If you’re fed up of doing the usual routes and fancy going off path, then you’ll find it very rewarding. Here are our top tips for going off path.
1 – Navigation – You’ll need to know where you’re going! Skill with map and compass are essential if you’re on the hills, even more so if you’re going to leave the relative security of know footpaths. You’ll also need to be able to pick the best route on the ground as well, which is not always the same as good map work! Negotiating your way through boggy and tussocky ground takes a lot of skill, something akin to solving a maze as you’ll probably end up retracing your steps at numerous points.
2 – Access – If you’re going off rights of way, then you’ll need to be doing so legally! In Wales and England, you can do so on access land while the law’s a bit more flexible in Scotland. This tends to be higher ground – and clearly marked on 1:25k OS maps.
3 – Terrain – So you know you can go there legally, but is it practical? Is it so boggy as to make a snorkel essential? Somewhere such as the Rhinogydd are so difficult that you really can’t cut across the terrain other than where there are already paths. Even then, you may find your way blocked by fences and walls that have no stiles. It’s unfortunate that even though there’s access land, it’s often inaccessible unless you know where the access points are and these aren’t readily available on maps. You often don’t know this until you’re there, and be prepared to back track if needed.
4 – Timing – Closely related to the terrain, you will take longer to cut off-path. Even reasonably easy grassy slopes are slower than a decent path. If you’re taking a bearing across tussocky and boggy ground, you could well find yourself slowing to a couple of kilometres an hour.
5 – Leave no trace – You’ll know you’re off path when you find huge lichens on the rocks, something which thousands of boots will have removed on more popular areas. Also be wary of stumbling onto bird’s nests, as some species nest on the ground. You often hear that the only thing you should leave behind are footprints – if the mud’s like this, it’ll probably take your boots as well.
6 – Watch out for Loose Rocks. Any loose rocks will have been trodden into submission in busy areas. So you’ll need to take more care with your footing when you’re off-path.
7 – River Crossings. If there’s a river in the way, you’ll need to cross it. Mountain streams in regular weather are usually fine (read usually!), but can be impassable after heavy rain or a thaw. Some streams, or channels in moorland may be deeper than you’d imagine.