So you would like to start regular walking?
Well, it is good news all the way, firstly most able-bodied people have been walking since the age of one so there are no new skills to be learned, and it is the same old “one foot in front of the other” routine we all know so well. Secondly a study of really good walkers e.g. those who can walk non stop for 100 miles or complete 26 miles uphill and down dale in under seven hours reveals that all shapes, sizes, ages, male or female, can walk well. Many fine walkers are not interested in athletic performances and super fitness they are out there to enjoy the countryside and the company. There is walking to suit everyone and here is an amazing fact; ladies in the 55 to 70 years of age group who have walked their weekly ten mile rambles for a couple of years will, with absolute certainty, walk the 45 miles St. Peter’s Way from Ongar to Bradwell in one day when strapping young men fail. There is no secret to it, the ladies have conditioned their feet and they possess patience to keep walking for 14 hours. Imagine how this level of fitness helps when illness strikes and staying strong is so important.
By far the best way to get started is to join a walk organised by your local Ramblers group. You do not have to be a paid up member to do this as you are welcome to try a few walks to see how you make out. Search the local paper for walk details and look out for the half day walks of around 5 miles or for “figure of eight” walks which are usually based around a pub and enable walkers to complete a half day only, morning or afternoon, and end up back at the car.
It is important to let the leader know that you are new. He or she may be a guest leader or an occasional leader who may not know faces – we don’t want anyone going home saying “nobody talked to me”, ramblers are friendly people from all walks of life. ALSO take this opportunity to mention to the Leader any health condition you have which could be a problem on the walk. We all walk at our own risk but it helps if the leader is pre-warned should you have a faint or similar.
There are real advantages to starting with the Ramblers; the walks are led by a leader so no navigation skills are required, Ramblers know the best walks and the welcoming pubs where you will be expected, you will not be abandoned in the middle of nowhere because groups are counted at the start and a back-marker will monitor stragglers, advice on equipment can be gathered gradually and the initial basic requirement is for stout footwear and a waterproof or umbrella. Stout can mean quality trainers.
Most ramblers carry a flask of tea or coffee or a fruit juice, biscuit or banana for the mid morning and mid afternoon breaks. Some will take a sandwich for lunch if they don’t want pub food but remember that if you use pub facilities such as car park or loos you are expected to buy at least a drink which might be coffee if that is your preference.
Arrive at the start in time to boot up and bear in mind that there may be no loos at the start. A couple of minutes before start time the leader will call the group together when a brief description of the route may be given and any safety issues mentioned. Newcomers will be introduced. The group will then move off. In approximately one hour a coffee stop will be called which gives a few minutes rest and the opportunity to open flasks and have a chat with other group members. The next stop will be lunch usually taken at a pub. The leader will say if own sandwiches can be eaten on pub premises and some pubs will allow outside tables to be used. Do not assume that this is the case unless the leader confirms it. There may be somewhere suitable close by such as a church or playing field where own food can be eaten before joining the group in the pub for a drink. Lunch breaks are normally 45 to 60 minutes after which the group must move on so please do not order a ten course meal. On many walks the leader will produce a pub menu at the start of the walk for members to make their choices and the leader will phone the orders ahead so, with luck, the food will be waiting. In mid afternoon there will be another brief stop for coffee then on to the finish.
Walking speeds vary around 2.5 mph though an anxious leader may go off at 3 mph before settling down. All day walks are usually 10-11 miles unless otherwise stated though some groups walk 4-5 miles only.
The best place for an inexperienced walker to walk is immediately behind the leader thus avoiding any “catch up” pressure. A stile opens up a 5 yard gap between walkers so if the group is 20 strong the last walker can soon be 100 yards behind the leader and feel anxious about it. Experienced leaders will pause from time to time to allow those at the back to catch up and those up close to the leader will get a little breather. The back-marker will be behind the last walker so you will not be abandoned. If you are struggling the back-marker will find a solution.