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Walking guide for beginners – a first step

Other posts by  |  Patrick Norris on Google+ |  June 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

How to begin walking

Walking guide Patrick Norris

Walking guide Patrick Norris

In Patrick Norris’s latest article for his column A Walker’s Guide, he gives tips on how to get into walking and take the first steps into what is surely the most popular pass-time in the UK. Want to walk with a guide? Contact Patrick at

So, you want to go walking in the countryside, where will you go, what will you need and how ever will you find your way around?  If you’re new to leisure walking, then you might want to spend a bit of time sitting in your chair, or in front of the computer, researching some answers to those three questions in the first sentence of this feature. Alternatively, continue reading this and I will try and provide some of the answers, which might just get you on the right track and out exploring the great and endlessly diverse British countryside.

Your ideal first walk should be:

  1. Local to where you live in a park, along a canal towpath or perhaps an old railway line, upgraded for cyclists and walkers
  2. Just long enough to feel you have achieved something
  3. With friends and family
  4. To a pub or a tearoom where you can rest and get refreshments
  5. In fine weather
  6. Enjoyable and make you want to do more

Where will you go?

A bit of history then, in England and Wales, we have an astonishing network of public footpaths, bridleways and byways, known collectively as the public rights of way network. As a pedestrian, you are legally allowed to walk on all three and I’ll say no more than that, because it can get complicated. (Scotland has different rules and I may return to that subject in the future).  The public rights of way network is one of our greatest national assets, part of our heritage if you like; it is protected by Acts of Parliament, fiercely cared for and although not always perfect by any means, the network is used by millions of people over any given year and boy, would we miss it, if it wasn’t there.

There are footpaths, bridleways and byways in every city, town, village and parish in England and Wales.  Many of those will connect via the urban and rural fringes to the wider countryside.  It’s fair to say, that if you walk in almost any direction from any city or town centre, on the public rights of way network, or along urban paths, then, you will eventually reach the countryside, or the coast.  As well as the public rights of way network, the UK has plenty of parks, country parks and gardens in the public sector, which have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Plus there are public beaches, National Trust properties and the Forestry Commission as well as private estates.  Many of these have some sort of access arrangements often on the public rights of way network.  There are endless opportunities to go for a walk in this country; have a look around you and discover what’s there.

Finding your way around

To begin with, pick a walk that is within your limits such as those offered in a country park, along the canal towpath or an old railway line that has been reinstated for walking or cycling. The latter two have the benefit of having no hills and they provide an easy opportunity to be out and about in the countryside.  The canals and old railways may be linear, but that means you shouldn’t get lost, because at any point you can turn around and retrace your steps back to where you began.  In addition, you will see different views on the return journey, try it, you’ll be surprised at what you didn’t see on the way out.  Alternatively, with a bit of planning you could catch a bus home at the end of your journey.  Linear walks can and often are a good way to get back into walking.  If you add in the need to think about transport, then that starts to get you in the right frame of mind for when you start to plan more adventurous walking trips in the future.

Walkers enjoy last year's Haltwhistle Walking Festival

Walkers enjoy last year’s Haltwhistle Walking Festival

You may wish to consider going out with The Ramblers Association,  there will be a group near you, visit their website or ask in the usual places for information.  Ranger services in country parks, the Forestry Commission  National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty often have a programme of guided walks that you can join, often for free.  Going on a guided walk event offers you an insight into walking in the countryside.  You can get lots of tips and ideas by asking questions, or simply observing the activity over the course of the walk.  You could also go walking with a guide, if asked they will offer advice on how you can develop the skills and knowledge needed to allow you to walk independently, or even lead your own groups one day.

What to take with you?

In truth not a lot, but you will need:

  1. An idea of where you’re going
  2. Comfortable shoes and clothing including a showerproof jacket
  3. Water and a snack
  4. Money for your bus or train fare and to spend in the pub or tearoom
  5. Friends or family to walk with
  6. To check the weather forecast
  7. A mobile phone, just in case
  8. A sense of adventure and discovery

What you won’t need at this stage – Walking boots, rucksack and expensive waterproof clothing, map, compass and a GPS

Something to think about

  1. You do need to think about getting there and back; I can think of some great walks in the Yorkshire Dales between the small rural stations on the Settle to Carlisle line, walk out, train back, perfect.
  2. Consider how far you want to walk, it might be just a mile or two to start with; it’s fair to say that five miles is quite a long walk for most people, unless you have a stop along the way.
  3. Have a destination to aim for; it could be a pub, a tearoom or a friend’s house, you can decide.
  4. Don’t be over-ambitious, keep it simple, being lost is so demoralising.
  5. Take a friend or enjoy a walk with your family.
  6. Take some time at the end of the day to review your walk and think about what you might have done differently, such as, “I wish had taken a coat”.

It is important to mention now and to include a word of caution, but please remember and be aware that public rights of way in the wider countryside are notoriously difficult to follow.  So, I strongly recommend that as you begin to venture out on your countryside walks please stick to well-maintained paths and tracks, which are open and easy to use such as those described in this feature.  As your skills develop, particularly in the area of map reading, it is only then that it becomes possible to follow accurately a footpath network in the countryside.

So to conclude, as you begin to do more leisure walking, don’t worry about maps, compasses, expensive clothing and footwear, they’re not really needed for a walk in the park.  At this stage, just explore your local patch, go to a nearby park or walk along the canal, where you will discover new things about where you live.  After a few easy walks you will I hope, begin to develop an interest in the greater adventures that you, your family and friends can enjoy walking in the British countryside.

Find out more about me, Patrick Norris, and my guided walks business: Footsteps – walking the beauty of Northumberland.

Footsteps – walking the beauty of Northumberland



Tel.: 07847 506399


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