For the uninitiated, hiking involves walking in the countryside in the general direction of a pub (or pubs). You will need some idea of what to wear, what to say, and how to find your way home, but first you will need to know something of the culture of hiking and the importance of not putting a foot wrong.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HIKERS & OTHER FORMS OF WALKER?
Fair point. You’ll need to be able to distinguish between the following:
Ambler Someone who is not in a hurry.
Rambler Someone interested in just wandering around while talking at the same time.
Walker Someone keen on getting from A to B.
Nordic walker Someone keen on getting from A to B energetically, by swinging their arms and shoulders and using long, pointy sticks.
Speed walker Someone very keen to get from A to B, and before the bus does.
Hiker A dedicated walker whose aim in life is to tramp trails, fill his or her lungs with fresh air, yodel in the foothills and be at one with nature. While at the same time heading for a good pub.
Hitchhiker A hiker who cheats.
5 HIKING ROUTES TO KNOW
- SOUTH WEST COAST PATH
Stretching 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset, around Land’s End and finishes at Poole Harbour in Dorset. Total height climbed is about 114,830ft or just under four Everests. Most hikers love this sort of analogy.
- PENNINE WAY
Probably the most famous hiking route in the UK. 268 miles long, it follows the backbone of Britain.
- HADRIAN’S WALL
84 miles long across the width of Britain (the thinner part on the England-Scotland border) and they’ve still only laid the foundations in places. Still failing to keep the Scots out.
- OFFA’S DYKE
Offa, king of Mercia in the late eighth century, could have taught Hadrian a thing or two about keeping out annoying neighbours. This ancient barrier rambles for 177 miles along most of the England-Wales border, which is over twice as long as Hadrian’s efforts.
- WALES COAST PATH
In 2012 Wales became the first country in the world to provide a continuous walking route around its entire coastline. This one’s 870 miles, so it’s not your typical weekend wander.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF HIKING?
Hiking has several benefits. Not only is the physical exercise an excellent way to maintain an ideal body weight, but it also releases endorphins in the brain, natural chemicals that make one feel calmer, happier and more relaxed.
Until, of course, you realise that you’ve just taken a wrong turn. This is something that happens to hikers a lot.
HOW DO I ENSURE THAT I DON’T TAKE A WRONG TURN?
The best advice is to follow somebody who knows where they’re going. The danger here is that they might have no more idea where they are than you have. So you will need a map. In this respect you have a choice of an Ordnance Survey or a Harvey map. With regard to the former, you have a further choice: Active, Explorer, or Landranger (in descending order of complexity and hiking cred). Harvey maps are produced by hikers for hikers and leave out much of the stuff you don’t need to know. Or you could take a compass, but this only helps when you know roughly in which direction you want to go. Finally you could use the GPS app on your smartphone, which probably makes the most sense for beginners (just do so discreetly…).
WHAT DO I WEAR?
Bear in mind a saying that hikers like to repeat a lot: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.’ So beg, borrow, steal, or buy the best waterproof, breathable outerwear you can. Any fabric ending with the suffix ‘tex’ is usually fairly reliable. Good footwear is equally essential. If you do only one thing in preparation for your first hike, ensure that it is breaking your boots in. However comfortable they feel
in the shop, you can guarantee that they won’t feel the same a mile into your hike.
WHAT DO I CARRY?
Take a rucksack, sunglasses (not generally necessary in the UK), water bottle, chocolate or energy bars, torch, penknife, insect repellent, and a first aid kit (with plenty of plasters). Never wear a pedometer.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
Trespassing is usually a civil matter, not a criminal offence. If you do trespass, you could be sued for damages in the civil courts rather than be prosecuted in the criminal courts. Warning signs saying ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ are therefore technically inaccurate, although such signs tend to be installed by landowners who don’t appreciate forthright conversations with hikers who point out the finer aspects of the law. You will realise that telling an angry landowner that the sign really should read ‘Trespassers will be sued’ is ill-advised, especially if he is pointing a shot gun at you.
DON’T SAY ‘Halt! Who goes there?’ to everyone you meet if walking Hadrian’s Wall.
DO SAY ‘Solvitur ambulando’ (a Latin mantra much beloved of hikers, which translates as ‘It is solved by walking’).