Make sure you’re well prepared yourself for the walk in question, with appropriate clothing, footwear, food and drink etc. As a walk leader, there are a few extra preparations to make before you set out:
- Make sure you have what you need to navigate your route. If you’re relying on a phone or tablet, think about a spare power bank – and a paper map and compass never hurts as a backup. Whichever you’re using, a waterproof case is a good idea if there’s a possibility of rain.
- If you have a first aid kit (even if you don’t have a current first aid certificate) pack it just in case. If you don’t, there will be regulars on most walks who carry one. (If you’re leading in a more remote or challenging location than we generally find in Berkshire, you might want to consider further emergency equipment, but that’s beyond the scope of this guidance.)
- If there’s any possibility that delays or a slower than expected pace might push the end of the walk past dusk, a headtorch is a good idea just in case. (This is especially applicable to longer walks in the winter.) Make sure that your own schedule allows for the possibility that the walk takes longer than expected.
- If possible, have a smartphone with the Ramblers App logged in ready to take a walk register. If you don’t have a suitable device yourself, a committee member or other regular leader will likely be able to do this for you.
- If taking the train or bus to the start of your walk, make sure you’re there in good time to catch it. There’s no need to take an earlier one than everyone else – it’s well understood that if these are delayed then the start of the walk will be – don’t miss it!
- If driving to the start of the walk, please allow extra time in case of delays so you’re not the last to arrive.
At the start of the walk
- Be visible at the listed start location, greet walkers as they arrive and look out for those who might be trying to find you.
- Get people to gather in a location where you won’t be in the way of other members of the public (avoid blocking the width of a pavement, or access to the entrance or ticket machines at a station!)
- Make sure your phone (the one whose number is on the walk listing) is not on silent and pay attention in case anyone who’s lost or running late tries to call. (If you’ve asked for your phone number not to be listed, please keep an eye on your email via your phone, in case anyone tries to contact you that way.)
- It’s normal to wait 5-10 minutes for latecomers who’ve contacted you, but there’s no need to wait “just in case” if no one has done so, even if they are listed as attending on Meetup. And it’s entirely reasonable to tell anyone running later than that that you’ll have to leave without them. (They may be able to catch up if they’re confident walkers, in which case you can integrate them into the walk when they do.)
The welcome and briefing
This doesn’t have to take a set format (and if everyone is a regular member, can be kept very short), but normally includes:
- Introducing yourself as the walk leader
- Giving a brief outline of what to expect on the walk – length, terrain, any particular hazards to be aware of, highlights to look out for, etc.
- If you have a particular leading “style”, you might want to tell people (for instance, if you like to lead from well behind the front of the group, remind anyone ahead of you to wait when there’s a turning!)
- If anyone is on their first walk (feel free to ask if not sure) give people in introduction to the group (not necessarily in exactly these words):
- We’re the Berkshire Walkers, aimed at walkers in their 20s and 30s though all are welcome.
- We’re part of the Ramblers, Britain’s national walking charity.
- Non-members are welcome to come on up to three walks to get a feel for the group, before joining.
- Membership costs a little over £3 per month, most of which supports the Ramblers’ work campaigning for access to the countryside and maintaining the footpath network. This allows you to walk as much as you like with any Ramblers group around the country, as well as giving access to discounts at various outdoor shops and quarterly magazine.
- Point out any members of the committee, in case people want to know more about the group.
- Briefly mention other upcoming events (or booking deadlines for them) in the next week or so, and/or check if there are any notices from the committee.
- If the size of the group warrants a backmarker and you don’t already have someone to do this, ask for a volunteer (who should be a Ramblers member rather than someone on a trial walk). Typically, beyond about 15 people it’s probably a good idea to have a backmarker, or even with fewer on e.g. dense woodland routes where you can quickly lose sight of people. With particularly large groups, e.g. over 40 people depending on the route, a “middle-marker” may also be advisable to maintain contact between front and back.
