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How to Organise a Challenge Walk - Chapter Two - Designing The Walk


An event should provide a challenging and enjoyable walk through some of the best countryside in the locality, in a way that is safe, environmentally friendly and with minimal disruption to the local community. This chapter concerns the early planning that will determine the nature of the event. Most topics mentioned are discussed in greater detail in Chapters 3 and 4.

2.1 Choosing a date

To allow time for adequate organisation and publicity, there should normally be at least a year between first deciding to organise the event and the day of the walk. For very small events 6-8 months might just be possible; for LDWA 'Hundreds' there is a lead time of 3 years. The exact date should be decided at the outset. The main determining factor is usually the availability of a suitable headquarters for the start and finish of the walk and to a lesser extent accommodation for other checkpoints - many village halls, schools, etc. get booked up years ahead.

In some areas, farming or gaming activities, such as lambing, harvesting, grouse breeding or shooting, may make events difficult to arrange at certain times of year. On certain routes the effect of path erosion is much less in drier months. In popular tourist areas bank holiday weekends and the high season are best avoided. Local enquiry can avoid clashes with fun-runs, village galas, etc., although challenge walks are occasionally put on to complement other local festivities. Entry numbers are likely to be low if the date clashes with other nearby challenge events - approximate dates for annual events can be gleaned from the previous year's calendar in 'Strider' and the LDWA Events Secretary may be able to advise further. Once the date is decided the walk HQ and checkpoints should be booked as soon as possible.

2.2 Location of walk headquarters and checkpoints

Walk headquarters

An adequate headquarters for the walk start and finish is crucial and must be decided on and booked early. The ideal walk headquarters rarely exists in the right place, and the facilities available can have a considerable effect on the nature of the walk.

A 'circular' walk with a combined start and finish is far simpler logistically than a 'linear' one. For a linear walk the centre of operations has to be moved after the walk has started. Moreover, arrangements are needed either to take those parking at the finish to the start, or to return finishers to cars left at the start (the former arrangement is normally better, both logistically and psychologically). Nevertheless, there are a number of very well-organised linear walks in the annual calendar.

Possibilities for HQ include schools, sports clubs, village halls, church halls and community centres. Factors that affect their suitability include the space and facilities available, the provision of car parking space, convenience of access and proximity to the desired walking area. Schools usually have better cooking, heating, washing and toilet facilities than village halls, though are more expensive to hire. Do not underestimate the space required for walkers assembling, for food preparation and eating and for baggage storage. The venue should be easily accessible from outside the locality, including by public transport, with adequate overnight accommodation nearby and road links to other checkpoints on the walk. Ideally it should provide a clear start to the route with no stiles, restrictive gates or narrow paths in the first two or three miles. Consider the impact on the local community: well-organised events are usually welcomed provided that they do not give the impression of an invasion.

Depending on the scale and nature of the event, space may be needed at the walk HQ for the following facilities:

  1. Before the start:
    • desks for registration, kit check, enquiries
    • walkers' preparation, 'chatting' and assembling for the start (in bad weather everyone will want to remain under cover until the start time)
    • storing of walkers' belongings (not all walkers will have a car in which to leave kit not required on the walk)
    • walkers' baggage to be taken to a half-way 'baggage' checkpoint (see Section 4.3)
    • toilet facilities
    • sorting checkpoint food and equipment
  2. From several hours after the start (i.e. once finishers and retirees start returning):
    • desk for recording finishers
    • eating
    • table for certificates and badges
    • changing and showers
    • first aid
    • resting/sleeping space for walkers
    • storing baggage returned from a 'baggage' point
  3. Throughout the event:
    • food preparation and cooking
    • storing walkers' belongings
    • walk control
    • washing and toilet facilities
    • radio operators
    • enquiries, information and displays
    • telephone
    • notice boards
    • facilities for marshals, including sleeping
    • merchandise
    • adequate parking for marshals and walkers

The hire charge and exactly what is included should be agreed in writing when the HQ is booked. In particular, it should be clear whether gas or electricity costs are included and which rooms will be available for use and when. There is often room for negotiation; for example some schools are willing to charge on a per room per hour basis, so money can be saved by vacating rooms when they are not actually in use. Thus, the dining area might not need to be hired until later on in the event. It may also be useful to have access the night before an event to set up tables etc. and perhaps even provide floor or camping space for walkers wishing to sleep locally. It is important to check the insurance position of the HQ and what restrictions there are on use of the facilities. There may be restrictions under the Food Act (see Section 4.13) or a requirement that the kitchen manager be on duty (and paid) when catering facilities are in use. A contact name, address and phone number should be obtained at the outset. It is worthwhile contacting the caretaker of the building early on - he or she is worth 'cultivating' and can often find a quick solution to any problems.

The organisation and operation of the walk HQ is discussed in Section 4.1.

