Walking in the United Kingdom
Walking is claimed to be the most popular outdoor recreational activity in the United Kingdom, and within England and Wales there is a comprehensive network of rights of way that permits easy access to the countryside. Walking is used in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic to describe all forms of walking, whether it is a walk in the park or trekking in the Alps. Hiking is used in the UK, but less often than walking. Within the UK walking is sometimes called rambling, and the main organisation that supports walking is the Ramblers. Walking in mountainous areas in the UK is called hillwalking, or in Northern England, including the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, fellwalking, from the dialect word fell, for high, uncultivated land. Mountain walking can sometimes involve scrambling.
Access to the countryside
England and Wales
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In England and Wales the public has a legally protected right to "pass and repass" (i.e. walk) on footpaths, bridleways and other routes which have the status of a public right of way. Footpaths typically pass over private land, but if they are public rights of way they are public highways with the same protection in law as other highways, such as trunk roads. Public rights of way originated in common law, but are now regulated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. These rights have occasionally resulted in conflicts between walkers and landowners. The rights and obligations of farmers who cultivate crops in fields crossed by public footpaths are now specified in the law. Walkers can also use permissive paths, where the public does not have a legal right to walk, but where the landowner has granted permission for them to walk.
Right to roam
Walkers long campaigned for the right to roam, that is access to privately owned uncultivated land. In 1932 the mass trespass of Kinder Scout had a far-reaching impact. The 1949 Countryside Act created the concept of designated open Country, where access agreements were negotiated with landowners. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gave walkers a conditional right to access most areas of uncultivated land.
In Scotland the public have the right to use any defined route over which the public has been able to pass unhindered for at least 20 years. However, local authorities are not required to maintain and signpost public rights of way as they are in England and Wales.
Right to roam
In Scotland the public have traditionally been allowed unhindered access to open countryside. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 formalised and extended this right, by creating a general presumption of access to all land. Recent court cases have seen the rights that walkers seek to protect limited. The most noteworthy case, Ann Gloag v Perth and Kinross Council and the Ramblers Association, saw an area around her home - defined as the curtilage - placed off limits to walkers.
Long-distance paths are created by linking public footpaths, other rights of way, and sometimes permissive paths, to form a continuous walking route. They are usually waymarked and guidebooks are available for most long-distance paths. Paths are generally well signposted, although a map is also needed, and a compass may sometimes be needed on high moorland. There are usually places to camp on an extended trip, but accommodation of various kinds is available on many routes. However, occasionally paths are distant from settlements, so that camping is necessary. Water is not available on high downland paths, like The Ridgeway, though taps have been provided at some spots.
Fifteen paths in England and Wales have the status of National Trails, which attract government financial support. Four paths in Scotland have the similar status of Long Distance Routes. The first long-distance path was the Pennine Way, which was proposed by Tom Stephenson in 1935, and finally opened in 1965. Other paths include South Downs Way and Offa's Dyke Path.
The United Kingdom offers a wide variety of ascents, from gentle rolling lowland hills to some very exposed routes in the moorlands and mountains. The term climbing is used for the activity of tackling the more technically difficult ways of getting up hills involving rock climbing while hillwalking refers to the relatively easier routes.
Some summits require climbing skills, and many hillwalkers will become proficient in scrambling, an activity involving use of the hands for extra support on the crags. Protection using a rope is usually not adopted unless the exposure is very severe, or the weather deteriorates. In Britain, the term "mountaineering" tends to be reserved for high mountain ranges such as the Alps, or for serious domestic hillwalking, typically in winter, with additional equipment such as ice axe and crampons, or for routes requiring rock-climbing skills such as the traverse of the Cuillin ridge. The British Mountaineering Council provides more information on this topic. Popular locations for hillwalking include the Lake District, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, Wales, Dartmoor and the Scottish Highlands, including the Cairngorms, the largest National Park in the UK. The mountains in Britain may seem modest in height, with Ben Nevis at 4,409 feet (1,344 m) the highest, but the unpredictably wide range of weather conditions and often difficult terrain can make walking in many areas challenging.
