Want to get out and walk more? Here, we round up the best places to go, the best kit to wear and how to overcome potential barriers
For many people, walking provided the only way to stay active and connect with nature during lockdowns, and walking is now the most popular form of exercise.
My own journey into walking started relatively recently – in January 2019. It wasn’t necessarily a new year’s resolution, but I needed a change. I’d been restless, unfulfilled in my job and wanted something worthwhile to do in my spare time.
On a train journey through the Peak District, as I admired the beautiful scenery and watched walkers embarking and disembarking at stations, I decided right then that walking was going to be my new pastime. And a few days after that decision, I came up with the idea for my Black Girls Hike UK group – a safe space where Black women could explore the outdoors and reconnect with nature.
The first hike I led was in March 2019, on a rainy Sunday morning in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. I’d bought myself a waterproof and some boots just the day before, I hadn’t managed to practise the route beforehand and I couldn’t read a map at this point, so I can’t claim that I was well prepared – but 14 people turned up and I managed to get us all safely along the route and back to where we started.
Now, I run hikes twice a month across the north west and have set up groups in other regions too.
Not everyone’s experience or perception of the outdoors is positive, but hopefully my experience in setting up Black Girls Hike shows that it’s possible to challenge the status quo and that the outdoors can be enjoyed by everyone. We do get negative comments from people who don’t understand the need for safe spaces and think that using the word Black is divisive. Some people don’t recognise that there are many complex, invisible barriers to participating in the outdoors – mainly because they have the privilege of not having to consider them.
Thousands of walking trails
There’s a whole new appreciation for walking since lockdown – something that’s so often taken for granted became a lifeline for so many. We’re lucky in that our tiny island is blessed with 15 national parks, 46 areas of outstanding natural beauty and more than 100,000 miles of public footpaths and bridleways – and that doesn’t include local parks. Meanwhile, Wales is the first country in the world with a waymarked path around its entire coast. There’s no shortage of places to explore on foot.
Its physical benefits are well documented, and walking is great for our mental health too. It gives us the chance to disconnect from technology and reconnect with our environment. To be distracted by sights, sounds and smells – not a screen. To clear our minds, find solitude and put things into perspective.
It gives us the chance to rediscover places we thought we already knew. The most amazing thing about nature is its abundance. It provides us with a lifetime of discovery and limitless opportunities. It gives us freedom. It’s unparalleled.
Alongside its plentiful mental and physical health benefits, walking enhances our quality of life in so many other ways. For example, it can promote environmental stewardship and encourage conservation. We’ve become so far removed from our ancestral ways; before becoming so urbanised, we had a deeper connection with nature and the earth. Nature has always nurtured us; we are part of the natural world and that’s why we thrive in it.
Debbie North's inclusivity campaign trail
Debbie North, chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Access for All group, has campaigned to highlight the barriers to inclusion since suffering from spine deterioration that has necessitated use of a wheelchair. Well versed in the challenges around accessibility, her website and partnerships offer inspiration and practical advice for those in a similar position.
“I was a very, very keen hillwalker in pre-wheelchair life. I live right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it’s always been my playground. After I was forced to take ill health retirement, I had a lot of time on my hands and started exploring all-terrain wheelchairs. I fundraised to buy one for the National Park users, then started blogging about my experiences and access issues.
“In 2015, my husband and I set out on the Coast to Coast – a special walk for us as my husband had proposed at the end, the first time we did it – but this time I was in a wheelchair. People thought I was absolutely crackers. We did it using bridleways and country lanes, in the spirit of Wainwright and making your own footsteps across the country.
“My platform, Access The Outdoor Guide, promotes the UK’s wheelchair walks. I put together detailed guides for mobility scooters, manual and big all-terrain wheelchairs that can get up a mountain. Common barriers on the trails are narrow paths, uneven terrain, stiles, steps, and gates – all are completely inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair. Provision of technology is also a major barrier: a decent all-terrain wheelchair can cost thousands of pounds. My Terrainhopper is amazing, but these are very expensive. There’s also a lot of infrastructure that needs to be updated to enable wheelchair access.
“There have been some improvements – several national parks have replaced stiles with gates, and there are initiatives such as the Countryside Mobility Scheme, which I love. It’s run on the south-west coast, allowing people to hire off-road mobility scooters.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to change career paths and to take the positives of what was a pretty dark place and find a silver lining. I now have a new purpose and motivation – making the inaccessible, accessible.”
How to start walking
The prospect of taking up walking for the first time can be a daunting one. There may be questions, including where to walk, what you need and whether you’re fit enough. Don’t overthink it and put yourself off. The great thing about walking is that initially, you don’t need much. It’s the most beginner-friendly exercise there is.
Most people in the UK live within a 10-minute walk of a green space, so you don’t always need to go far for your constituional. Explore the local parks and woodlands and check your local council website for other parks and nature trails. Why not challenge yourself to visit them all?
You don’t need to walk for hours either: a 15-minute stroll a day will help you burn calories, build stamina and make your heart healthier. If you’re walking to improve your fitness, you can gradually build up your pace and distance.