Checkpoints

The route will depend to some extent on the location of suitable intermediate checkpoints. Checkpoints ensure that walkers follow the prescribed route and help keep track of walkers. On most events food and drink is provided at some checkpoints, and this contributes significantly to the enjoyment and social atmosphere of the walk. As with HQ, checkpoint requirements will depend on the type and length of the event and the time of year.

The interval between checkpoints varies between events, but 5-8 miles is typical, perhaps further apart early on in a walk but closer in later stages or on night sections. Often walks have both 'major' checkpoints, where substantial food is served, and 'minor' checkpoints where little more is done than checking the passing of walkers and providing cold drinks. Later checkpoints will be open for some time and should, if possible, be indoors - this will be appreciated by marshals even more than by walkers if the weather is inclement.

There are two basic types of checkpoint: manned and unmanned. Manned checkpoints require much more planning and may be indoors or outdoors. Possible locations for indoor checkpoints include village halls, small schools or a room in a school, camping barns and garages (or even a convenient room) of a private house. For outdoor manned checkpoints some sort of shelter is desirable to keep marshals and food dry in bad weather, and tents (small or large), barns or caravans are often used. On small events, drinks served from a small wayside table or even from a car boot may be adequate.

On longer walks (60 miles or more), there is often a special 'half-way' checkpoint with a cooked meal, baggage transfer area, first aid, rest area, etc., requiring larger premises (see Sections 4.1 and 4.3).

Depending on the nature of the checkpoint, space for the following may be needed:

  • recording walkers
  • washing and toilet facilities
  • seating/ eating space for walkers and marshals
  • first aid
  • food storage, preparation, cooking
  • radio operators
  • storage for baggage at a 'baggage' point
  • retiring walkers awaiting transport

When estimating the facilities required, remember that walkers soon become spread out and the number of walkers at a later checkpoint at any given time may be small. On the other hand, walkers tend to stop for longer at checkpoints later in the walk.

The feasibility and availability of checkpoint locations should be determined as soon as possible and bookings made; the remarks above concerning HQ also apply to checkpoints. A realistic estimate of the period of occupancy is needed, allowing time to set up the checkpoint and to clear up afterwards. Permission must always be sought for an outdoor checkpoint even if it consists just of a tent or a wayside table.

An unmanned checkpoint normally consists of an orienteering type punch for walkers to clip their own checkcards or tallies. Unmanned checkpoints are useful to ensure that walkers go over specific parts of the route, or when the locations are not easily accessible or manageable by marshals. A variation on this is a 'treasure-hunt' checkpoint where walkers have to answer a simple question e.g. 'What is the number on the trig point?'

The organisation and operation of checkpoints is discussed in Sections 4.2-4.3.

2.3 Planning the route

The route should be planned as early as possible, although many changes are likely before it is finalised. Special consideration must be given to the safety of the route (see Section 2.9) and to areas of ecological sensitivity or where erosion is of concern (see Section 2.8). Avoid public roads wherever possible, though short stretches of minor road may be unavoidable to link footpaths, tracks or open access land. Main roads and roads without footpaths can be dangerous, particularly at night. Try to avoid them except where they need to be crossed. Of course, the checkpoint locations available will affect the route chosen, and adjustments may be required to get the desired length of walk.

A first draft of the route will come from a combination of the organisers' local knowledge and from studying maps; the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 (Landranger) maps will give an overview with 1:25,000 (Pathfinder, Explorer or Outdoor Leisure) maps allowing more detailed planning. The next stage is to walk out the proposed route to ensure that it is practicable and to see what changes to the route are needed or where path clearance or repair of stiles, bridges, etc. is necessary. Changes may be needed if parts of the route are unsuitable for the passage of a large number of walkers, for considerations of safety or environment, because of possible nuisance to local residents and landowners, or because a route might cause undue inconvenience to other walkers (for example on a narrow path or ridge).

Unless prior permission has been obtained to cross private land, use only public rights of way. Even then the inconvenience to farmers and other residents must be considered. Permission is needed to use forest tracks and tow paths that are not rights of way. Be aware of the law concerning rights of way and access, remembering that it differs in Scotland from in England and Wales. Some relevant books and leaflets are listed in Appendix I.

Most walkers will follow the official route, but there may be some who will be tempted to take any obvious short-cuts to reduce their time. The possibility of short-cutting can be minimised by careful route design and judicious placing of manned or unmanned checkpoints.

2.4 Length of the route

One of the LDWA's objectives is to promote walks of 20 miles or more; shorter walks may not provide sufficient challenge for many long distance walkers. Factors in deciding the length of an event include the topography, the terrain, the time of year and the condition of paths used.

To cater for different abilities and requirements several different distances (e.g. 35, 28 and 20 miles) are sometimes offered on the same occasion. By careful planning the shorter routes might just be variants of the longer one, for example by cutting back to the start from appropriate points or cutting across a loop. Thus shorter walks can often be offered with very little extra required in the way of route planning and checkpoints. Some events provide subsidiary walks of less than 20 miles to occupy and encourage families or children of those taking part in the main event. Such short walks might be of 7-10 miles and either have a simple map or route description, or be a 'quiz' walk, requiring answers to questions about features on the route.