- If the Publicity Officer or anyone else is going to be taking photos for social media, give them a moment to check if everyone is happy to be included in these.
In some cases, you may want to move from the gathering point before giving the briefing, to a quieter location where it’s easier to be heard. If you’re uncomfortable giving a speech though, or feel it will require someone with a louder voice given the ambient noise or size of the group, there will usually be another regular leader or committee member who is willing to help.
Registration and head count
We take registers on our walks using the Ramblers App (see instructions on the Ramblers website or on Assemble), in order to maintain statistics on our walk attendance. This can be done by scanning Ramblers membership cards, entering name and postcode manually, or by selecting BW members/affiliates from a list.
For BW members and affiliates, some leaders prefer to scan cards for those who have them, while others prefer to select from the list. (Make sure you select the right person if you use the list – in particular there are some first names of which we have many in the group!)
For members of other Ramblers groups, scanning their cards is usually easiest to save manual entry.
For non-members, manual entry is the only option.
It’s fine for multiple people to take and submit part of the register each (and can speed things up with a large group), even if some people are recorded twice – indeed each partial register must include the walk leader to be able to submit it.
It’s also very important to take a head count at the start of the walk to make sure you don’t lose anyone along the way! (If this doesn’t tally with the number on the register, double-check.) With larger groups, asking the group to walk off ahead of you so you can count them as they pass, before returning to the front yourself, can be an effective method.
With larger groups, it’s fine (and may be a good idea to ask a committee member or another experienced walk leader for help with the register and/or head count, especially if you’re busy fielding messages or calls from people who are on their way at the same time!)
During the walk
- Set a pace that’s appropriate for the group and terrain, and in keeping with that advertised for the walk. Be prepared to slow down if your initial pace is too ambitious – many of us walk faster on our own than it’s realistic to maintain with the group.
- Make sure you’re regularly in sight of the back of the group (whether or not you have a nominated backmarker). If you haven’t seen the back for a while, slow down or stop and regroup, irrespective of the advertised pace – otherwise you have no way of knowing how far behind the back is, or if an incident has occurred. (You can’t always rely on there being phone signal for someone at the back to call you.)
- Stop from time to time for water and short rest breaks as required (especially if it’s hot, the terrain is hard, or any walkers are struggling). Even if you are equipped to drink on the move, others will need to stop and get a bottle out of their bag to do so. Remember also that a rest break starts when the back of the group gets there, even if those at the front are ready to go again! (Those at the back may be struggling and more in need of a rest than those at the front.)
- Gathering everyone for a proper stop where there’s a bit of space, rather than just waiting to close any gaps and moving on in the same formation, is also a great opportunity for the group to mix and people to talk to someone different.
- Lunch stops are typically sometime between 12 and 1, depending where there’s a good spot and when the walk started. Announce it clearly when you get there, and give a “five minute warning” when most people are finished and it’s nearing time to move on. (If everyone is ready, you don’t need to wait the full five minutes though!)
- Regularly check your head count, especially after rest, lunch or pub stops – where someone might still be in the toilet (or in the bushes) or have simply got lost off the back of the group. If you do this regularly, you’ll know that anyone missing can’t have got lost too far back. “Pinch points” like gates, stiles or footbridges are often a good opportunity to count as people go through.
- Don’t have your phone on silent, and make sure it’s somewhere you’ll hear or feel it if it rings – it could be your backmarker or someone who has become detached from the group.
- Look out for anyone who’s struggling with the walk or otherwise in difficulty, and be prepared to take action as necessary (see “What to do if things go wrong?”)
At the end of the walk
- Wait for the back of the group to arrive (the walk hasn’t finished until they do), take a final head count to be sure, and clearly state that this is the end of the walk.
- Thank everyone for coming.
- If it’s an “almost circular” walk (e.g. starting at a station and finishing at a nearby pub), give clear directions back to the actual start point for those going straight home.
- Relax and enjoy the satisfaction of having led a group walk!