The National Trails
England and Wales are blessed with 15 long distance paths known as National trails. Each trail has it’s own unique landscape enabling walkers to explore the wonderful diversity of this country. The first National Trail was the Pennine Way which opened in 1965. Since then a total of 2,500 miles of pathway have been created and it is estimated that 80,000 people a year complete one of these National Trails. The shortest trail is the Yorkshire Wolds Way which is 79 miles and the longest is the South West Coast path a massive 630 miles. By 2020 it is planned to complete a path along the entirety of the English/Welsh coast.
For many people walking a National Trail is a once in a lifetime experience and for some – like me it becomes a little addictive. I have walked five so far and at present I am halfway through my sixth and dreaming about which one to tackle next, difficult, because I feel spoiled for choice!
Some tips for first timers
Having complete a few of these trails, I thought I could probably help those who are thinking of doing their first National Trail with a few tips that I have learned along the way – so here are fifteen.
1. Walk in your footwear
For most of the trails I would suggest that walking shoes or light fabric walking boots are best. Heavy leather boots are more tiring on your legs and you are going to walk some miles. Wear your chosen footwear regularly for a few weeks before you do your long distance walk to ‘break them in’. Take note of where any potential hot spots may occur on your feet.
2. Deal with hotspots straight away
‘Hot spots’ are places on you feet where you feel rubbing or potential blisters occurring. As soon as you feel any hot spot on a walk stop and deal with it immediately before it develops into a full blown blister or cut. It will save your a lot of discomfort and pain. The usual way to deal with these hot spots is to cover them with something like a plaster or tape, Vaseline or blister cream may help. Whether you burst a blister or not is up to you, what is best is debatable. If you do burst a blister make sure the needle is sterile at all costs avoid infection.
3. Plan the stages of your walk before hand
Be realistic about the mileage you will cover each day, do not ruin your walk by flogging yourself trying to walk too far. It is always better to give yourself plenty of time because on many of these paths there are things of interest along the route which are worth stopping to see, and there are nearly always tempting cafes and pubs just crying out to you to rest your weary feet for a while.
4. Book your accommodation well in advance
If you are thinking of backpacking to be honest with you most of the National Trails are not that good for camping sites, and you will inevitably end up wild camping. Most people when walking the trails stay at B&Bs. These can be very popular and in some places a bit sparse. So book them well in advance to ensure that you have somewhere to stay each night near to the trail at journeys end.
It can be very difficult if you have to book a taxi for example at the end of your days walk because your B&B is a few miles away, and the last thing you will want is the prospect of having to walk a few more needless miles to your accommodation.
5. Take minimal stuff
When you have decided what stuff you want to take on your walk (clothing, hairdryer, electric toothbrush and charger, copy of War and Peace maybe!) Lay it all out on your bed at home and be ruthless with yourself deciding what you really do not need and can do without (buy a plastic toothbrush for the walk – it’s lighter). Remember whatever you take you have got to carry in your pack and it will feel heavier as you tread the miles. Most people on their first long walk take too much stuff and regret it.
6. Take cash as well as your bank card
Some trials go through some lonely countryside and not all the places you visit will be able to take card payment.
7. Use walking poles
Walking poles are a great help when walking long distances they reduce the accumulated stress on your back, legs, knees and feet and so reduce the associated aches and pains. I always take walking poles with me not that I use them all the time but, there are stretches along the trail when I am glad to have them often when I am getting near to the end.
8. Make sure your backpack fits well
A badly fitting backpack will cause you a lot of discomfort and pain especially on your shoulders. The weight of a full backpack is meant to be carried on your hips not on your shoulders and this requires a proper fit. It is always best when buying a new backpack to get some expert advice fitting it and finding the one that best suites you.
9. Don’t over eat, but stay well hydrated
If you are staying at B&Bs then you will probably eat out in the evenings at a pub. The temptation is to eat well after a hard days walk, perhaps a little too well. Walking on an over full stomach is not comfortable and can effect your performance so moderate your food intake. On the other hand drinking enough is very important. It is a delicate balance carrying enough fluid but not too much, liquid will be the single most heaviest thing you will carry. Fortunately on most of the lengths of the trails there are often places where you can replenish your water, or whatever you may choose to drink.
10. Let someone know your itinerary
Heaven forbid that anything should go seriously wrong with your walk, but if it did someone needs to know whereabouts you should be. So if you do not arrive back home when they expected you they can inform the relevant authorities so that they can search for you. It all sounds a bit drastic but it might just save your life some of the National Trails pass through some lonely places.
11. Keep your phone charged
As above if you need help in an emergency you will need your phone to be well charged to maintain contact with the emergency services. Also you will want to take plenty of photos to show your friends and family.
12. Have a good guide book
There are very good guide books for all of the National Trails. Not only do they clearly show the route of the trail but they tell you of points of interest along the way and where some facilities are. I some times take an O/S map with me as well (I borrow them from my local library)
13. Check the weather before you start
The weather will be whatever it will be we cannot do much about it. We can be prepared for it though. We may or may not need a sun hat for instance, or alternatively we may need to have good waterproofs.
14. Respect the country code
The countryside is living and is often somebodies livelihood. So shut gates, don’t leave any litter, don’t walk where you are not invited to and treat animals with respect.”leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs, kill nothing but time”. Respect the country code.
15. Take appropriate medication with you
You will almost certainly need things like plasters, painkillers and insect cream. There may be other medicines that you may require like Vaseline to help prevent chaffing. It is always a good idea to have a basic first aid kit with you.