There has been endless inconclusive discussion on how to measure the length of a route accurately. This begs philosophical questions of what is meant by 'the route' and 'length'. The consensus view is that the distance should be measured as accurately as possible (perhaps by using a straight edge or cotton) on the OS 1:25,000 map and should be verified independently by several people. They can usually agree a distance to within one or two percent. (Use 'wheel' measurers with caution - they may skid over the map and should be checked for accuracy against the map scale.)

For hillier walks it is useful to indicate the amount of ascent. This may be estimated by 'contour counting'. Thus for a route starting and finishing at the same height, the number of contours crossed by the route on a map multiplied by half the interval between contours (stated in the information beside the map) gives the approximate total ascent. It is very helpful to record on the route description the distance and ascent between checkpoints and cumulatively along the route.

2.5 Time limits

Enough time should be allowed to complete the full distance walking at a reasonable pace, remembering that many experienced long distance walkers will average 2-3 miles per hour over longer distances. The time limit should never be so short that only runners can make it, but nevertheless it might provide a healthy challenge for the slower walker. Time limits will largely be determined by the length of the route and the nature of the terrain. Allow extra time if intricate navigation or night walking are involved. Sometimes the time limit may be dictated by the period of availability of the start/finish and checkpoint accommodation, but this should not be allowed to impose an unreasonably short time for the distance.

The following time limits are typical for average terrain:

  • 20 miles - 8 hours
  • 25 miles - 10-11 hours
  • 30 miles - 10-12 hours
  • 60 miles - 24-26 hours
  • 100 miles - 48 hours

On some events later start times are provided for runners and fast walkers. A staggered start can reduce congestion at HQ and early on in the walk and will slightly reduce the length of time that later checkpoints need to be open, but increase it for earlier checkpoints.

The rate of progress along the route is normally controlled by checkpoints having opening and closing times, which should be stated in the route description or event details. Unless the rules specifically exclude running, most events will attract some runners or joggers, and opening times should allow for this. Do not, however, allow the attitude of runners to make the event more competitive than is intended. Opening times are usually determined so that anyone traversing the route on foot is unlikely to arrive beforehand, though on some events they are set to discourage running. Closing times should be calculated as the arrival times of someone walking at constant speed so as to finish the route just within the overall time limit; in general anyone arriving at a checkpoint any later than this is unlikely to finish the event in time. Walkers should not be allowed to check in before the opening time, or continue on the event if they have not left by the closing time.

2.6 Styles of event

It is important to ensure that walkers remain on the route: considerable bad feeling will be aroused if walkers trespass onto private land. The route may be specified in several ways.

Route descriptions

The majority of events provide a route description which describes the exact route to be followed. Even so walkers should always be required to carry maps in case of doubt or if they stray from the route. Section 2.13 concerns writing route descriptions. A variation is to provide an annotated sketch map that marks sufficient features to make the route clear.

List of grid references

A simple alternative to a route description is to specify a route by giving a list of grid references sufficient for the route to be obvious when they are transferred to the map (i.e. by giving grid references of path junctions, etc.). The event details should emphasise that entrants are expected to map-read the route themselves and that they must be competent with map and compass.

On some events, just the grid references of checkpoints (manned or unmanned) are provided, allowing some choice of route. This is particularly suitable for events in open access areas and provides a greater navigational challenge. Walkers should be reminded to keep to the Country Code and not climb over walls or fences, and some notes of guidance may be needed to keep walkers off private land. On such events it can be difficult to locate any misplaced walkers.

Kanters

A Kanter is a variant on the list of grid references event, but with a further navigational challenge. There is no set route, but as many checkpoints as possible must be visited within a given time limit. Sometimes a score is awarded according to which checkpoints have been visited, with penalty points for finishing late.

Waymarked routes

A route may be defined by temporary markers put up specifically for the event. This is done on few LDWA style events since it is very labour intensive and markers are subject to vandalism, particularly where the route passes through villages. Nevertheless, temporary waymarking is sometimes useful for short stretches, and there are some 'ready waymarked' long distance paths that might be incorporated in a route. A route should not be advertised as 'waymarked' unless the route will be obvious from the markers in all conditions.

Team events

Most events are for individual entrants, though in practice walkers form into groups naturally. However, some events are organised for pairs or even for teams of three or four who have to keep together throughout the walk. Such events are especially suitable for difficult terrain where safety is a particular consideration.

2.7 Consultation and liaison

Particularly for larger events, early consultation with statutory bodies, landowners and the local community can promote good relations and ease matters considerably for the organisers. It is of enormous benefit to contact local organisations and people before they seek out the organisers. People are suspicious of unexplained activities going on around them, but will often become helpful and enthusiastic if they are approached courteously and told that a challenge walk is going to take place. The level of local support is often surprising; towns have even been known to put out flags specially for an event! There will often be locals who, on hearing of the event, will want to take part or offer help.

