‘How do you know where to walk?’. It’s a question that I get asked a lot by people either looking for information on hiking routes here in the UK, or more adventurous ascents further afield. In the past I’ve found the question odd, but on further prompting I usually discover that it’s a loaded question. People don’t just want to know where to walk, but what is is like? Is the walk safe? Will I encounter terror inducing, knee-knocking drops? Are there any toilets? Where is the best place for a coffee, cake, pint after the walk? These are all important questions and we will explore them as I explain where I find my walking route inspiration below.
Knowing where to walk requires varying levels of preparation depending on your ambition. A leisurely summer’s day walk on a flat path through Elterwater in the Lake District will require less research than a hut to hut trek in the Dolomites but both walks have some things in common; you’ll need to know where to start, and where to end, and what needs to be done in the middle to join the beginning and the end bits up.
Hiking websites, apps, and online maps
In the digital age the internet is usually our first port of call when trying to find out something we don’t know, and walking route research is no different. There are hundreds of sources out there, with some better than others. Mud and Routes, Walking Britain, and the Ramblers are good starting points that provide plenty of information on thousands of walks around the UK although you will need to register to use all of the Ramblers walks. Some of these routes also include crucial details on nearest pub for post walk sustenance too. The Miles without Stiles pages on some of our National Park websites provide some great walking options for people with pushchairs, wheelchairs, reduced mobility, or simply legs that want an easier time of it.
My main online source, and starting point for most of my walks is the fabulous OS Maps Online. For a £24 a year – £2 a month – you get access to electronic versions of all their Landranger and Explorer maps which covers every corner of the British Isles. As well as the online version there is an app which allows you to download maps for offline use which is invaluable when you are walking in areas where the internet signal is weak.
I used the OS Maps app on my most recent walk, a circular route starting from Haweswater up on to the historic roman road at High Street and down via Small Water. There are many pre-loaded routes that can be found by searching areas of interest from Trail and Country Walking magazines (more on these later), AA walks and other publications. You can also create your own routes as I did with this Bald Hiker – Haweswater to High Street Circuit. I was inspired by this website’s own High Street from haweswater article. As well as being able to download the route and map to your phone for use on the hill, the other thing that I love about the desktop version is the 3D fly-through functionality. I like being able to see the route in this format as it’s a great way visualising what the walk will be like and what to look out for on the day; where potential hazards will be, what the gradient will be like, and where are any potential escape routes are should any adverse weather come in.
Paper maps for the UK and abroad
I’m a map geek. The first step to acceptance is to admit this fact. I have been known to wander into the map archives at Manchester Central Library and lose a few hours perusing 200 year old maps of the Lake District. I use paper maps and guide books to plot out routes, particularly for overseas walking and climbing where online information in English may not be so plentiful. Spreading out a map across the kitchen table is a good way of familiarising yourself with an area and will give you some feeling for the position of the place that you will be exploring.
Stanfords are specialists in overseas mapping and a good place to start if you are thinking about a walking holiday. I always try and pick up a few maps ahead of any overseas trip so I know my routes before I land. Editorial Alpina have been faithful companions when walking in Spain – many of their maps come with little guide books that can be found in several languages. IGN’s TOP25 maps are the ones to look for if you are off to France, Kompass for Austria, Germany and the Eastern Alps, and Tobacco maps for Italy although Kompass also cover the Dolomites. Some foreign maps are better than others, and they do sometimes make you appreciate how good OS and Harvey maps are in the UK but the ones I’ve mentioned here are reliable.
Walking guide books and magazines
Guide books go hand in hand with route planning and there are so many walking and climbing books that sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start. I have piles of walking books at home covering simple walks in the Forest of Bowland to mountaineering routes in the Alps. I think anyone who has walked in the Lake District will at the very least have some awareness of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland fells. They are stuffed full of detail, intricate drawings, and a great deal of humour.
They are as comprehensive a guide to walking in the Lakes as you can get and are small enough to take out onto the fells with you. Bill Birkett’s Great British Walks has always been a favourite of mine, as I love walks across precipitous ridges but of course they are nor for everyone. Ciccerone have always been my first port of call when researching walking and climbing routes, especially further afield. They produce some fantastic guides on walking trails all over the world, publishing books by super-knowledgeable authors that give you all the information you will need on walking in your chosen destination. Where to stay, when to go, what to pack, and where the very best routes will be so that you maximise your time. I always have one of their books packed in my bag when walking abroad.
For UK walks there are some excellent monthly publications that are crammed full of routes to explore. I’ve bought Trail magazine for as long as I can remember, and as well as some brilliant features, gear guides, and information on what is going on in the walking world, each month there are 14 or so mapped out walking routes that can be cut out and taken on the hill with you. There are others such as Country Walking which tends to feature gentler routes than Trail, and The Great Outdoors magazine which does some really good detailed articles on walking experiences in the UK.
YouTube walking guides and blogs
I increasingly use youtube nowadays, again particularly for finding information on walks abroad as you can see and experience what the trails are going to have in store for you by following the footsteps, gopro, and drone footage of someone who has tread the path before you. Again, there is so much to chose from and I can disappear down a youtube worm hole for hours at a time, starting out in the Peak District and ending up summiting the Matterhorn. Athena Mellor makes some lovely little videos on exploring the outdoors in the UK, and then at the other end of the scale Kraig Adams does some captivating videos on excellent walks all over the world including a brilliant one on the magical Picos de Europa, an area that we have covered on Bald Hiker.
Which leads me nicely on to my final inspiration source; travel blogs and Bald Hiker. There are plenty of people out there writing about their walking experiences and providing insights through travel and walking blogs. And that’s what we try to do at Bald Hiker. The other writers on this site are a regular inspiration for me, opening my eyes to places I’ve not been and taking me on a journey with them through their writing. Hopefully, this may help you find your next walking inspiration so that you can get outside and explore more.
Also watch this space. BaldHiker Social Walks coming soon where you can let us take you on a special walking journey with us as well as make new friends along the way.