Guidance for walk leaders: Planning the walk

Coming up with a route idea

Our walk leaders have variety of ways to come up with routes – borrowing or adapting them from guide books, websites or apps (see our list of handy links), routes they’re already familiar with in their local area, or constructing them while staring at an Ordnance Survey map. Feel free to take whichever approach works for you, or talk to other regular leaders for inspiration.

As the group has a significant number of members without cars, we try to have the majority of our walks accessible by public transport, though not all – if your intended location is only reachable by car that’s okay. However, if you think the area you want to walk in might be accessible by a train or bus route but you’re not quite sure how, speak to the Walks Coordinator who may be able to help.

As a rough guide, most of our walks tend to be within about an hour’s journey time from Reading (not all our members live there but it’s very much the centre-point of our area). It’s fine to have walks further away sometimes for something different, although they tend to get fewer walkers.

Most of our walks tend to be in the 7–14 mile range, though we sometimes have shorter ones (e.g. half-day or summer evening walks) or longer ones for an extra challenge.

Plotting the route

Once you have a general idea for your walk, you need to plan a definite route. You can do this the old-fashioned way using a paper Ordnance Survey map, or use an app or website which allows you to plot interactively on a map showing the footpaths (for example OS maps).

If you’re using something which doesn’t definitively show which paths are rights of way (for example any of the free OpenStreetMap-based tools, which can nevertheless be very useful), make sure to cross-reference with an Ordnance Survey map or be prepared to adjust on the recce if you discover some paths are not open to the public.

You can also look for things like viewpoints, nature reserves, castles, or other interesting sites that you’ll be walking past, and think about what kind of landscape you’ll be walking through – woodland, fields, heathland, riverside. This will help you to describe what kind of walk it is when you write up the description.

While most of our routes necessarily involve a small amount of road walking, it’s generally best to keep this to as little as you can for your intended route, using footpaths, bridleways and byways where possible. Be particularly cautious about sections along busy or fast roads.

Recceing the walk

While not mandatory, it’s strongly advised to pre-walk or “recce” your route prior to leading it. You can do this either on your own or with others, as you prefer. This allows you to make sure you know where you’re going on the day – it’s much better to go the wrong way on the recce and then know where the right path is when you’re leading a group of 30 people!

This is also the time to look out for any hazards that might be present on your walk (see the section on risk assessments below), and to notice if any of the paths you planned to use are out of use or not as suitable as you had expected. It’s also good time to assess the parking options for those who will drive to the walk, even you aren’t doing so yourself. (If parking is limited or non-existent, it’s worth stressing this in your walk description and advising people to car-share or come by public transport as appropriate.)

If there’s going to be a lunch stop, you can also keep an eye out for potential locations with space for the group, good views and/or shelter if the weather is bad.

If you can, take some photos during your recce to illustrate the walk description (write this soon after your recce while you remember what to say about it, even if you’re not sure when to submit it yet). A good walk description and nice photos can really help encourage people to come on your walk!

Submitting the walk

As a starting point, contact the Walks Coordinator with brief details of your walk (start location, length, end location if linear, accessible by public transport or not), and agree a date which both suits you and fits in with the walks programme. Try to start your walk at a time which is convenient to people using public transport if possible.

If this is your first walk, you first need to complete the “volunteer to be a walk leader” form. (In the case of joint leaders, both need to have completed this.) There’s no need to wait for this to be processed though, you can then proceed to submit your walk right away.You should now be ready to complete the “submit a walk” form – follow the explanatory notes in each section of this, and ask the Walks Coordinator if anything is unclear.

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