Monday, 27 August 2012

Walking With Others

Walking with Others

Organised Walks

We've started doing some walking with others. For some, walking with others and participating in organised walks will be nothing new; but for us, this is a new departure. 

Up until now, the only group walking has been on navigation courses or a 'wild' camp. Occasionally, we've inadvertently found ourselves in a queue winding our way up Whernside or Pen-Y-Ghent in appalling weather, and when we walked  the Coast to Coast it was often a bit of a trail as the B 'n' Bs emptied themselves of their guests at roughly the same time. On these occasions, where we could, we contrived to take a slightly different route or stop for a breather, snacks and coffee, or to take in a view and snap a photograph. Generally speaking, our walks have been solitary affairs, drinking up the scenery in splendid isolation.  A walk was often considered a success if the number of people we came across could be counted on one hand. It often invited the question, 'Do we count the paraglider who's just about to hurl himself off the hillside on the other side of the wall? The mountain cyclist? The walkers on the path some 100 metres or so distant?'

A big downside to walking with others is one of pace, particularly in a group where there is a big difference in the levels of fitness. There's nothing worse than being at the back of a group walking uphill as your lungs seem about to explode and every step upwards is a struggle, whilst those ahead appear to tackle the hillside like mountain sheep. Naturally, a good group leader will ensure that a designated person will offer support and encouragement to those that trail. Part of the enjoyment of our walks is to take photographs - aide memoires of a route and an enjoyable day. In a group, stopping to take a photo can mean suddenly finding yourself dropping behind the other walkers. It can also be problematic taking photos without strangers finding their way into the corner of your viewfinder. Stops can be difficult to guage. Whilst a hillside talk about something of interest adds to the knowledge of the area, more than a couple of minutes can mean stiffening limbs and a quickly cooling body; although time for a slurp of coffee or water and a boosting snack is most welcome. As is a lunch stop. Fine weather, a great view and homebaked goodies makes for a longer lunch stop. 'We haven't walked far enough for lunch', was the moan of one in the group yesterday. Okay, it was chilly and it was raining and perhaps all the best rocks were taken, but we were ready for our fifteen minutes of munching. Conversation can be tricky too. I'm not one for chatting when walking uphill, although some people seem to be able to manage it. Ramblers are friendly and interesting to chat to, although other groupings, where disparate souls come together, not so. Sounds of the wind, rain, hail and the countryside are dulled when walking in a group. A walk might be great if undertaken by just a couple of people. However, obstacles like stiles and becks, when walked by a large group, can elongate the timing of a walk significantly.

With so many potential downsides, are there any redeeming features of an organised walk?
First and foremost, an organised walk means that you can walk with a leader who has intimate knowledge of an area and its history. Yesterday we passed a grassy mound that we would not have given a second thought to had we been on our own. It was an ice house. Thousands must take the path each year, unaware of its existence. In an organised walk, a leader will have reccied potential paths to take should conditions underfoot become unsuitable for the group. Route finding is out of your hands when on an organised walk. Although we always have a map and compass with us, a group walk does mean that we can enjoy the benefits of walking without the potential pressures of navigating. A lunch time stop is a great time for perusing the map to see what route we have taken so far. It's good for identifying nearby summits and other ground features too. 'Safety in numbers', the expression exhorts, but also safe in the knowledge that the route is well known, the leader can navigate and there are safety procedures in place. Our safety shelter is omitted from the rucksack on the day of an organised walk - one less thing to carry. Walking regularly with a group, where the destination, distance and height of ascent is known in advance has great benefits. You find yourself walking with new friends... like minded people, learning about other great walks that they have undertaken. (Future potential walks for yourself) You develop a commitment to walking - come rain or shine - when it would be all too easy to look out of the bedroom window and give it a miss. The health benefits... toning up, weight loss, fresh air, life's burdens melt away. As newcomers to an area, the organised walk enables some fact finding. One walk becomes a springboard to another and another. You find that paths are well walked or not. Sage advice from those that have been fortunate enough to have been walking in the hills all their lives... 'Wait for a dry day when there's no wind'.

Yes, there are downsides to walking with a group. Yes, there's nothing quite like getting out there to experience the countryside by yourself as you navigate yourself around. But there's joy to be had in the organised walk too.

Did I mention the charms of the post walk hostelry and tea room?

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