Leading a walk - Some useful hints & tips for walk leaders

Well beforehand

  • Decide an outline route, approximate mileage, date and start time, and a suitable start/finish location with adequate parking.
  • Give brief essential details of the walk to your group secretary in time for inclusion in Strider and on group web pages.
  • Work out a detailed route on 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 maps with possible alternatives. This should be on rights of way, permissive paths or access land unless you get specific permission to cross private land.
  • Unless you are very familiar with the route, recce the route, and if necessary seek alternatives that circumvent difficulties or improve the walk.
  • Remember that paths that can be walked by an individual may not be suitable for a group, for example, very strenuous terrain, overgrown paths, paths passing close to houses, through some farmyards or livestock areas, across derelict stiles or fences, etc.
  • It may be possible to improve a route, perhaps with a little work with secateurs or by reporting a stile that needs replacing to the council.
  • Have in mind alternatives or escape routes that could be useful under certain circumstances.
  • Think where you might take breaks in fine weather (viewpoints) and poor weather (shelter).
  • To add interest, perhaps find out a little about historic buildings, wildlife locations, distant features etc, to tell your group.
  • Do a basic 'risk assessment' (in your head or on paper) noting any potential hazards, with their level of risk and any measures to control them. E.g.: Parking (safe and adequate parking places); busy road crossings (regrouping, best place to cross); road or lane sections (single file on right or outside of bends); bad weather (alternative or escape routes); dogs (allowed? on leads?); livestock (best line across fields); stream crossings (best crossing place, helping unsure walkers); difficult terrain (best line, slow pace); accidents (procedure for summoning help, basic first aid).
  • Be prepared to answer queries from prospective walkers who may contact you; be realistic about the standard of the walk, particularly to newcomers.
 

The day beforehand

  • Check the weather forecast and consider any consequent changes to the route.
  • Ensure that your own equipment is more than adequate, remembering that you may have to cope with an emergency. In particular, carry a bivvy bag, mobile phone, spare clothing (if it's cold there are often those who want to borrow gloves or a hat), etc.
 

At the start

  • Arrive at least 15 minutes before the start time to welcome walkers, particularly newcomers, and advise on parking as necessary.
  • Check discretely that everyone is adequately equipped. Some leaders ask newcomers and non-group members to sign a list.
  • If there are more than about five walkers appoint a backmarker.
  • Spend a couple of minutes telling the group about the walk – many walkers like to follow their progress on their maps – and mention arrangements for breaks and lunch.
  • Count the group.
 

During the walk

  • There are many styles of leadership – it's not necessary to be at the front all the time, though you should be when the route is difficult or not obvious and should ensure no-one gets too far ahead.
  • Be particularly alert at hazards such as road crossings, rough sections, livestock areas, etc.
  • Judging the right pace can be difficult: a reasonable rate of progress is needed but walkers should not feel unduly pushed.
  • Keep in touch visually with the backmarker and if necessary slow down or wait so the party does not get too spread out.
  • Consider waiting a little at stiles or gates to avoid the group becoming too spaced.
  • In mist ensure that the group keeps close together.
  • Count the group from time to time to check no-one is missing.
  • Make sure that you are aware of any walkers who decide to leave the walk for any reason.
  • At all costs avoid part of the group getting detached from the rest and perhaps going off the wrong way – attempting to get everyone back together can be time-consuming and frustrating for everyone.
  • Be prepared to shorten or modify the route if the state of the weather or the party make this wise.
  • Indicate how long each break will be and give a two-minute warning before restarting.
  • Try to talk to everyone, especially newcomers, during the course of the day.
  • It's a nice gesture (though certainly not obligatory) for the leader to hand round a bag of sweets or even cakes during a break.
  • Do your best to ensure that everyone enjoys the walk.
 

At the end of the walk

  • Thank walkers for coming and remind them of the next walk.
  • Encourage newcomers to join the LDWA and come again, perhaps noting their contact details so that they can be informed of future walks.
  • If there have been any incidents such as injury or damage to property, ensure that an incident form is completed and returned to the LDWA Treasurer. Note that the LDWA has an insurance policy which covers third party liability. The policy is on the LDWA website and any queries should be made to the Treasurer.
 

Possible problems

Emergencies:

Very occasionally there is a serious medical emergency, such as a walker collapsing or breaking a limb, and you have to decide what action to take – this will depend on the circumstances. The top priority is to get help by dialing 999 or 112 from a mobile or by dispatching someone to the nearest phone box or house. Whilst a grid reference is essential, other information such as access details may be needed, and someone may need to be sent to the nearest public road to meet an ambulance. Unless one of the group is trained in first aid, there may be little else that can be done until help arrives except keeping the casualty warm and providing reassurance. Particularly in bad conditions, a leader may appoint a deputy to lead most of the group to the finish of the walk whilst just a few wait at the incident scene.

First aid:

All walkers are strongly encouraged to carry routinely personal first aid kits sufficient for minor problems. A leader may carry extra sterile dressings and bandages but current advice is that leaders should not give tablets, medication or creams to others. Those who lead walks regularly should consider taking one of the first aid courses offered by local St John Ambulance or Red Cross groups.

Bad conditions:

If the weather deteriorates you should consider shortening the walk or diverting to a less exposed alternative.

The slow walker:

If a walker is lagging, encouragement from the leader can be effective; however if such a walker feels inadequate they may slow even more. Occasionally someone may fall behind so much early on that it is obvious that he/she will not complete the route in a reasonable time. This needs to be pointed out to the person sooner rather than later, and options such as cut backs, bus options, etc, considered. If it is felt that an inexperienced walker cannot be left alone a member of the group may need to be found to accompany them.

The fast walker:

Sometimes a walker will persistently dash off far ahead (not always in the right direction) and be difficult to keep track of. Tactfully point out that, on a group walk, walkers are expected to stay with the group. Anyone not accepting this should be told to continue independently and under their own responsibility for route finding. On the other hand, if there is a section where walkers' paces are obviously going to vary, for example on a steep ascent, there is no harm in telling faster walkers to go ahead and wait at an obvious landmark, such as at the top of the hill.

The Country Code:

Any disregard for the Country Code can bring the LDWA into disrepute. Most walkers are aware of their responsibilities, but occasionally a walker may drop litter, etc, and you should point out politely but firmly that this is not acceptable. Ensure (in conjunction with the backmarker) that gates are left in their original state and that any dogs are properly under control; in particular dogs must be on leads anywhere near livestock however well-behaved the owner claims them to be. Should a group be challenged by a landowner or other countryside user be polite, calm and cooperative but without conceding access rights, etc.

Getting lost:

It shouldn't happen on a properly recced walk, but it does. Be adept enough with the map to relocate and get back onto the intended route, perhaps even without anyone noticing the error.