Guidance for walk leaders: What to do if things go wrong?

Getting lost

Don’t be overly worried if you get temporarily lost or take a wrong turning and have to improvise or retrace your steps – this happens occasionally even to experienced walk leaders. If you have any problems navigating back to your intended route, please don’t be afraid to ask other experienced walkers for assistance.

Path closures and diversions

You may find that a path has been closed or become impassable (e.g. due to flooding) since your recce, in which case you’ll need to find a suitable alternative route – other experienced walkers, especially any who are familiar with the particular area, may be able to help.

If a public right of way is obstructed illegally (rather than closed by order) then you’re entitled to divert around the obstruction provided you stay on land belonging to the same owner. However, you should not do this unless you’re confident that it’s safe to do so – depending on the situation you may find it easier and safer to divert via an alternative path. Please do report any such illegal closures you encounter – either directly to the relevant local authority, or to a committee member so they can follow it up.

Losing a member of the group

Occasionally, despite the best efforts of leader and back-marker to keep everyone together, someone will become separated from the rest of the group. If this happens, stop the group while you try to establish where they were last seen (this is where regular head counts are helpful!) Check if anyone has their phone number to try and call them, and be ready for them to call you. If you are unable to get in contact, or to direct them to the group over the phone, it may be necessary for you, the back-marker or another volunteer to retrace steps to find them.

Walkers struggling to complete the walk

Sometimes walkers may overestimate their fitness, and reach a point where they’re struggling to complete the walk. If someone is increasingly lagging behind, check with them if they’re doing okay or if they need to find somewhere to drop out (if your back-marker hasn’t already done so).

On some routes, a drop-out via a public transport link very close to the route of the walk is easy. On others, there may be a significant walk in another direction (even if less than completing the original walk) to reach a drop-out point – if directing someone to drop out in this way, make sure they’re confident to find their own way, or consider asking if someone experienced is willing to accompany them.

In some cases, it may be necessary to direct either a taxi or someone the person knows to a suitable road-accessible point to pick them up – in this case make sure they’re clear on the pick-up location before leaving them, as walkers often don’t have a clear idea where they are when someone else is leading. (If you have a pub or café stop coming up, that’s an ideal place to arrange a pick-up.)

Injuries, illness and first aid

First aid is a whole topic itself, which cannot be covered here, and there is no formal requirement for walk leaders to have first aid training (although taking this up when it’s offered is strongly encouraged!)

If anyone on the walk is injured or taken ill, stop the group to deal with the situation. If you are able to provide appropriate first aid yourself, step forward to do so, or feel free to ask if anyone else on the walk is a first aider.

In many minor cases, the person concerned may be fit to continue with the group after appropriate first aid and a short rest, either for the rest of the walk, or to a suitable drop-out point. If they need to drop out and there is any ongoing concern for their safety on their own, seek a volunteer who can accompany them at the drop-out point.

In more serious cases, it may be necessary to wait with a casualty for an ambulance (or rescue services depending on the location). In this case, consider whether it’s better to split the group, with a small number of volunteers waiting with them for help to arrive.

Any incident requiring first aid should be reported – see “After the walk“.

Conduct and safeguarding

If you become aware of anyone acting inappropriately, for example bullying or harassing others or putting their safety at risk, action may need to be taken to address this. In some cases, politely letting someone know that their behaviour is not acceptable within the group, and checking that anyone on the receiving end is okay, may be sufficient to defuse the immediate problem, but if in any doubt seek advice from a member of the committee. At the extreme, if there is an immediate threat to someone’s safety, call the police.

Any such incident, even if it appears to have been dealt with satisfactorily at the time, should be reported – see “After the walk“.

Back: On the day | Contents | Next: After the walk