Most people go walking, rambling and hiking because they enjoy it. It’s a time to escape the daily routine and it can be done anywhere – from a Sunday afternoon stroll to a full day in the hills to a fully-blown mountaineering expedition. Moreover, it also has many health benefits.
If you’re serious about taking up hiking as a pastime, it’s best to begin gradually. Going out in groups and learning the basics with more experienced walkers will enable you to learn just how far you can walk before you begin to feel tired. Quite often, your local hiking or rambling club will put on three or four walks, all of different lengths and degrees of difficulty, from the simple to the tough so you will soon be able to find a comfortable level that suits you and can always strive to reach the next level over time as your fitness increases.
When starting out, it’s important to underestimate rather than overestimate what you think you can achieve. There’s no target to aim for. Just do as much as you enjoy. Some long distance walkers can achieve distances of over 20 miles a day quite comfortably but it’s important to only do what your body tells you to and the amount which you find pleasurable. You can soon increase the distance over time but if you do too much too soon, you’ll start finding it more of a burden than the pleasurable pastime it should be.
Most people can walk approximately 3 miles per hour on flat, level surfaces without too much trouble in which they can take rests and take in their surroundings for a while before continuing on with their journey. However, climbing hills takes more time. The usual rule of thumb is to add on half an hour for every 300m climbed. These time approximations can be very useful in planning a route, especially if you’re hiking in the hills where you’ll need to plan carefully to reach your final destination before nightfall.
Out and about in Britain
Most places in Britain are perfectly safe for beginners to walk in but there are a few remote highland areas, particularly in parts of Scotland, Wales and northern England where walkers need to take care, especially in bad weather. In these areas, you should keep to the well-marked paths in the valleys and lower slopes, unless you know what you’re doing, are properly equipped and in the company of an experienced walker or guide. The Ramblers’ Association is a useful starting off point to do some research on places to hike alongside giving you details of a group near to where you live.
Hiking essentials and hiking clothing are both covered in other sections on this website but here are some additional pieces of advice to ensure your hiking experience is pleasurable and safe:
- Be aware of your capabilities and don’t overstretch yourself. If you’re unsure, start with easy walks through populated areas with plenty of ‘escape routes’ so you can cut short your walk, if necessary.
- Know where you’re going and what to expect. Study maps and guidebooks beforehand to gain an understanding of the territory.
- Make sure that you can navigate your route with the aid of maps, guidebooks and a compass.
- Make sure you’re properly equipped and are wearing suitable clothing and footwear for the kind of walk you want to do.
- Take a pragmatic and sensible approach to the weather. Check the forecast before you set out and always take waterproofs with you. If the weather forecast looks particularly grim, put off your walk for another day.
- Leave a route card with estimated timings and an indication of your likely location and ultimate destination wth a family member or friend and notify this person as soon as you return.
- If a real emergency does occur, the international distress signal is 6 loud blasts of a whistle, repeated at one minute intervals.
- If you’re more of an experienced walker and are interested in embarking on more challenging walks, it’s well worth attending a course in mountain safety first.
Hiking can be a wonderful way to spend your leisure time. It can get you fit, sometimes without you hardly realising it, and gives you an opportunity to experience the pleasures of the great outdoors with other like-minded people.