Getting into Country Walking
Call this what you will, it’s often called Rambling, as good a word as any. You can class this as any sort of walking that’s not mountain walking, but the next guy will have a different definition. So for our purpose, lets assume you’ve managed to get up to walking easy routes of around 10km+ on very easy tracks but want to do something a little more adventurous, but not yet tackle Ben Nevis or Snowdon. What are your option for taking the next steps?
You’ll probably need to make sure you’ve got a decent pair of trail shoes or boots, whatever you’re comfortable in. Boots can be useful if you expect mud as with care you can keep your feet dry. Some pessimists will state that you’ll NEVER keep your feet dry. They’re either careless in their footfalls or have poor boots. My feet have only ever got wet on a few occasions in decent boots. Once was when they completely gave up on me and were no longer waterproof, at the start of a long night walk with 2 more days in the hills as well. The other time was during the exceptional rains of November 2009, when most roads were closed due to flooding i decided it was a good time to cross from Aber to Capel Curig via Llyn Cowlyd. A couple of knee deep tracks, and a much deeper ford of a stream that looks minor on the map but is a vicious torrent in the wet meant that boots had no chance! Make sure you’ve decent socks too, I won’t tell you again.
Your most important item of clothing will be your waterproof jacket. With any luck it will be packed away most of the day as well. Most people will swear by Gore-Tex, whereas I just sweat in it. It’s much more breathable than the cagoules of old, and head and shoulders over cheaper fabrics but I find that Paramo jackets are much more breathable. The downside being that they’re bulkier and warmer and are obviously designed for the outdoors and not the street. You’ll struggle to find one for less than £150 even on sale, so not a budget option at the outset. Mine have lasted for many years and are re-proofed each season, so perform as new. For the casual walker, a Gore-Tex jacket (consider the alternative E-Vent, as it is considered by some to be as good as if not better) that serves at weekends for the outdoors and weekdays as a general coat is probably the better bet.
You’ll already have dumped the jeans and cotton-tee and invested in trousers and synthetic tops. Add to this a really warm fleece or two and a pair of waterproof over trousers and you’ll be ok. Hats and gloves top it off, not forgetting the summer hats and sunglasses.
Gear. You’ll certainly need a small back pack, between 15 and 25 litres should be more than enough, and there’s so many out there that the choice is bewildering. For £20 you can get something serviceable. I’ve got an ancient Gelert pack that cost less than that and is practically bomb-proof. For £30-50 you can get some really nice packs and most will suit your needs if you make sure they’re the right size. Don’t get a massive pack thinking you’ll need the space as you’ll inevitably end up carrying more than you need and packs are usually most comfortable when full. Mesh pockets on the side for water bottles and pouches on the hip belt are useful features, with a mesh or bungee on the back to hold a wet jacket an ideal extra. Hydration bladders are one extra i used to love, but now i think a simple water bottle is more practical as you can gauge how much is left much easier! Some packs are waterproof, but I find that a regular pack with all items either in dry bags or a large bin-bag is fine if it looks wet.
Dry bags are small, waterproof bags for keeping your valuables and clothing in. For a few quid, they’re essential for cameras, mobiles and wallets and ideal to keep your spare fleece dry in. Exped do an excellent range as do Alpkit, but beware of any no-name brands as you may save pennies that turn into a loss of pounds as your mobile or camera is ruined.
Map and Compass. Either you’ll need these, or someone else will. More to the point, you’ll need to know how to use them. That’s a book in itself, so I’m never going to provide the skills here. Cicerone do a book called Navigation that’s a comprehensive little book, or visit the NNAS (National Navigational Awards Scheme) website and register on a navigation course. There used to be some free leaflets from the OS, but alas they’ve vanished from the site. Of course, joining a walking group such as the Ramblers or blagging an experienced friend to take you is much less hassle and cheaper. Maps are usually by Ordnance Survey, who do provide wonderful maps for the UK, but don’t forget that Harveys are another brand to look out for, with their recent mountain map series certainly being the prettiest mapping available. Forget a GPS unless you understand the basics of map and compass work. Silva produce a decent compass, as do Suunto. Once you can use a map and compass a GPS is a good investment, but as an additional tool, never to replace the analogue!
Consumables? Plenty of water and food for the duration, but don’t overdo it! Shorter walks like this shouldn’t take more than a few hours. I tend to need 2-3 litres on a long summer day of hard walking, considerably less for a couple of hours. Drinking water from a stream is probably not a good idea in lowland areas. I often drink from mountain streams that are clear and high up, in fact it’s probably the best water that i’ve tasted, but any doubt and i put an aquaclear purifiying tablet in. They’re cheap, light and convenient, but add a chemical taste. Sun tan lotion. A simple first aid kit is usually recommended, but I tend to take an emergency pack with a bit of everything. This includes the usual first aid items of bandage/plaster, wipes absorbent pads, maybe some bite cream, but also a bit of gaffer tape, spare laces and the water purifying tablets. Do you need a survival bag? Probably not, but depending on the route and how far you get from civilisation, then the ‘correct’ answer would be yes.
You might need some food as well if you’re going for long enough. Jelly babies are a good trail food, though not particularly healthy! If you want healthy, then dried fruit is great, but i’ll stick to my jelly babies ta. If you’re only going for a few hours then you probably don’t need any food, but part of the pleasure is stopping half way, hopefully on the highest spot and have a spot of lunch.
Where to go?
Search on the database for easy rambles and walks. Here’s an example of a few suitable routes that provide enough challenge yet should be doable.
Again, common sense alert is necessary. Make sure you can walk any of the walk distances easily, as the rougher trails will tire you considerably more. You need to remember than ascent on the route can add significant time and effort. Each 10m you climb will add one minute to your time, often more and much more if you’re not used to ascending. So 600m will be an extra hour on your trip if you’re reasonably fit, when I was unfit I found that I had to double that figure (now i can halve it :-P). Wind, rain and sun can also affect how long the walk takes. You’ll need to decide if the walk’s achievable in the time you’ve given yourself.
Some harder walks may be suitable, especially if you’re reasonably fit and the navigation is straightforward. What you do need to take into account is how far you get from civilisation on the route. Some technically moderate walks in wilder terrain can take you very far from help and can be a more serious undertaking and why those routes are classed as harder. Remember that keeping lower and on decent tracks will mean the conditions you face are less severe and navigation easier than on the summits and off path. Walks like this may have some hazards like boggy sections that you need to cross, maybe an easy stream by way of stepping stones. Nothing too serious, and things that certainly add to the interest of the day.