Establish links with statutory and other bodies as soon as possible. Discuss the event at an early stage with the Police, who will be particularly interested in the start and car parking arrangements, and with National Park or other countryside authorities, who will be concerned about environmental matters and the effect on farming activities. Such discussion sometimes enables modifications to be made to everyone's advantage.

Depending on the area, consultation may include:

  • local police
  • rights of way departments
  • local authority countryside management service
  • rescue organisations
  • Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales (for SSSIs)
  • Forestry Commission/ Forest Enterprise
  • British Waterways (for towpaths)
  • local wildlife trusts
  • key landowners on the route
  • regional offices of Country Landowners Association (CLA) and National Farmers Union (NFU)
  • parish councils, local footpath officers
  • other landowners affected by the route
  • National Park office, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) office
  • National Trust

Contact farmers and landowners, particularly on stretches where the route passes through gates, across pastures or close to farms. Often some diplomacy is needed to break down initial doubts and mistrust before curiosity and interest foster a more helpful reaction. Finding the 'right person' on the staff of National Park or other authorities can save a great deal of time in identifying landowners, making contacts, liaising with farmers, etc. The head ranger may be a good person to approach first. Similarly, early contact with the local NFU may be valuable.

If county, district or unitary authorities are notified early about missing bridges, broken stiles, etc., they may be persuaded to carry out restoration work; indeed some local authorities have found that a challenge walk provides a 'focus' for their maintenance programme. Again, the council may be prepared to insist that a farmer carries out his legal obligation to restore a path across a field after ploughing or cropping. Many councils have a full-time footpaths officer who can be very helpful.

It is particularly important to contact people living close to the HQ and checkpoints and in isolated houses and farms close to the route, especially if walkers will be passing at night. It is courteous to call on residents to explain the situation or to send a circular letter stating the date and time that walkers will be in the area.

If possible the Chief Organiser should maintain a high profile locally in the weeks before the event and should remain accessible throughout the event. Remind the police, National Park Authority, etc. a few days before the event. Placing brief notices on village notice boards or telegraph poles a few days beforehand may be useful to alert people and to provide a contact telephone number (but remember to take all such notices down afterwards).

2.8 Environmental considerations

Event should not damage the very environment that walkers come to enjoy. Thus organisers should have regard to the impact of the event on the environment and be prepared to modify the event to avoid unacceptable impact. Like other outdoor recreational organisations, the LDWA believes that with good planning there need not be serious conflict with conservation interests. There are two main areas of potential difficulty: ground erosion by large numbers of walkers and disturbance to wildlife and habitat. These factors must be considered when deciding the route, time of year and nature of the event.

Ground erosion

Considerable number of paths in Britain have become scars on the landscape from the passage of numerous walkers, and events should avoid exacerbating this situation. The geological and meteorological factors that render a path susceptible to rapid boot erosion are complex, but clearly a well-drained path or a stony track is likely to suffer far less than a path across boggy moorland or scree. It is important not to create new paths where they do not already exist and also not to turn attractive paths into eroded eyesores. One school of thought argues that the most important thing is to avoid paths that are just starting to become eroded, as a substantial number of walkers in a short time can take the situation past the point of no return. Some paths are obviously unlikely to become eroded in the foreseeable future, for example rarely used paths or hard tracks, and these are very suitable for large events. Routing the walk along little used rights of way can help keep the path network in a walkable state, even though some prior clearing may be required.

Avoid the notorious over-walked routes such as popular sections of major long distance paths and well-worn climbs of popular hills. Slopes are particularly vulnerable to erosion with most damage caused by descending walkers. Encourage walkers to be 'environmentally conscious', by walking along a path itself rather than along the moor just next to it or cutting corners.

It can be useful to monitor the effect of an event on erosion, perhaps by taking photographs before and after the event.

Disturbance to wildlife

Certain wildlife habitats are sensitive and are best avoided at certain times of year. For example, moorland areas, crags and watersides are breeding areas for certain birds, and, except for well frequented routes, should be avoided in the breeding season. Certain moorland areas, screes and rocky gullies support delicate and rare plants and mass trampling is undesirable. Some areas are designated SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) or NNRs (National Nature Reserves). There the landowner has a duty to give the relevant authority (Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage) four months notice of any action which is likely to be damaging, and this could result in restrictions being imposed on an event. Factors such as lambing, rutting and shooting also make some areas sensitive at certain times.

National Park wardens, local rangers, nature reserve wardens, etc. can often advise at the planning stage how to minimise erosion and environmental disturbance; indeed several National Parks have their own written guidelines for organised activities.

It may well be necessary to restrict entry numbers for environmental reasons. The LDWA will not publicise or promote events with over 500 starters, but this is somewhat arbitrary, and on some routes a very much smaller number might be appropriate.

