This weekend I’m heading to the Peak District with a friend, which hopefully will be a much needed break from revision. As we come into the Spring and Summer, here are some pointers for planning your own walking trip.
1. Choose a location
The UK has a lot to offer for hikers. I’ve met quite a few people who are somewhat skeptical of this, but really – it is true! There are several National Parks which offer great walking routes: the Lake District, Peak District, the New Forest, Yorkshire Dales, and so on. They are all slightly different and have different features to offer to a walker. The second thing to think about is transport. Generally, it is best to rent a car as a lot of places are not accessible by public transport. That said, some of the most popular destinations, such as Windemere in the Lakes, can be reached by train. Research is crucial here.
2. Plan the walks
Once you’ve decided on a location, the next step is to plan your walks. You can do this by looking online for walks others have taken in the area you’re visiting. Look for walks which have been plotted on an Ordinance Survey map: you can then print out the route and laminate it. Alternatively, you can buy the OS map for the area you’re visiting and plan the route by yourself.
There are a few options for accommodation in UK national parks. Wild camping, that is, carrying in your tent, sleeping bag and so on and setting up camp in the mountains is illegal in England and Wales (though not in Scotland), but you can generally get away with it, if you are courteous and leave no trace. There are also plenty of campsites where you can book a site to pitch your tent. If you are travelling in a large group, you can also book a bunkhouse, which will often take the form of a large barn filled with bunkbeds, usually with some limited cooking and showering facilities attached. Alternatively, if you prefer something a bit less intense, you can book into a youth hostel or B&B.
4. Equipment & Safety
As outdoor pursuits go, walking is a fairly safe activity. Nevertheless, it is not totally risk free. It is important to be properly prepared and to take precautions against the possibility of getting lost, and the possibility of falls/minor injuries and hypothermia. To this end, you should be properly dressed for hiking (which in the UK means warm and waterproof clothing, and proper walking shoes or boots), and a paper map and compass. It is also a good idea to take some steps to keep your belongings dry, which means a rucksack liner and drybags. Google maps cannot replace a map and compass – your phone can run out of battery, stop working in very wet or cold weather, break when you drop it, and so on. If you don’t know how to use a map and compass, learn how to before you go, or go walking with someone who knows how to. You should also bring an emergency shelter or bivy bag, a whistle, and a torch. In an emergency, call 999, ask for the police, and then ask for mountain rescue.
5. Food and drink
This is the fun part. Good hiking lunches include sandwiches, fruit and nuts, cereal bars, and energy drinks. You should always bring enough water! If you are wild camping it is also a good idea to bring water purification tablets, and remember that it’s best to drink from running water rather than still.
Although you obviously should not get drunk while hiking, it can be nice to have an alcoholic drink after a day’s walking, or when you’ve just reached the top of a peak. I have a lot of fond memories of drinking hot whiskey on top of mountains in Donegal. Hot whiskeys and hot port, made by mixing the alcohol with boiling water, sugar, lemon and spices make a nice treat from a flask on a cold day, as does mulled wine. At the very least, bring a flask of tea! You will not regret it.