse for dogs to be walking along paths like their human owners.

Whilst on about dogs and livestock I have come across a couple of distressing occasions when cows have been wound up by dogs and stampeded/pressured walkers. The advice here is simple, release your dog from its lead, more often than not it is the dog that is winding up the cows, and then look after yourself. My wife, for one, will not walk anywhere where there are cows which is a shame.

Frisky cows

4. Mountain Rescue Teams – do not waste their time

Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) cover our upland areas (and caving and coastal areas) on a voluntary basis and do an excellent job ‘rescuing’ walkers who have fallen and hurt themselves or suffered some other health problem. In an emergency they can be contacted by calling 999 or 112 and then asking for Police and then Mountain Rescue. There is also a new text service on 999 for use when a mobile signal is weak but you do need to register for it. Text ‘register’ to 999 and all will be explained.

However, with the increased use of mobile phones, there has been an increased number of unnecessary call outs and this not only wastes volunteers’ time it may also put at  risk more serious cases that occur at the same time. There are 2 simple ways of cutting down these unnecessary call outs:

  • Extent of injury. If the injured can walk unaided down the mountain in safety it should not be necessary to call out the MRT
  • Prevention. Make sure you are prepared when you go up the mountain; most importantly wear the correct gear, in particular walking boots or, during dry conditions, good quality trainers, waterproofs and other spare/dry clothes. Being wet, even in good conditions, can lead to problems from exposure remarkably quickly. Also make sure you have sufficient food and water and take and be able to use a map. In winter be more careful and better prepared.

For further tips visit the MRT website here

Lovely light on Robin Hood's Bay

5. Enjoying Yourself

After only a couple of walks all the above will be 2nd nature to the walker. They can then express themselves, start planning their own routes, their own challenges; who (if anyone) they would like to walk with, decide what they are going to take out on the fell, which shoes best suit them, whether to take on the winter snows and many many more ways to enjoy themselves. We are born to roam, it is in our nature to seek challenges and overcome them, success is important but not essential – what is essential is being out there and giving it our best shot.  And yes part of the pleasure is an element of risk, that adrenalin buzz from being just a little close to the edge.

Wear the correct gear (it does not have to be expensive – good shoes/boots, waterproofs are the only essentials), take a map and learn how to use it and a compass if going higher and off track and everything else should be your choice. More and more people are enjoying our outdoors – be one of them!

Perfect Ridge Gray Crag

Enjoy your walking


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