Take a walk on the wild side for the sake of your health
Exercise doesn’t have to involve sheathing yourself in Lycra and pounding mindlessly to hip-hop backbeats in front of banks of TV screens. In fact, according to The Guardian, a recent report by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support discovered that walking for half an hour a day five days a week could save 37,000 lives a year and lead to a reduction of almost 300,000 in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes, it can even make weight-loss easier.
For centuries, the daily constitutional (walk) was the best way to stay in peak condition whilst at the same time gaining a bit of perspective on life. In many ways it still is.
Walking can mean more than popping out to the corner shop for twenty Marlboro. Why not take a chance on adventure walking? Even if you only plan a walking weekend every so often – a special weekend in the country once or twice a year – it will inspire you for the smaller everyday stuff like getting out to the park or walking to work. You will need to make sure you have your ducks in a row before you start. I’m talking about finding some great countryside and going for it, but making sure you’re kitted out with the right gear before you set out. It’s unlikely you’ll kick off with a life-or-death hike across the Arctic tundra, but wherever you are, you do need to spare a thought for your safety.
Equipment for your own miracle
One of the first steps to take (excuse the pun) is to make sure that you have all the right gear. And great wet-weather gear is a must. I’m not talking fisherman’s yellow galoshes and capes – these days you can get very light wet-weather gear that will fold up and fit into your pocket. Don’t just get the top, invest in the trousers as well – you’ll thank me for this one day, as there’s nothing worse than being in the middle of nowhere with wet, cold and soggy trousers and no chance of changing them for the next 50 miles. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate gear!
The second vital bit of kit for your proper walking experience is the right boots. Remember that you could well have thick socks to allow for so don’t buy them too small. Talking of socks, it’s worth getting proper walking socks. A good outdoor shop should be able to advise you on the right kind of boots and socks for you. The boots need to be protective of the ankles, waterproof and not too heavy. They also need a good grip – the proper lace-up ones are ideal (check out www.snowandrock.com).
The other essential piece of kit is your rucksack or daypack. Choose one with a middle strap that goes round your tummy as this will help to protect your back. These days there are rucksacks that make sure the material isn’t next to your back so you don’t get too sweaty carrying it. Make sure you get one with loads of pockets for maps, bits of string, etc. Also make sure you have basic survival gear: matches (in a little plastic bag so they’re not soggy when you need them), a Swiss army knife, foil blankets, water bottles, oatcakes, nuts and maybe some dark chocolate (temperature permitting). Also, pack a whistle just in case you need to attract attention. And a hat, good sunglasses and some sunscreen. A map is always a good idea, as long as you can read it! And you’ll need to carry at least a litre of water. Obviously in boiling temperatures you’ll need more. Don’t forget to pack a small medical kit that includes some rehydration sachets (electrolyte formulas) and some plasters for those pesky blisters.
Put actual dates in your diary and organise to go walking with friends. Going on long walks can seem quite scary if you’re new to them and can’t read a map, but the gear is only necessary if you’re going to take the whole thing seriously as obviously short walks in the countryside on designated footpaths don’t need full-on survival gear. Always take water with you, however!
Take a holiday that includes guided walks in wonderful countryside. Lots of companies offer this sort of thing now: try www.atg-oxford.co.uk, which offers walks for all levels of fitness and experience. Also check out www.walksworldwide.com and www.theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk.