I see there were a few questions in the comments yesterday, on the latest walking post. Rather than skim through them, I thought I would do a mini series on all aspects of walking, whether it be easy walks for the beginner, or longer distances on unfamiliar routes for those wishing to up their game. Although I have quite a lot of experience, I tend to forget that not everyone has the confidence or the ability to walk 20 miles in a day, using a map for navigation. Perhaps if I go through the basics it might inspire anyone thinking about getting started. You don't have to walk great distances to reap the benefits of walking, a few miles pottering around your home town is enough to keep the muscles flexible. If you are not used to regular walking you will find that in the beginning you will ache a little, but over time, and walking at every opportunity, your body will become more flexible and the muscle ache will gradually become less noticeable.
I have always loved walking, and getting away out into the countryside. I have old Ordnance Survey maps for the Peak District where I used to walk regularly when I was in my twenties. It was a short drive from my home in Burton upon Trent to Ashbourne, Buxton, or Bakewell. I enjoyed many long days out on the hills. My walking was mostly alone, because I didn't have any friends who had similar ambitions. Walking is a great stress buster, it gives you time to ponder, time to take in the beauty of the landscape around you, and for a while be at peace with yourself and the world.
Then work got in the way, and for a long time I wasn't as able to get out as much as I would have liked. Working 60 hours a week at a physically and mentally demanding job leaves little time for anything else except flopping down on the sofa at the weekends. But now I am retired, I am pleased that I can take it up again and delighted that I have the energy to do it. I didn't start walking longer distances, and by that I mean over a period of several days, untill 2011, when I got a train to Blackpool and walked back home, a distance of 137 miles in seven days. The first few days were hard, but I felt a great sense of achievement at the end of it, even though I hadn't done the full distance that I had planned. The fact that I managed to walk the thirty miles from Selby to the Humber Bridge on day seven, still amazes me even now when I think about it.
In this first post of the mini series on walking I want to talk about the most important part of the equipment you will need. If you want to walk a long way, you need to make sure that your feet will stand up to the hours and hours of pounding over all terrains, from tarmac roads, cobbled paths, rough dirt tracks, muddy uneven footpaths, slippery wet grass, jagged boulders and rocks, and boggy fields. Your ankles will need support so proper walking boots are a must.
I have several pairs of boots, but only one good pair for walking long distances. I have cheaper boots which I bought for a few quid at car boot sales and charity shops, these are ok for local walks for up to about three miles, but any further and my feet would be sore, because they are not a perfect fit. My best boots fit me like a glove.
How to chose boots. The only way is to go to an outdoor shop and spend time trying them on. It took me a couple of hours of trying almost every boot on in the shop before I found mine. Take socks with you, preferebly the socks you might wear while out walking. I wear a thin pair and a thick wooly pair. Wearing the right socks is a bit trial and error, try several combinations on short walks first before you tackle a long walk. You do not have to pay a fortune to buy good socks. I use the socks I already have, I've got a drawer full of them. My feet don't sweat very much at all, but if your's do you need to get socks that won't get damp soon after you start walking.
What causes blisters? If your feet move in your boots, the rubbing will give you blisters. What you are aiming for is no movement at all. This is why you try lots of socks until you find the right ones. So, you want snug fitting boots. After an hour or so you might need to stop and re do your laces, because they stretch and can work lose. If you find your feet moving about adjust your laces to stop it. Don't tie them too tight so that your toes get squashed as that would be uncomfortable and will give you cramp in your toes. There should be some ankle support in the boots, to stop your foot going sideways if you step on a wonky bit of rock. Put your fingers inside the boots and feel around for any hard surfaces or uneven stitching that might become a problem later on, especially around the heels. Always check that the boots fit correctly across the widest part of the foot. I have large bunions, no pain at all I may add, so I need wide fitting boots.
These days a lot of boots are made of fabric which has been treated to make them waterproof. I am not too keen on these, as they are not very easy to clean. I much prefer leather boots, where I can brush the dry dirt off them and cover them in boot wax. My boots were waterproof when I first had them, but now I find after nearly three years they are leaking. I think all boots leak eventually. I will keep on wearing mine because they are so comfortable. If my feet get wet on a long walk, I just dry the boots out each night.
You can buy a decent pair of boots for around £100, I wouldn't go much lower than that because you will find that they use materials of inferior quality. Mine were £110, I paid £55 in the half price sale. I must say they have been excellent boots. They told me that I could try them out at home. If I only wore them on carpets in the house and found they weren't right, they said I could bring them back and change them. I didn't need to, they were perfect from day one. When you buy boots ask about the try at home deal.
Once you have your boots, you might think about getting a waterproof jacket and over trousers. There is some very expensive kit out there, some walkers like to go for the must have names, and wouldn't be seen dead in some cheap Joe Bloggs gear. There is no need to spend a fortune. My jacket was £30 from Trespass, and my over trousers were £12 from a department store. Perfectly adequate. If you need to buy a small back pack for day walks, you can get them quite cheaply. Put things in plastic bags as you pack them, then if the pack isn't fully waterproof it doesn't matter. All other clothes can be what you already have, nothing fancy needed.
Tomorrow, I'll answer the question of how to keep safe while walking alone, I am asked this question constantly. Toodle pip.
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