2.9 Safety

The safety of walkers and helpers must be borne in mind at all stages of planning and organising the event. Organisers have a duty of care to paying participants to ensure a level of safety comparable with what is regarded as acceptable within the sport, judged by best current practice. Walking is perceived as a 'safe' activity and, though minor injuries (blisters and bruises) are common, a major injury resulting directly from participation could have serious implications. It is difficult to provide precise guidelines in view of the potential for litigation in what is largely unexplored legal territory. Walking, particularly in remote areas, will always carry some risk, and, indeed, some entrants will resent an over-protective attitude by the organisers. As in other outdoor activities, entrants must necessarily take primary responsibility for their own safety whilst out on an event. Nevertheless, they can reasonably expect to have better safety provision when taking part in an event than if walking the same route independently; in fact this will be the case almost automatically by the 'safety in numbers' principle.

Safety consideration falls into two parts: designing the event to minimise the chance of an accident given the terrain and hazards etc., and ensuring that help can be obtained quickly in the event of an emergency.

Risk assessment

Organisers should take reasonable steps to identify and address foreseeable risks associated with the event.

After the initial planning stage and when an outline route has been decided, review the route and style of event from the point of view of safety. Organisers should carry out a risk assessment by identifying hazards and deciding how best to respond to them and produce a written document (a sample can be found at Appendix J). When evaluating a risk, both the frequency of occurrence and the severity of the consequences should be borne in mind. Types of hazard and possible counter-measures include:

  • busy road crossings (highlight in route description, marshal, put up warning signs)
  • rough or dangerous sections, particularly rocky descents (highlight in route description, waymark, impose grouping, avoid by re-routing, locate checkpoint or first aider nearby)
  • area of difficult navigation or remote section (specify map-reading skills, impose grouping, identify escape routes on the route description, have in place mechanism to ensure rapid detection of misplaced walkers, re-route)
  • cliffs, quarries (highlight in route description, waymark, avoid by re-routing)
  • dangerous stiles, bridges, etc. (arrange for repair before event)

Particular consideration must be given to parts of the walk that may be done in the dark or when walkers are tired and more apt to make mistakes.

An assessment of the overall route should also be made. If the terrain, height, distance and perhaps the lack of checkpoints are too severe for the least experienced of those who may wish to participate (with the conditions assumed to be as bad as possible for the time of year) then the route should be altered, support and safety precautions improved and/or entry qualifications imposed. Some mountain or moorland areas are potentially dangerous regardless of the route chosen and entries should be restricted to those who have experience of walking in such terrain, for example by imposing an entry qualification. Grouping (see Section 4.7) or making the event a 'team' event are further alternatives.

A reassessment on the day of the event may also be desirable. In adverse weather conditions the route may need to be altered or shortened and/or grouping imposed. One possibility is to prepare beforehand an alternative lower level version of any sections which cannot be crossed safely in high winds or driving rain. If conditions are bad, a sheet with the alternative route description can be issued to walkers at registration or at the checkpoint before the alteration. If it is exceptionally hot, extra water drinks points may be needed to guard against the effects of dehydration.

Keeping walkers on the route

Accidents that occur on the official route are likely to be noticed soon by other walkers or by sweepers. Thus, the chance of a serious problem going undetected will be very much reduced by minimising the likelihood of walkers wandering off route. A good route description, requiring entrants to be experienced at navigation, judicious waymarking, etc. contribute to safety in this way.

Waymarking

Temporary waymarking short stretches of the route may be appropriate, particularly near cliff edges, quarries or dangerous bogs (and also where walkers would cause a particular nuisance if they were to go off route, such as near private property or in environmentally sensitive areas). Waymarks may also be helpful at likely spots for navigational errors, which can usually be anticipated or may become apparent from the marshals' walk (see Section 2.14). For instance a minor path turning off a main path is often missed, and even one marker may be enough to catch walkers' eyes. Brightly coloured tape tied to trees or undergrowth, or flags mounted on canes are usual forms of waymarking. At night in open country a light, fixed or flashing, may provide the extra assurance required. Obviously, someone who is very certain of the route should be detailed to set up waymarks, and arrangements must be made to remove them immediately after the event; often this is done by the sweeper (see Section 4.5). The landowner's permission should be obtained before waymarking is used.

Liaison with authorities

Discuss the route with organisations such as the National Park Authority, Mountain Rescue team and Police early in the planning stage (see the list in Section 2.7). They will be able to offer safety advice and suggest alternatives if necessary. Inform the Police and Mountain Rescue of the route and timetable for the event in case their help is needed in an emergency.

Clothing, equipment and experience

Organisers must ensure that participants are fully aware of what must be worn or carried for safe walking. The rules or event details should specify equipment, clothing and food required, as well as the level of experience and map-reading ability needed. Similarly the details should state what food, drink and shelter is provided by the event and should emphasise that the walk is not led or waymarked.

Requirements will depend on the nature of the walk and time of year; typical items are listed in Appendix G. Draw particular attention to the need to wear or carry full waterproofs and clothing that remains warm in adverse conditions. For mountain or moorland walking, clothing of wool or a suitable thermal material should be worn or carried; cotton or denim trousers are not regarded as adequate.

Kit checks ensure that these requirements are observed, and may be conducted either at the start or at a point on the route. Some events require walkers to sign a declaration at the start stating that they will carry required items.

Other safety aspects

Other safety matters are discussed in Chapter 4 concerning operations on the day. These include ensuring that emergency services can be summoned rapidly (see Section 4.11), briefing the organisers and helpers of what action to take if an emergency occurs (see Section 4.11), good communications (see Section 4.9), first aid provision (see Section 4.11) and mechanisms for detecting and taking action on missing walkers (see Section 4.4).

2.10 Restrictions on entrants

In principle, events should be open to all who wish to take part. However, certain restrictions may be appropriate.

  1. A maximum limit on the number of entrants or starters may be necessary. This may be because of physical limitations on the accommodation, car-parking space, transport available or for other organisational reasons. A limit may also be desirable on environmental or safety grounds and this should be discussed with National Park authorities etc. The LDWA will not promote or publicise any event which has more than 500 starters, but for many events a much smaller limit may be appropriate.
  2. The organisers may wish to restrict entry to, or give priority to, members of a particular organisation or club.
  3. Walkers who have little chance of finishing will gain little from an event but frustration and can be a high safety risk. Thus a longer or more severe event may be restricted to those with appropriate walking experience by requiring that entrants have completed a walk of a specified length in, say, the previous year. This should be advertised long enough in advance to give prospective walkers time to fulfil the requirement. (Qualifications may be difficult to monitor, and some discretion may be necessary.)
  4. A lower age limit may be necessary (see Section 2.11).
  5. Many events do not permit walkers to bring dogs, though some allow dogs if they are kept on leads throughout the walk. Restrictions on dogs should be set out in the event rules. Farmers and gamekeepers are often more concerned about possible worrying of stock by dogs than any other aspect of a challenge walk.

2.11 Young participants - Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations

Organisers have a special responsibility to participants under 18 years of age. Walkers under 18 should not be accepted without the written consent of a parent or legal guardian. Entrants of 14 years or under should be accompanied by a named adult throughout the walk, with any adult accompanying not more than two such children. Furthermore, organisers should set an appropriate minimum age, depending on the length and nature of the walk and must comply with the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations, see below.

It is generally regarded as inadvisable for young people to take part in very long walks, to avoid damage to growing limbs and joints and for reasons of safety. Moreover, youngsters can be put off walking for life by a traumatically tough experience or by failing to complete a walk. It is difficult to be precise about appropriate maximum distances; the severity of the route and conditions will be a major factor. The following might be a very rough guide.

  • Up to 15 miles : no age limit
  • 16 - 20 miles : 11 years
  • 21 - 26 miles : 12 years
  • 27 - 30 miles : 13 years
  • 31 - 40 miles : 14 years
  • 41 - 50 miles : 16 years
  • 51 - 70 miles : 17 years
  • 71 miles or over : 18 years

The Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations, which concern participants under 18 years of age, were introduced in 1996 following the Lyme Bay canoeing tragedy. Challenge events come within the scope of the legislation, and the LDWA will not publicise events which do not comply with the regulations; indeed failure to comply constitutes a criminal offence.

The regulations apply to adventure activities, which include 'trekking', defined as journeying on foot over terrain (a) which is moorland or more than 600 metres above sea level, and (b) from which it would take more than 30 minutes travelling time to reach any accessible road or refuge. (An accessible road is one which is accessible to an ambulance, a vehicle not suited to rugged terrain.) Of course, many lowland and other events do not come within the definition of 'trekking', in which case the restrictions do not apply.

The basic legislation requires that a person or organisation charging for providing facilities for such adventure activities for persons under 18 years of age must hold a licence from the Health and Safety Executive. The licence fee (£200 plus costs of inspection) together with the conditions that would need to be met, mean that a licence is not a feasible option for most events organised on an occasional basis.

However, there are exemptions to the requirement for a licence. The most relevant exemptions are (i) where the facilities are provided by a voluntary organisation for its members and (ii) when a young person is accompanied by a parent or legal guardian (note that no other adult will suffice).

Thus the options open to organisers of events that fall within the definition of 'trekking' are, essentially, to allow those under 18 to take part only if:

  1. they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian or
  2. they are members of the organisation putting on the event.

For events that come within the definition of 'trekking' organised by the LDWA or its local groups, those under 18 may only take part if either they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, or if they are an LDWA member, either as an individual member or as a member of a family holding family membership.

Further details of this legislation are available from the Health and Safety Executive (see Appendices H and I).

2.12 People with disabilities

Organisers may be approached by people with disabilities who wish to take part in their event, and it is hoped that sympathetic consideration will be given to such requests. Organisers should politely make clear that it is up to the individual concerned to make any special arrangements that may be necessary, but any help or advice they can give will be appreciated.

