Leading your first walk can be a daunting – but rewarding – experience. We’ve put this simple guide together to help answer any questions you might have about leading a walk!
Every walk starts with an idea: maybe it’s a location, or a sight you want to see. Luckily, we have put together a handy list of sources to provide inspiration for you! Once you have a rough idea of where you want to walk, it’s time to plan your route!
The first thing to do is check the public transport options near your chosen location: can you easily start the walk at a train station or a bus stop? If you can’t, that’s totally fine – we like car only walks too! It’s just more inclusive to include public transport options. Google maps can be very helpful for this.
Next, you need to plan your route on a map. You can do this the old-fashioned way and use a paper map or use an app or website which shows you where the footpaths are, such as OS maps.
Once you have your map, have a look for interesting features near your chosen location. In OS maps, you can look for viewpoints, nature reserves, castles, or other interesting sites to walk past. Think about the type of terrain you’ll walk through – is there woodland, fields, heathland? Can you walk along a river?
Sketch out a route of your chosen length (easy walks are usually about 6 miles, challenging walks over 10 miles), avoiding busy main roads and sticking to footpaths where possible. Just plan a route that you fancy walking! There is no set recipe for what you walk should include 😊
Once you have your route ready, it’s important to recce the walk. You can do this on your own or bring a friend(s)! The point of a recce is to check out the route so you know where to go on the day – it’s fine to go the wrong way when there’s only one or two of you but getting 30 people to retrace their steps would be hard work!
It’s also good to keep an eye out for potential lunch locations (if it’s going to be a day hike) and anything which might cause an issue when you lead the walk (such as closed footpaths or broken bridges!).
Take some nice photos on the way and write an appealing description of the walk as soon as you get back, so you don’t forget! The better your description, the more popular your walk is likely to be!
Next, it’s time to submit your walk to the walks programme!
As a starting point, contact our 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.
Then, decide how many people you feel comfortable leading on this route. This is entirely up to you! Our members like walks with anything from 10 to 30 people on them! You can also choose to have a walk buddy come with you for moral support – this means that your buddy is guaranteed a spot on the walk!
You should now be ready to complete the “submit a walk” form. Note that you can leave the “grid reference” and “latitude / longitude” boxes blank if starting from a well-known location like a train station. If this is your first walk, you will also need to complete the “volunteer to be a walk leader” form first.
Finally, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you will need to complete a simple risk assessment. The form is only two pages and quite straightforward, and we have written some tips on completing the form here. Download the form from the Ramblers website and complete it as best you can, and then email it to the walks coordinator (email@example.com). If you took any good photos on the recce, include them in the email!
Arrive promptly to the start location at the agreed time. The walks coordinator will have emailed you with a list of people who have signed up to the walk – check that everyone on this list has turned up. If anyone is missing, give them a call to ask them if they are coming. If after 5-10 minutes they have not turned up, and have not answered their phone, feel free to assume they won’t make it.
Give a “welcome to the walk” talk to your walkers. This is brief talk where you say “thanks for coming”, “make sure you socially distance” (while the law requires this), “if you are new, please join the Ramblers after 2-3 walks”, and remind people of any other upcoming events which they can sign up for.
If you would like a backmarker (i.e. someone to stay at the back of the group to make sure no one gets left behind), you can ask for a volunteer now. Having a backmarker is particularly important with large groups of walkers!
[Note: if you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of addressing a big group of people, let our walks coordinator know when you submit your walk, and they will find someone from the committee, or an experienced walk leader to come along and give the welcome talk.]
You did it!!! Now, all that’s left is to enjoy leading your walk!
You can choose to lead from the front, or in the middle of the group – just make sure everyone goes the right way!
At places where you change paths, it’s good to wait for the rest of the group to catch up, and do a head count every now and then to make sure you have everyone! Remember to stop every so often so you and your walkers can have a drink (particularly if it’s warm) and stop for lunch at your chosen location. If lunch is late, you may need to give your walkers time to have a snack before continuing, so they don’t run out of energy!
If you do end up going the wrong way: that’s okay! Even our most experienced walk leaders make mistakes sometimes. Just apologise and correct the mistake as best you can, and no-one will mind 😊.
If you have a particularly quiet voice (like myself) you may wish to bring a whistle, or someone with a loud voice to get the attention of your walkers if necessary!
Thanks for reading – we are looking forward to your walk!!
Author – Shannon Jones (ordinary member)