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Long routes and multi-day walks

by Nigel Williams

With spring fast approaching, it is hard not to get excited about what we would like to do and the places we would like to visit when the weather is wamer and the days start to lengthen. If tackling a National Trail or long distance route is high on your list this year, then Nigel's latest blogpost is a must-read!

England and Wales have 16 designated National Trails, making up about 3000 miles of paths. National Trails have to meet certain design and access criteria, and are usually signposted with an Acorn symbol. Most of the routes are around 100 miles, such as the South Downs Way, but other routes are considerably longer, like the Pennine Way at 268 miles, and, currently, the longest is the South West Coast Path at 630 miles. However, once the English Coastal footpath is complete it will be the longest coastal path in the world at 2800 miles. (There is a complete Welsh Coastal Path but this is not currently designated as a National Trail).

In Scotland there are 29 designated Great Trails, totalling around 2000 miles. These include the Great Glen Way, which can also be completed by canoe. The walking routes have very similar design and access criteria to the National Trails and they also come under the Scottish Land Reform access legislation, allowing bikes and horses.

In addition to National and Great Trails there are also many other Long Distance Paths (LDWs) in the UK. HARVEY has created award-winning maps for all the National Trails and most of the Great Trails, plus a few of the LDWs. All bar the longest - South West Coast Path, Pennine Way and Cape Wrath trails - are complete on a single map sheet, with wonderful detail and information at the 1:40,000 scale. The Trail maps are also available as a box set!

Some people walk day sections of a route over a long time span, rather than a single hit, which would require carrying equipment to be self-sufficient for 24hrs or longer. Attempting these routes as a single journey requires planning and booking overnight accommodation, whether camp sites, hostels or B & Bs. That needs careful estimation of how fast and far you want to travel each day. You may need to build in a rest day or arrange resupply parcels at hostels or post offices, or maybe link up with old friends to join you for a day or two. Planning the logistics is part of the adventure and challenge, and often public transport is required too. Once bookings are made you are committed to a schedule.

There are companies that arrange accommodation and the transfer of luggage between B & Bs, so you can walk with a day sack and have dinner and a comfortable bed each night. If there is a good regular bus or taxi service near the route you might be able to base camp for a couple of nights and get local transport to and from the campsite or hostel, just walking for a couple of days and returning to base each night.

Wild camping may be an option. A lightweight, green tent with a small footprint helps one to be discreet. Putting it up around dusk and down soon after dawn is even less obtrusive.

Multi-day walking can take its toll on the joints and feet (or maybe I'm just getting old). It is important to have a good pair of light boots and quality insoles to minimise the weight and maximise the cushioning, along with wool trekking socks. I carry Compeed should I get a raw de-roofed blister. For hotspots and minor rubs I use physio tape pre-cut to about 8cm strips, with the corners rounded to prevent it being peeled back too easily. It stretches and, in my opinion, is much better than plasters or zinc oxide tape.

Other key pieces of equipment include a pair of light walking poles (not a single) which helps manage the joints and feet, a good wide brimmed sun hat for fine weather and a water bottle (I prefer a 2 litre Platypus bag, but without the drinking tube. A litre of water weighs 1 kg so I usually half fill it and roll up the excess plastic, but at a camp site the full 2 litres will last me for dinner and breakfast. If I don't need water it rolls away to about the size of a large Mars bar and weighs very little).

I do enjoy a mug of tea during the day but prefer not to carry a thermos. A light and efficient gas cooker, such as the Jetboil, gives an option for multiple hot drinks with water from streams. It is part of the camping kit but also great on a day walk. It is good to have a mat for insulation so you can sit on the ground or a boulder while boiling the water and savouring the view.

Clothing really depends on the time of year. I tend to keep moving relatively quickly so prefer to have a number of thin layers, including a light windproof layer, to adjust my temperature, and an insulated jacket or waistcoat to put on for stops if it is cold.

In my experience, walking for a few hours in heavy rain means you are going to get wet, regardless of how much you spend on waterproofs. If the general forecast is warm summer weather with downpours then I will use light waterproofs; these do not need to be Goretex. In spring and autumn, Paramo outer clothing can be a good versatile option in all weather.

On multi-day camping trips one is likely to have a degree of regular access to shops, cafés or pubs, so there is no need to carry large quantities of supplies - food is often one of the heaviest items - but I keep a dehydrated meal as a reserve (ideally not a favourite meal so there is no temptation to eat it until the last night). Tesco do a "pour and store" freezer bag which takes boiling water, so couscous, or other dehydrated food, provides a lightweight meal.

Lastly, there may be someone wanting to know you are ok from time to time. An emergency 'Spot' device is an option and can send an automated email message and location. Most people, though, just use the mobile phone. I carry a power bank which will recharge my phone around 4 times, so not too big and heavy. (I also have a rechargeable head torch).

All in all the whole enterprise from planning to completing the journey is very rewarding, not to mention the diversity of countryside, local history and maybe friendships that are often experienced along the way.

You may also be interested in ...

- HARVEY has waterproof maps for many long distance walking routes. Each map is lightweight, contains the whole of the route on one sheet (usually!) and the route is clearly marked in red.

- HARVEY Map - Measure - Go! scale bar laces double up to make measuring distance easy! Available in two scales, 1:25,000 scale markings (red) and 1:40,000 scale markings (yellow), these are perfect accessory for any long distance walking trip!

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