Guidance for Walk Leaders

Thank you for agreeing to lead a walk with NDWG. This guidance covers the basics of how we do things and your role as a walk leader. If you have any queries about your walk or your role, please contact the walks organisers: walks@ndwg.org.uk

Important: Please also read the additional guidance for COVID-19.

The Role

Essentially, your job as leader is as volunteer route-finder for the other walkers.

Communicating with members about the walk in advance is often very helpful.

Walkers are responsible for themselves in every way. You are not responsible for them or their choices.

You are not expected to have undertaken any training or qualification, though the group runs occasional navigation courses and many other good courses are available.

All walk leaders must be members of The Ramblers, so that our insurance is valid. We cannot advertise a walk led by anyone who is not a member as an NDWG walk. Committee members will check that leaders are Ramblers members before the walks programme’s publication. It is up to you to ensure your membership is current at the time you lead your walk.

The Equipment

The essential item is your map. The relevant OS map will be listed on the walks programme.

You may wish to take a compass with you (and know how to use it) too. For routes with significant ‘off path’ sections a compass is recommended.

Your route is described on the walks programme. When you look at the named points on your map, the best way to link them using rights of way (and access land as relevant) will usually be obvious. Sometimes there will be a choice of path between two points, in which case you are free to choose the most direct or attractive as you wish. The route will have been estimated using the most obvious and direct paths.

The Recce

We recommend that you recce your route before the walk itself. This allows you to familiarise yourself with the route and address any problems in advance. If you are not a confident navigator, you can ask someone to recce with you.

You may find that things have changed since the map was drawn e.g. parking moved or footpaths blocked, so you need to alter the route. If parking needs to change, please inform walkers.

Seasonal factors may mean conditions are difficult and suitable clothing or equipment helpful e.g. it is muddy, overgrown, snowy or likely to finish in the dark. You can helpfully advise walkers in advance.

You may find what appears to be an error, or lack of clarity in the route description. Please contact the walks organisers for clarification.

It’s worth looking in at any pub or café you might want to stop at on the day, to see if they are likely to be able to accommodate a party of walkers. Consider whether there will be space on what might be a busy, or rainy day and whether the flooring is suitable for muddy boots or there’s space to store them at the entrance.

Generally you’re welcome to make minor alterations to the route, to make it more attractive or enjoyable in some way. If you encounter any problems, or make any significant or interesting changes, please inform the walks organisers. They can change their records to avoid the same problem, or include your improvement, next time that walk is used.

The walks organisers will pass on your information about any footpath problems to the relevant local authority.

Choices About Your Walk

Where a walk is advertised on the programme as accessible by public transport (more common on Wednesdays and Saturdays than on Sundays), some people may choose to arrive this way, so it’s helpful if you can be aware of whether the expected bus or train has arrived. You might consider waiting up to ten minutes if it’s clearly late, or if you’re expecting late drivers.

Pub and café stops are at the leader’s discretion. Where a pub is mentioned in the route this is just for information. You are welcome to choose a different pub or none and may want to decide on the day, according to weather and time.

Dogs are allowed on our walks at the leader’s discretion. You may choose not to allow dogs for any reason, for example if you are scared of them, or if the route appears unsuitable – by order of the landowner, or if you are crossing open areas with pregnant ewes, lambs, or ground-nesting birds during nesting season (upland moorland, March – August), or many fields with young livestock. Dog-owners are advised to check with the leader in advance, so you can turn them away on the day if they haven’t done this. Standard NDWG advice is that dogs, when allowed, should be kept on leads at all times.

You might want to appoint a backmarker, if you find you have a large group, or a route with many twists and turns, where walkers could easily lose sight of the person in front and become confused. The backmarker’s role is to keep in contact with you, via the walkers in the middle section, so you know when to wait for people to catch up. They need a map and should be capable of following the route themselves, just in case part of the group becomes separated from the rest.

Letting People Know

Communication with walkers is best done via Facebook. If you don’t use Facebook, you can ask the communications officer or walks organisers to post a message for you. If you need to share important walk information with non-Facebook users, ask communications@ndwg.org.uk to send an email to the whole NDWG membership, taking into account that a week’s notice will be useful.

It is often a good idea to send a note about your walk in the week before, to encourage people to join you and let them know about any interesting features.

Remember that you can never expect to reach all members, or everyone intending to go on a walk, by any mode of communication. Some people print the programme and rely on that, others just turn up at Sunday meet points or the walk start points.

For this reason, we do not change walk dates, times or start points, except in very rare circumstances.

The Unexpected

Sometimes things don’t go quite as planned.

If you find that you will no longer be able to lead your walk, it is your responsibility to find a replacement leader. Please inform the walks organisers, who can change the details on our website.

If you are not confident about navigating, conditions look likely to be challenging, or you have difficulty on the day, remember that there are lots of competent navigators in the group who are usually happy to help if asked. The walks organisers can help put you in touch with them.

If severe weather occurs in the days before your walk and may affect it, please contact the walks organisers as early in the week as possible or, if you can’t reach them, the chair, or another committee member. They will work with you to make a contingency plan, a decision and communicate this to walkers. The standard scenario is:

  • Identify an alternative route, preferably from the advertised start point, or from another start point, preferably en route to the advertised one. Keep the details quiet for now, as they may cause confusion.
  • You or the committee member post a note on Facebook, and possibly a group email, letting people know you are aware of the forecast, will use a suitable alternative route on the day if necessary and will keep them informed via Facebook and the Sunday meet points (if relevant). This should inform and reassure walkers.
  • Identify people who will be at the Sunday meet points, if you will not and can relay a message from you on the day.
  • Make a decision, usually on the day of the walk, or the day before, with reference to official road and weather warnings, bearing in mind that road and weather conditions can change a lot in one day.
  • Communicate this as promised, via Facebook, phone if people contact you, and at meet points.
  • Note that an alternative start point should only be used if conditions make driving to or walking from the planned start point impossible or likely to be dangerous. The default choice is always to stick to the planned start point. As a last resort in really extreme weather, improvised local walks from the meet points are an option.