5 English Countryside Trekking Tips

All over the UK are footpaths, trails and some open country. Most of this is private land. The pathways are very old rights of way that go back hundreds or even thousands of years. Landowners are supposed to maintain those rights of way, some don't, but most do. Once you get out of a town or village, that track will cross fields, woods, hills, scrub-land and in some cases mountains.
I'm adding this post as I intend to do some walking in various places and thought this could be a kind of introduction.

If you will be hiking around the UK, there are a few things worth knowing.

1. Get a map

The entire country is down on paper, in the form of Ordnance Survey Maps (OSM). These cost and the site above uses them. You can print off free, the area/s you want to walk in.

WARNING! OSM's have sections over 100 years out of date.
This could put you in peril. There have been landslides, some trails and paths no longer exist and many more paths have been made that are not on the maps. While some new roads have been added, there are parts of the map with old roads and buildings that have never been added—they are off the grid.

Do not depend solely on these maps!

Use Google Maps
Getting a bit lost is easily done as you can be in the middle of nowhere and have the single footpath split into 3 or more—with no signs. Google Maps/Terrain have contour lines. Zoom up and the contour lines and elevation start showing. When you switch between Satellite and map, you do have to turn the Terrain back on in the drop down on the right of the map. These are much more up to date than the British OSM's.

Print off the map from Streetmap.co.uk and use it in conjunction with the Google map. There are times that they are helpful.

A compass is also a good idea, especially in open country. Then you can locate a town on the map, set the compass to North and head off in the bearing of the town. Good compasses can turn to the exact number of degrees from North and, once set, you can stick to that until you reach your destination (unless, of course, there is a 300 foot cliff then it's recommended to find an alternative route).

2. Keep to the footpath

Take great care of it while you are crossing the land. Do not throw litter down and stay on the path as much as is humanly possible. If there is a closed gate that you have to go through, please close it back up, firmly. There may be a style where you have to step over the fence or wall. Some have what is known as a kissing gate. These are shaped in a semi-circle or V and the gate swings—you walk around the end of the swinging gate and just leave as is when you exit. There are occasions you may have to step over a stone wall that has steps/stones each side. If you accidentally displace a stone, put it back where it was.
There's 1001 different ways of displaying footpath signs and this is the official one. Some just have the town name on, some are round, square, triangular, wood, plastic, metal and it's anybody's guess what the next one will look like. That makes it all: very haphazard, confusing and could put you in danger.

England has a lot of trees and woods. Footpaths go through them. Try not to wander too far off path—it can be very easy to get lost. If you want to take a break and stroll a bit into the woods, wrap a piece of bright cloth around a branch as high as you can and keep your eye on it so you know where you are.

3. How to handle the fields

Sometimes the footpath goes through the middle of one, but it is over grown (or seems to have vanished completely), use the sides and walk around to the approximate point in line to where the path disappeared. There should be some kind of gate or means of exit (hopefully) there.

Please do not walk in the crop. In June or August it may be a hay field. Yes, I know it is nice to stretch out in the long grass and watch the clouds drift by. No! It is not safe during those months. Especially, when that big Massey Ferguson Round Baler is liable to come rumbling over the rise. In other words, stay out of the very long grass unless you are in a National Park.

4. Be aware of the animal population

Not all fields have crops. Some have animals. Normally these are sheep or cattle. Sheep will run from you. Cattle can be nosy.
Um... Moo?

If it is June (usual breeding season), a field with cows may just have a bull there. This is his field, those are his females and he may not take kindly to you being there. If you see a bull (also often in a field by themselves), go very slowly, do not run and gently head for the nearest way out (over or through a fence). Should he charge, just do the best you can. Remember, they are very large, can be pretty fast, are not known for their intelligence and you can turn faster than they can.

Farmers have dogs.
So be careful, slow and do not challenge the animal. That canine is there for a reason. To protect the land and it belongs to him. You are on his property. Not all of them are trained to ignore footpath walkers, so be advised.

Wild Animals
The UK, as a whole, is a very safe country in this regards. Mainly you have deer, foxes etc. If it is rutting season, the stags might get aggressive, but usually will run from you—just don't try to assert yourself around one during that time.

All wild animals with young will protect them. A doe could charge if she thinks you may be a threat to her fawns. You also have semi-wild ponies (small horses) in some regions, like the New Forest, Dartmoor and Exmoor. The ponies usually avoid people.

Some woods have, in the past decade or so, re-introduced wild boar and these can be dangerous and would be considered the only risky beast out there (don't believe all the BS about escaped Pumas). Boars may charge if cornered and can do you quite a bit of damage.

The UK has only one poisonous snake, the Adder—the rest are harmless. They are usually found in open countryside near a wooded area and in some grassy beach areas. Normally they will not bother with you, unless cornered. The bite can make you very sick. Fatalities rarely occur.
There are various shadings of colors with these.
The key thing is the markings.

If you are walking in spring, be aware of the birds. For the most part they are okay, but some will try to defend their nest if you are too close (bit like Grackles in North America—who will deliver a very nasty peck in your face or on your head). Just remember to take it easy, respect the land and those that live on it.

In Scotland you have wild cats (little tufts on ears) and are usually okay, but don't try to pet one. In most cases you won't see them as they tend to avoid us.

5. Crossing open type country

There are areas, where no real footpaths are present. Usually it is quite rural. The unwritten rule is: close the gate firmly behind you. All the other warnings stand here just as much as where footpaths are. Where my father used to live was like this. I would cover quite a few miles and not see one footpath. It was through the gate, over one field to the next, sometimes crossing roads, until I hit the main West Country coastal trail.

If a farm house is nearby, you can try asking permission to cross the land (ask where the bull is). The farmer may introduce you to his dog/s so that they won't attack. Be friendly and allow a bit of time to talk with the owner about his farm etc. He may even let you camp if you ask nicely.

In most of the country camping is not allowed. Check where you will be walking, before heading out, on that score. If you are from just about anywhere in the New World, Africa, Asia or Australasia, this place is almost the total opposite of what you are used to.

All the land is owned by someone, somewhere—there are no true wilderness areas. In Scotland, get permission of the Laird before crossing his land if there are no signposted footpaths.

Some areas in North Wales, the Lake District and similar terrain, you may have to check in with the local ranger (or equivalent) if one is around. As with all mountainous areas, the weather can turn nasty, very quickly, so be prepared and keep your eyes on the skies. Always, without exception, check in with the local authority during winter in the mountains, before attempting to cross them. The north of the UK is nowhere near as temperate as the south. For instance, the Yorkshire Moors can get very cold and very lonely.

National Parks or Forests come into this category. Campsites are there and that is normally the only place you can camp. These areas have forest rangers, they are in charge and they do not like off site campers. Some "Forests" (not all of them are totally wooded by the way) include farms, estates, towns and common pastureland (ponies, cows whatever). Then there are the Commons (similar to the "forests" but not as big and usually local to a town). The Moors also fall into this category—as do the Downs (not down but up—they are usually a range of hills). By now you may well be wondering, just how have these people ever manage to survive amongst all this confusion—join the crowd, line starts back there.....

Walking in the British Isles can be a lot of fun. England, Scotland and Wales have in the region of 100,000 miles of footpaths (different varieties—until they rewrite the maps and discover the other 300,000). A lot of them are signposted. Some have excellent signage. Some have none. So it can be a bit of an adventure.

I am treating this as a travel post because footpaths and the like are not places of residence (except for the worms that rise after the rain), but things you travel on. I will be walking more of them in the future.
Aug 25, 2012

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