Items you will need to lead a walk:
- A first aid kit – this is essential, but only needs to be relatively basic.
- A map, leaflet or book detailing the route you will take. Do not rely on a GPS device alone.
- A mobile phone – not essential, but a good idea in case of emergencies.
Walk Leader Training
Stag Walkers runs walk leader training sessions in conjunction with other local Ramblers groups, as and when there are enough people interested.
Where to walk?
Most people will be looking forward to a walk in the countryside, but do not rule out an urban walk if there are interesting sights. Seasonal walks often work well such as a spring bluebell walk or an autumn leaves woodland walk. Consider the time of year and likely weather conditions to help identify appropriate areas to walk in.
The countryside across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire is diverse – ranging from steep hills and viewpoints to farmland, meadows and woodland. This means there is always an interesting landscape to explore not far from your doorstep.
There are numerous fast rural and main roads in this area so it is virtually impossible to avoid crossing or walking along them for some part of a walk. However, avoid having to walk along very busy stretches if possible; there is often an alternative route that will avoid most dangerous sections.
Interesting ‘smells’ are par for the course when you’re walking near farmland, but if possible, avoid walking close to abattoirs, sewerage works, waste sites and other areas with potential pongs!
Most walks will be circular – starting and ending at the same point. Whether you choose to start at a public car park, a pub or a landmark, it’s good to choose somewhere easy to find on a map so that members can find you easily.
Linear walks lend a different dynamic to a walk and are good when you can use public transport to get you back to the start. This works well for national trails, river walks etc. Consider starting somewhere near a bus stop or train station.
When to walk?
Stag Walkers runs walks all year round so there is never a right or wrong time to plan a walk. Keep in mind the season and likely weather conditions for your walk to avoid potential hazards.
Most walks take place on a Saturday or Sunday (Sundays are the most popular). But during the summer a short weekday evening walk is also a nice addition and are quite popular, especially if there's a pub at the end!
In the winter it can get dark as early as 3.30pm so plan the length of your walk to ensure you reach the end during daylight. An average speed of 2 miles an hour is a good guide to work out how far you can go, including stops for lunch etc.
Consider avoiding scheduling a walk on days such as Mothers' or Fathers' Day as you may get low attendance.
Night walks are an interesting way to explore the countryside, giving you the chance to hear nocturnal birds and animals that are otherwise hidden away during a daytime walk.
When planning a night walk you should aim for a date that has as close to a full moon as possible, to provide good visibility without using torches. Consider what time it gets dark in the summer. It may still be bright at 8pm.
Ideally your route will have lots of open ground so as to see the sky, and be reasonably easy under foot. Keep the distance short (under 5 miles) and consider what time it will be when you finish.
Finding a route
Finding a route as a first time leader can seem like a daunting task – however, there are lots of resources available to make this easy.
The easiest way to find a route is to think about any areas where you already like walking? Can you use a well-known route for your first led walk? Check out our route planning resouces page for some ideas.
The Walk Finder facility on the Ramblers website is free to use and offers lots of walks in the local area that you can use. If you log-in to the website you will see a larger number of routes.
There are plenty of walking books and leaflets – some may be available on your local council website and in your local library. These will have pre-planned routes and often come with a simple diagrammatic map of the route and a set of written instructions. It’s a good idea to walk these routes yourself before leading your walk as the maps can be a little tricky to follow sometimes.
If you’re able to read an Ordnance Survey map (all you need to do is be able to follow the paths) you can pick a start point (and an end point, if it’s not a circular walk) and find suitable paths to make up your route. Remember to pay attention to contour lines to know whether you’re going to be climbing up or down steep hills!
Checking your route (recce)
It is advisable to check at least some of your route out before you lead it. Check areas such as junctions with roads, railway and river crossings, wooded areas where paths may not be clearly marked and any sections that you think might be confusing. Remember that although we benefit from excellent public rights of way in this area – signposts can get broken or temporarily removed so you mustn’t solely rely on waymarkings to find your way around.
You may find paths that are closed or blocked (permanently or temporarily). You can check out the status of temporary path closures or report problems here:
If you think there is a problem with a path e.g. overgrown / blocked by a fallen tree you could notify the rights of way team at the relevant local council.
While checking your route out you might want to identify suitable places where you could offer rest breaks, or somewhere to eat lunch e.g. a meadow or park. On longer walks a stop with a toilet half way round is often appreciated!
If you use a pub as a lunchtime stop please do not eat your lunch inside the pub or in the pub garden without first asking permission of the landlord. It is polite to purchase drinks or snacks if using a pub for a toilet break.
Avoid parking in private car parks such as pubs, churches, parish halls etc unless you have asked permission of the owner/manager as you may inadvertently block access. Most pub car parks are for the use of customers only.
Try to find a start point where there is a public car park or plenty of roadside parking.
Car sharing and use of public transport to walk start points is actively encouraged, so as to lessen the impact of cars on the environment. However – this is an informal arrangement and individual walkers need to arrange this themselves with other group members.
If the walk start point can only be reached by car, consider a pre-start point in a more easily reached location to car-share from. Our usual car-share start point is the Queen Mother Theatre carpark in Hitchin.
No driver is obliged to offer anyone a lift (although if they do they are obliged to bring the passengers back again unless alternate arrangements have been made in advance).
Those who accept a lift should offer the driver some petrol money. Please remind them to do so at the end of the walk.
Before you set off
Arrive early at the walk start point (or the car-share point if you are travelling with others) ready to welcome walkers. If your start point is difficult to find you might want to stand near the entrance (if safe) so people can see you.
Once everyone has arrived introduce yourself and explain a little bit about the walk: length (miles), any potential hazards and any refreshment/rest breaks. If there are new people encourage everyone to introduce themselves by name.
Request people let you or someone in the group know if they are taking an un-planned toilet break so you don’t lose anybody.
Alert walkers of any tricky parts of the walk, for example road crossing, fast county road, cattle in field) and offer suitable advice (i.e. single file walking, crossing in small groups, keep grouped together near cattle and walk slowly, avoiding cows with calves at foot).
Take a head count before you set off. Complete the atendance sheet with names and email addresses of new walkers.
If there is a big group you should consider appointing a walker to act as a back-marker to keep the group together. Conduct head counts during the walk, for example after lunch or after stiles, to make sure you haven't lost anyone.
If you have any doubts about the suitability of anyone in the group to complete your walk (fitness, unsuitable clothing, lack of water etc.) you can refuse to take them on the walk. Dogs are allowed at the walk leader’s discretion and must be kept on a lead – be aware of any sections of your route where dogs are not allowed e.g. through church yards and some public parks.
Be aware of the needs of any vulnerable people in the group and those with visual/audio impairment and offer discrete assistance if required.
If there are any children in the group (under the age of 17) they MUST be accompanied by a parent/guardian.
End of the walk
Tell the group about the next walk and encourage them to attend.
Encourage new people to join The Ramblers once they have enjoyed a couple of walks with the group.
Remind people to contribute a small amount of money to their driver if they have car-shared.
Depending on where you finish, you might want to offer a social drink at a local pub with the group before you all go home.