Joining a walking community is a great way to make friends and boost your confidence; they offer walks for all abilities and other opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals. Being supported and encouraged by a community will inspire you to do more. There are hundreds of walking groups across the UK including nationwide ones such as The Ramblers and Walking for Health, as well as smaller or regional ones such as Steppers UK, Iona’s Adventures – and Black Girls Hike UK, of course. Most can be found online and on social media. You can also join Facebook groups and forums, or search for events on websites and apps like Eventbrite or Meet Up.
360 degrees of walking
There are a great many ways to immerse yourself in walking when you’re not actually doing it. Outdoor events such as the Kendal Mountain Festival are a great space to network with other outdoors enthusiasts, hear talks from experts and attend workshops. A quick online search will list hundreds of walking festivals, initiatives, and challenges to get involved with.
Podcasts such as The Outdoors Fixinspire people to make adventure a bigger part of their lives, while Iain Stewart’s audio walking guide series Walking Through Landscapes will transport you to Scotland’s lochs, mountains and coast. Walks Around Britain – another podcast – is also a TV show sharing routes from across the UK that are accessible for those with limited mobility.
We are a nation of readers as well as walkers, so walking and adventure books, whether fiction or non-fiction, are becoming increasingly popular. Alfred Wainwright’s pictorial guides to the Lake District’s fells continue to inspire new generations of walkers, as do contemporary books such as Al Humphreys’ Microadventures, which aims to make adventuring accessible to people with very little experience, reframing the narrative of what it means to adventure.
Rhiane's five walking essentials for beginners
Quality kit is important for any hike – the main aim is to stay warm, dry and blister free. Start with the essentials and then you can build up your collection
Vivobarefoot Trackers, from £190, Vivobarefoot
Breathable, waterproof and lightweight boots with decent ankle support are essential for British weather and varied terrains. I like these ones – the hi-top gives added ankle support.
Berghaus Paclite 2.0, £150, Cotswold Outdoor
Look for Gore-Tex: the gold standard of waterproofing, it also allows jackets to be breathable, regulating your temperature. A jacket with a peaked hood is ideal, but this one’s my go-to.
Komoot, free to download and additional regions from £3.99, Komoot
If your map-reading skills are a bit rusty, try an app. Komoot shows local walks, allows you to plan routes and its voice navigation will tell you if you’re off-track – like a satnav.
Berghaus Remote 28, £49, Berghaus
Up to 35 litres’ capacity will do for a day hike, so you can pack essentials like food, water and a first aid kit. Water resistance, easy-access compartments, hip belt and adjustable straps are ideal.
Portable power bank
Anker Powercore 20100 £34.99, Amazon
If you’re using your phone for videos, music or mapping apps, it’s good to have a back-up, just in case you need to call for help. I recommend this one – it’s reliable and holds plenty of charge.
Five of the best walking locations
Of the many amazing UK landscapes, here are five favourites. Don’t be put off by long-distance routes, you can tackle them in sections...
Its magnificent coastline is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), plus there’s a National Park that hugs the border between England and Scotland. There’s a wealth of history, which includes imposing castles, numerous Roman sites and the longest stretch of Hadrian’s wall, to explore.
Discover Wales by exploring sections of its 870-mile coastal path. There’s something for all abilities (including wheelchair-accessible stretches) and interests – history and heritage, salt marshes, nature reserves and beaches. Some sections are designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, too.
The Lake District
Arguably the most popular walking destination in the UK (a hike to Helvellyn’s summit came out top in ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks, for instance) and it’s easy to see why. It offers a wide variety of low- and high-level routes, with amazing views pretty much guaranteed. Fancy joining the Social Breaks & Holidays Group for a break in the Lakes? To find out more, click here.
This region has some of the UK’s most breathtakingly stunning scenery. There are several good long-distance routes to tackle, such as the West Highland Way or The Great Glen Way, and two wild and wonderful National Parks: The Cairngorms and, further south, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.
A stomping ground for the Boundless Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Group’s Wanderers Walks (see below) and featured in the July/August 2020 issue, the ‘Garden of England’ is especially beautiful at this time of year. From North Downs trails (pictured) to coastal paths, there’s a walk to suit everyone.
Make the most of your Warner Leisure break with ViewRanger
If you're staying at a Warner Leisure resort this summer (Boundless members can get discounts here), why not take the opportunity to explore the local area by foot? Warner Leisure hotels are typically surrounded by stunning countryside, and the company has teamed up with the ViewRanger app to make it easier than ever for guests to discover local walking routes, as well as nearby cycling trails. Simply download the app to your smart device and get exploring!
Do more with Boundless
Join the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Wanderers
Alan and Brian Dane will resume organising monthly country walks when restrictions allow it. Led by experienced ramblers, any Boundless members and their guests are welcome to join in. To find out more, click here.
Save up to 20% with Ordnance Survey*
Ordnance Survey is at the heart of every outdoor activity. Save on a wide range of products, including the OS Maps app subscription and paper and custom maps, to help you plan your next walk. To find out more, click here.
Enjoy a 15% discount with Cotswold Outdoor*
Anyone can find you the best kit, but only Cotswold Outdoor can find you the right kit. Your Boundless saving means you can save on reliable brands and get the most out of the great outdoors. To find out more, click here.
*Terms and conditions apply
Photos: Getty Images