Some, such as deaf or blind people, may be able to participate fully in country walks. Blind people will obviously need to be accompanied. (Some years ago, a blind man, assisted by three guides, completed a 100 mile event over severe terrain - a phenomenal feat.)

For a wheelchair-bound person, it is likely that the terrain to be covered will just not be accessible, and this should be made clear to the person. If some parts of the route are accessible, then wheelchairs could be allowed to participate only over such sections.

For events that support a charity, there may be rather more such requests, as the beneficiaries often wish to get involved. The event publicity should make clear whether the route is accessible to wheelchairs. It may also be desirable to plan one of the routes (possibly in consultation with the charity concerned) to be fully accessible to wheelchairs. Such a route may be restricted to parks and suitable urban areas, though some local authorities are actively creating trails for wheelchairs. Even a short flight of steps, or a steep slope, may make an otherwise suitable route impossible and a short diversion might be required. Any toilet facilities should be checked for wheelchair accessibility.

If there is to be substantial participation by people with disabilities, consider producing a supplementary information sheet, pointing out where difficulties may be encountered. It can help to walk the route in advance, either with someone in a wheelchair or imagining one is being pushed. It may be necessary to make arrangements for vehicles bringing wheelchairs to park or set down as near as possible to the start/finish.

2.13 The route description

Writing a route description requires considerable time and skill. Normally the route description is intended to suffice without reference to a map. (However, walkers should always be asked to carry a map in case of going off route, and indeed many walkers like to use the description in conjunction with a map.) A good description will enable a walker unfamiliar with the area to follow the route with confidence. A poor description will lead to frustrated walkers and perhaps to conflict with farmers and landowners resulting from walkers straying onto private land.

Most route descriptions originate with the writer following the intended route with a notebook, or maybe a dictaphone, in hand. It is good practice to record deliberately too much detail while out on the route; this helps ensure that there is enough information to avoid ambiguity and may well reduce the number of return visits needed. Back at home, the first attempt at writing a description from the notes will have many gaps and queries. Several further reconnoitres and rewrites (a word processor can make life easier here) will be needed before a remotely adequate draft is produced and then rigorous checking is needed. The following points may help in composing route descriptions.

Style: Written style varies considerably from one route description to another. A series of instructions in short sentences is probably most common; long involved sentences are best avoided. A route description should be self-consistent. For example, words such as 'road' (metalled), 'track' (unmetalled but suitable for farm vehicles) and 'path' (unsuitable for any four-wheeled vehicles), should be used with consistent meaning. If several walkers contribute draft descriptions for different parts of a route, one person should write the final version to ensure consistency of style.

Level of detail: A good description will have enough detail for the reader to follow the route correctly and to know that he or she is correct. 'Turn left after house', may leave the walker with an uncertain feeling of whether the correct house has been passed, whereas 'Turn left after house called "Green Gables"', removes any such uncertainty. On the other hand, unnecessary detail can be confusing. An instruction such as 'Follow left-hand edge of six fields to reach road', may well be obvious to follow, whereas 'Cross field to stile in left-hand corner, along left side of next field to go through gate by cattle trough to next field...' requires much more concentration.

Ambiguity: A phrase which seems clear to its writer may be read by others with a very different meaning. The classic example, 'Pass barn on left', occurs with monotonous regularity in route descriptions: some will take this to mean 'Pass barn on your left', whilst others will understand 'Pass to left of barn'. At every stage ask 'Can this phrase be misinterpreted?' Of course, independent checking by other walkers also helps to identify double meanings. Avoid mentioning features which could easily be removed or changed, e.g. 'Turn right by wreck of old tractor', even though the feature may have been there for years.

Next instructions: As a general rule, when one instruction in the description has been completed, another instruction should be provided. A walker reading 'Follow track to top of ridge' will expect a further instruction on reaching the top, even if it is just 'and continue along track for a further 400 yards'.

Points for special care: Particular care should be taken at the following places.

  1. Ways through farmyards, grounds of houses, etc. Large numbers of walkers going even slightly astray may lead to justifiable annoyance on the part of the owners.
  2. Leaving hill-tops and descending open hill sides. It is easy to miss paths leading off summits, and clear instructions and a compass bearing should be given. Concentration often lapses with the relief of starting downhill, and one of the commonest navigational errors is to descend in the wrong direction. Of course, the danger is even greater in mist or at night.
  3. Turning off a good track onto a minor or concealed path. To quote Newton's Law of Inertia, 'Every body (i.e. walker!) continues in a straight line at a constant speed unless subject to external influence'. Ensure that the walker is so influenced, preferably by identifying a landmark close to the turn. For example, 'Pass wooden seat and in 25 yards turn right into narrow woodland path'.

Try to identify places where walkers are particularly likely to go astray and emphasise the danger, for example 'Continue along path which veers away from wall', or even 'Do not be seduced by the paths branching off to the left'.

