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Family walking trails: how to get started

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Family walking trails - mum and kids in forest

Celebrate National Walking Month this May and step into the countryside with your whole family on a walking trail

Learn more about this free and fun pastime with our introduction to family walking - including where to go, what to take with you and how to stay safe.

Choosing family days out can be a challenge – “What’s the best place to go that will keep everyone happy without costing a lot of money?” Walking makes an affordable day out to almost anywhere that improves physical and mental wellbeing for both kids and parents alike. It’s a chance to try something new, make family memories and spend quality time together, away from the distractions of screens and housework.

The practice of putting one foot in front of the other is something we humans have enjoyed for millennia, from our Neanderthal relatives to the luminously dressed modern-day hiker. Yet, despite its longevity and simplicity, rallying the family and taking them out on to the hills or along the coast can sometimes feel a little daunting. Where is the best place to go? What paths should we use? How do we stay safe and not get lost? And what should we take with us? Stick to a few simple rules and you’ll soon discover that easy and affordable adventure is just around the corner.

Where should we go walking?

One of the great things about walking is you can go anywhere, and there are lots of useful resources out there to help you choose. On family days out your best bet is to go for somewhere nearby and easily accessible with something that will keep the kids inspired – a haunted wood, an enchanting waterfall or the chance to spot a beautiful animal.

The Wildlife Trusts manage 2,300 nature reserves across Britain – head over to their website and find a reserve near you. Then there’s the National Trust, the UK’s most prevalent landowners. The conservation organisation owns almost 1,000 square miles of Britain – that’s the same size as Luxembourg – and offers lots of information to visitors about the best places to walk. Or, why not take a more traditional approach and ask a friend? Often the best-kept secrets and quieter spots are found through word of mouth.

Family walking trails - dad and daughter map reading

Do we need to be able to read a map?

No, but map-reading makes a walk much more fun. Plan your route in advance and choose a short, popular route with strong signposting; you then probably won’t need to touch a map for navigation, but maps offer kids and adults the chance to get closer to the landscape and learn more about their surroundings.  What’s that crumbled down building? How long is this river? And, for thirsty explorers, where is the nearest pub? There are lots of great resources out there, including this conclusive guide to map reading by OS Maps.

What paths should we walk?

The best paths for families are often those with clear waymarking. National trails and other long-distance footpaths are marked as pink diamonds on OS Maps and will be well signposted, while small waymarked paths (pink dashed lines) offer an opportunity to discover quieter paths.

Family walking trails - forest walk

What should I take on a family walk?

The basics:

  • Appropriate clothing – this depends on the season (see below), but should always include strong, comfortable footwear (trainers or boots) and weather-protective clothing
  • Rucksack – offer the kids their own small rucksack to boost their sense of adventure
  • Food – lots of delicious, healthy snacks and some hearty sandwiches
  • Drink – one litre per person for half-day walks
  • Map and compass – either a 1:25,000 OS Map, a local walking guide or a route printed from an online resource
  • Nature ID guide – check out your local charity shop for second-hand nature guides
  • Camera – for recording nature finds and fun family moments
  • Fully charged mobile phone – for emergencies

In summer add:

  • Sun cream
  • Sun hat
  • Extra refreshments

In winter add:

  • Warm clothes – lots of layers, woolly hat, gloves
  • Waterproof trouser and jacket
  • Hot drink

Family walking trails - coastal walk

Six tips for safe family walking

  • Look right, look left, then right again before crossing roads. If walking on roads, stick to the side that’s facing oncoming traffic
  • Stay on waymarked footpaths and never trespass
  • Be cautious when walking near livestock and follow the Ramblers’ advice
  • Keep dogs on leads, especially around livestock
  • Take plenty of food, water and sun cream
  • Stay away from steep edges

Time to get out and start exploring

In the next parts of our family walking series we’ll look at different ways to get into walking, easy trails and a number of more challenging routes.

Family walking trails - map reading with kids

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