Peak bagging provides a focus for the activities of many hillwalkers. The first of the many hill lists compiled for this purpose was the Munros – mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (910 m) – which remains one of the most popular.
A walking tour is an extended walk in the countryside, undertaken by an individual, or group for several days. Walking tours have their origin in the Romantic movement of the late 18th, early 19th-century. It has some similarities with backpacking, trekking, and also tramping in New Zealand, though it need not take place in remote places. In the late 20th-century, with proliferation of official and unofficial long distance walking routes, walkers now are more likely to follow a long distance way, than to plan their own walking tour.
Challenge walks are strenuous walks by a defined route to be completed in a specified time. Many are organised as annual events, with hundreds of participants. In May and June, with longer daylight hours, challenge walks may be 40 or more miles. A few are overnight events, covering distances up to 100 miles. Well-known challenge walks include the Lyke Wake Walk and the Three Peaks Challenge in Yorkshire, and the Three Towers Hike in Berkshire.
Walking for health
In the UK the health benefits of walking are widely recognised. In 1995 Dr William Bird, a general practitioner, started the concept of "health walks" for his patients—regular, brisk walks undertaken to improve an individual's health. This led to the formation of the Walking for Health Initiative (WfH, formerly known as 'Walking the way to Health' or WHI) by Natural England and the British Heart Foundation. WfH trains volunteers to lead free health walks from community venues such as libraries and GP surgeries. The scheme has trained more than 35,000 volunteers and there are more than 500 Walking for Health schemes across the UK, with thousands of people walking every week. In 2008 the Ramblers launched its flagship Get Walking Keep Walking project, funded by the Big Lottery and Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust. Unlike regular health walks, the Get Walking Keep Walking model uses targeted outreach programmes based around a 12-week walking plan to encourage regular independent walking. In the same year, a new organization, Walk England was formed, with aid from the National Lottery and the Department for Transport, to provide support to health, transport and environmental professionals who are working to encourage walking.
The government agency responsible for promoting access to the countryside in England is Natural England. In Wales the comparable body is the Countryside Council for Wales, and in Scotland Scottish Natural Heritage. The Ramblers (Britain’s Walking Charity) promotes the interests of walkers in Great Britain and provides information for its members and others. Local Ramblers volunteers organise hundreds of group-led walks every week, all across Britain. These are primarily for members; non-members are welcomed as guests for two or three walks. The Get Walking Keep Walking project provides free led walks for residents in certain areas, information and resources to those new to walking.
The interests of hillwalkers are promoted by the British Mountaineering Council, and the Long Distance Walkers Association assists users of long-distance trails and challenge walkers. Organisations which provide overnight accommodation for walkers include the Youth Hostels Association in England and Wales, the Scottish Youth Hostels Association, and the Mountain Bothies Association.
- Long distance trail
- Long Distance Walkers Association
- National Trails (Britain)
- Travel literature
- Walking in London
- Ramblers Association website: Walking Facts and Figures
- Ramblers Association: Basics of Footpath Law
- Carrell, Severin (2007-06-14). "Multimillionaire uses financial muscle to bar ramblers from woods". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-12.
- BMC website
- Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books, 2000, p.104.
- Walking the Way to Health Initiative website
- Get Walking Keep Walking website
- Walk England website
- Ramblers website
- Group Walks Finder
- Get Walking Keep Walking website
- The East Highland Way
- Ramblers Association website
- ViewRanger walking and hiking routes website and mobile app.
- Get Walking Keep Walking website
- Long Distance Walkers Association website
- Directory of Rambling Clubs in the UK
- Shops in the UK selling outdoor clothing and walking equipment
- Walking and Rambling Accommodation in the UK
- Natural England website: Access
- Discovercheshire walking routes website
- Google Long Walk in England, Wall Street Journal (Cotswold Way)