Abbreviations: There are a few standard abbreviations which will reduce the length of the description slightly: L/R (left/right); TL/TR (turn left/right); BL/BR (bear left/right); rd/tk/fp/bw (road/ track/ footpath/ bridleway); jct (junction); x-tks (cross tracks); fb (footbridge); sp (signpost); etc. It is a good idea to include a list of abbreviations at the beginning of the description. However, over-use of abbreviations will make the description reader-hostile and increase the chance of misinterpretation.

Distances: More than almost anything else, including distances between key features can make all the difference between a route description that is hard to follow and one that inspires confidence. 'Continue along track to stile on left' could refer to a stile after 10 yards or after 2 miles. After a few hundred yards doubts will enter walkers' minds as to whether they have missed a stile hidden in the hedgerow. 'Continue along track for 500 yds to stile on left' gives a much better indication. Distances may be estimated by pacing or from a map (but do not just guess!). They should be given in a consistent form, either using miles and yards, or kilometres and metres. A common convention is to use yards for distances up to 1/2 mile, and miles for greater distances (so 700 yds, 3/4 mile, 1.2 miles).

Compass bearings: Compass bearings can give confidence in places where a walker might be uncertain about the route. Give (magnetic) compass bearings wherever the route cannot be described adequately using visible landmarks. This includes any sections where there is no obvious path (or maybe where there is a confusion of paths) and no obvious feature such as a fence to follow. Include bearings across tracts of open moorland and across fields where the exit stile or gate is not visible from the entrance. Always give bearings off the tops of hills. In mist, common on mountains or moorland, bearings may be essential. Rather more bearings will be needed for night events, including across any fields where the path is not absolutely clear (paths across grass that are obvious in daylight may be virtually invisible by torchlight).

Grid references: It is helpful to provide grid references at intervals, perhaps every mile or so. This locates a point on the map for any walker who has gone astray to return to and is a great help for marking up maps prior to a walk (as anyone who has tried to transfer a route to a map using text alone will know). However, avoid instructions such as 'Turn left at GR123456' (unless there really is a post in the ground stating the grid reference!)

Other features: It is helpful for a route description to indicate taps, (open) shops, toilets, etc. Unusual features that could otherwise be missed, such as village stocks or a swan's nest, are also of interest to walkers.

Private land: Some challenge walks cross private land with the owner's permission. That this is the case should always be made clear on the route description so that anyone following the description on other occasions, such as to pre-walk the route, will be alerted to avoid trespass.

Maps: Sketch maps may be included to help clarify awkward parts of the route. Sometimes the route description incorporates strip extracts of OS maps with the route superimposed, which can help walkers mark up their own maps. Permission must always be sought from the Ordnance Survey if part of an OS Map is reproduced; a fee will be required and their copyright must be acknowledged on the extracts using the correct form of words. A leaflet explaining the procedure is available from the OS Copyright Section (address in Appendix H). A reduction in fee may be negotiable by pointing out that the event rules oblige all walkers to carry the relevant OS maps.

Format: Think about the form and layout of the description. Two-sided printing might be more difficult, but can save time and cost. Walkers appreciate a clear, reasonably large typeface, particularly if it has to be read by torchlight. Short paragraphs separated by clear gaps are easiest for the eye to follow. If possible page turns should occur at checkpoints (paper does not last long if repeatedly turned over in wind and rain!) Some organisers provide an electronic version of the description on request, either for those providing a disc or by e-mail. However, this should only be available to those entering the event, and the description should not be published on the Internet.

Other information: At the appropriate point in the description, give the number and name of each checkpoint, along with the grid reference and opening and closing times. Include the distance and, perhaps, approximate ascent between consecutive checkpoints. The emergency phone number should be printed on the description.

Checking: The route description must be checked carefully by at least one walker unfamiliar with the area, walking the route using only the description. Sections which may be walked at night on the event should ideally be checked both in daylight and at night. The checker should be asking 'How clear will this be to someone who is soaked through, tired and unfamiliar with the area?' The author should expect and appreciate constructive criticism.

There should be a final check of the route just before the description is printed and again a few days before the event. There are often new gates, fences or signs that necessitate a change of wording. For many events the description is sent out to walkers several weeks beforehand, and a late amendment sheet is issued on the day, though amendments should be kept to the essential minimum. For an annual event, the description should be re-checked each year.

2.14 The marshals' walk

A marshals' walk over the route some time in the month or so before the event serves several purposes. It gives helpers a chance to enjoy the walk themselves and qualify for a certificate, it familiarises helpers with the area and route to be used and it provides an opportunity for checking the route description and noting any changes that have occurred.

For a small event the marshals' walk can be a self-supported 'social event' that might be part of the organising group's regular walking calendar. For a longer event, some support and organisation may be needed, in which case friends who have entered the event itself may be enlisted to assist. Marshals' walks are often done in a single group, or a small number of groups, rather than walkers finding their own pace.

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