Planning a successful rural walk in five steps

A walk which has been suitably prepared could turn an unbearable slog through dull muddy fields into an exciting and uplifting adventure through picturesque landscapes and beautiful woodlands. Whilst some things can’t be controlled, such as the weather, there are several steps which you can take to improve your chances of having an enjoyable and successful walk.

Follow our simple guide to help plan your own country walk in five easy steps.

Step 1: Make sure you have all the necessary kit

Before thinking about where you would like to walk you need to ensure you have all the necessary kit. This includes boots appropriate for the type of walk you wish to go on (trainers, pumps, sandals etc. are not usually suitable for countryside walking). Do not underestimate how muddy and slippery your walk could be.

TOP TIP: Shoes should be ‘worn in’ before using them on long hikes. This means wearing them on several short walks before using them on a full hike. This will help the shoe adapt to the size of your foot and feel more comfortable.

Your clothes should also be appropriate for the expected weather and terrain. This will include walking trousers (jeans are not suitable).

Ensure you have any emergency items you might need such as a first-aid kit or emergency shelter. A sturdy, comfortable bag will be useful to keep all your gear protected and dry and provide somewhere to store extra clothing. Make sure you backpack is not too heavy.

For more information on the kit you might require please see our example kit list.

Step 2: Make sure you have all the necessary skills

Walking in the countryside is a relatively safe activity, especially when compared to other pursuits such as kayaking or mountain climbing. However, there are always risks when embarking on any hike, and having sufficient training or experience will help you avoid danger and provide you with the skills for dealing with any problems which arise.

Skills you will need include knowing how to read a map, how to use a compass, how to read bus and train timetables (if necessary), and knowledge of how to deal with livestock or hazardous vegetation (such as stinging nettles) which you might find on your route.

TOP TIP: Good communication skills are also useful on rural walks. They will help give you confidence to talk to landowners or others you might encounter along your route. Be friendly to everyone you meet and don’t be afraid to ask for directions or advice.

Ensure you are sufficiently fit. Remember that walking five miles over uneven and hilly terrain with a heavy backpack is much more difficult than walking five miles along a street with just your mobile phone.

You should always go with someone used to countryside walking before embarking upon your own hike.

Step 3: Decide where you want to walk.

At first glance, this step seems quite easy, but it can actually be a fairly difficult decision. Before planning your walk you need to decide on the area you wish to visit. You could start by choosing a particular feature you would like to see, such as a hill, waterfall, building or village.

You should also think about the following:

  • How far is it from your home? Remember that you will need to factor in your journey time (in both directions). It can be tempting to visit far-away places, but more time travelling means less time enjoying your walk. It will extend your day and increase the likelihood of being delayed in traffic.
  • How will you get there? If you are using public transport then you will need to research how you will get to the start of your work, and how you will get home afterwards. Will you be able to get home if you are delayed on your walk or miss a connection? How much will transport cost? If you are going in a private car then you will need to find somewhere safe and secure to park. Mapping tools such as Google Maps can help with this, and some car parks are shown on Ordnance Survey maps. Consider costs such as petrol and car park charges.
  • What is the terrain like? Is the area agricultural, hilly, rocky, wooded. The type of terrain will affect the length of walk you are able to take. It will affect how difficult the walk is likely to be. Want a challenging walk? Pick a hilly area (a path which crosses lots of contour lines). Want something more easy going? Pick a flat walk with a path which follows contour lines.TOP TIP: Easy walks can usually be found along river-sides or canal banks as these naturally follow the contours of the land.

Step 4: Plot your route

Once you have decided which area you would like to visit the next step is to plot your walk, and for this you will need a map. The most popular map series for walkers in the Ordnance Survey Explorer range. These detailed maps cover the whole of the UK at a scale of 1:25 000, and can be bought in book stores or borrowed from libraries.

Tips on route planning

Plot your route along footpaths, lanes and other public rights of way using the OS Maps symbols key to help. When planning your route you should make sure it has one or two ‘shortcuts’. You might decide to use these if your walk is taking you longer than expected.

See the Ordnance Survey website for more information on how to read and use a map.

Measure your route and ensure it is a suitable length. Make sure you take into consideration the elevation (height) of your walk.

TOP TIP: To make your walk interesting you could include a variety of terrain types or geographical features. For example, your could start your walk in a wood, then cross several fields, through a village, along a river bank, over a hill, and then follow a canal back to the start.

TOP TIP: Avoid long stretches along roads if possible. Country lanes often have no pavement for walkers to use, and fast cards and agricultural vehicles can present a hazard.

Plotting your route on computer

Some people prefer to plot their walks on computer as this can make it easier to measure a walk. Some software also calculates the elevation of the walk, making it easy to see how many hills you will need to climb over. Walks can often be downloaded to mobile phones or other GPS-enabled devices. OS Maps is an online service allowing your to plot walks on Ordnance Survey maps. Most online/computer-based mapping applications require a subscription or for you to purchase a license.

Using someone else’s existing walk

If you are not confident in plotting your own walk then you can use someone else’s. Existing routes can sometimes be found in good walking route books (usually available in libraries), or from route cards available from the DofE. These walks usually visit interesting landmarks along well-trodden paths with good views. Pictures, illustrations and maps often accompany any text descriptions. However, some maps in walking books can be quite rudimentary, and you should still ensure you have an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map in case you get lost. Remember that a walk published several months or years ago might not be viable today, and you should be prepared for any eventuality.

Step 5: Prepare for the day

Check the weather forecast

One of the most important aspects to a successful rural walk is to ensure you are prepared for the weather. Check forcasts, but also plan for changes in weather. For example, just because a day is predicted to be ‘mostly cloudy’ it doesn’t mean you won’t need sun protection at some point. If a day is expected to be sunny it could still turn out to be cold and windy.

Water

You must always ensure you carry sufficient quantities of water for your excursion. The body loses a lot of water whilst walking (especially over challenging terrain) and can quickly become dehydrated. If possible, you could plan a stop at a shop or petrol station along your walk where you be able to replenish your supply (make sure these will be open). You should never drink from rivers or other natural water sources due to the high risk of infection. Make sure you drink regularly during your walk – do not wait until you are feeling thirsty.

Food

If you are going to be walking for more than a few hours then it would be sensible to take a snack or meal with you. Alternatively, you could plan a stop at a shop or inn along the way (again, makes sure it is open and will be serving food at your expected arrival time). You should try to wash your hands before eating, especially if you have been in contact with animals or touched dirt in farmland. For this reason you might decide to take some soap or hand wash with you on your journey, or plan a stop near a toilet.

Pack your kit

Pack all your kit in advanced so that you aren’t rushing around just before your work.

If you are going in a private vehicle then you could leave a space pair of socks and some comfortable shoes to change into after you walk. This will not only reduce the chances of getting mud in the vehicle, but it will also help to keep your feet healthy. Take a plastic bag to put your dirty boots in! For more information on kit please see our example kit list.

TOP TIP: Make sure you refresh your knowledge of the Countryside Code so you are aware of your responsibilities.

TOP TIP: Tell someone where you’re going and give them a copy of your planned route and expected return time. It could save your life.

TOP TIP: Set your alarm to allow yourself plenty of time to get ready and set off on your adventure

Featured image: Dave_S. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. No changes have been made.