Advice for Long-Walkers of Britain
So you want to go walking, without a mind for turning round and going home?
You seek a land of stream, forest, hilltop castle and storm-swept chapel?
You want to trust your life to the skill of your instincts, the luck of your blood and the kindness of strangers?
We know just how you feel.
On our very first long walks, our heads were filled by strange childish hopes and unreal expectations. It was beautiful. We made the mistakes of foolish infants, overfilled by naiive optimism. Our pride had no choice but to swallow the fact of our ignorance, because we had not an honest clue what we were doing.
This was of course necessary. Slow-learning is full learning.
But all the same, we would not have minded a little good advice to set us on track. Our guide-books were over 100 years old.
So now we will offer you some of our modern discoveries. You don’t need to make the same errors we did. Yours can be excitingly different, and entirely your own…
Reality is a firm teacher, the very best of its kind.
But advice is golden.
So please read on for the good stuff…
- Be thoughtful and excited. Get kit ready. The journey is the true preparation, but some good thought will really help. Determined imagination can turn your best hopes to reality.
- Do not fear the wet, cold, hunger or fatigue. You will be alright. It is always the fear, rather than the actual dangers, that cause limitation and suffering.
- What skills would you like to acquire? What can you not do confidently now? Ensure you have the tools and information to make these missing skills fully yours, with the journey as your teacher.
- Carry less than you think necessary. Let luxuries lie. But if you can, save up for better kit, for lighter and stronger clothing and equipment.
- Take rests. Build your strength slowly. Miles are not the goal. Seek depth. Continual journeying needs continual resting. Find your balance.
- Also, do get tired. The mythic moment of fleeting freedom, the singing wind in the trees of dawn, is often accompanied by exhaustion, hunger, damp and cold. The glimmering hint of glory comes with aching ankles.
- When you feel the tingle of blisters coming on…STOP WALKING. Take off shoes and socks, shake them out, and give your feet a good rub. If you can see cooling plants like Dock, Comfrey or Silverweed, consider picking a handful of leaves and stuffing them in your boot. They will create a cool layer that will lessen the friction that causes blisters.
- If you do not deal with blisters at the first warning, before they manifest, you may damage your feet, legs, knees and hips by walking in an altered and compensatory manner. This will cause far more inconvenience than a mere 10 minutes clever resting.
- Whenever you stop and rest, loosen your boots. Your feet expand with effort, so let them breathe. And if you remember to do this, make sure to remind everyone else as well.
-We are working with the assumption that people reading this do not want to buy themselves accomodation in hotels or campsites. It is better not to, we really feel.
- Trial and error is the motto. Try sleeping in different places. Consider it an experiment, and a game to be played. All day long, ask ‘where could we sleep round here?’ You will soon find that everyplace has a potentially good sleep-spot.
- The best place to sleep is the deep dark and wholly gentle heart of the woods. But field margins, hill-forts, caves, parks – Britain holds many options.
- If the weather is unsettled, do not sleep in hollows, ditches, moats, or anywhere that may fill with water in a downpour. You may be dry from above, but the waters will rise…
- Try to make camp before darkness falls. Your life will be far easier. If you want to hit a pub, make camp first, and then go out. Setting up after pints is always more tricky.
- Before you lay out your roll-mat, clear away all debris beneath – even through a foam pad, that twig or pebble can upset your night’s rest. It is strangely possible to cause yourself damage by sleeping in the strange positions dictated by unwanted objects under your bed.
- If someone tells you to move on…you can just move on. You will not have to go far to the next spot. Arguing and shouting usually achieve nothing. People expect such a response, they are steeled and ready for it. But they never expect polite acceptance, smiles and kindness. With these weapons, go for their throats. You are paving the way for those who come behind.
- Do not sleep somewhere you will be visible in the early morning. Dog walkers arise phenomenally early.
- Do not sleep on too steep a hill. If you do, make sure your head is not downhill.
- Ask for permission if you can. But finding the right person to ask can be very hard. So do not worry too much. After all, asking permission just lets people say ‘no’. But if they don’t know, and you leave all sleep-spots better than you found them, what harm is done?
- Sleep and wake early. Remember your dreams. Nap in the daytime if you are tired out. Long-walking is a harder physical lifestyle than people typically practise. So embrace your fatigue, and give yourself all the rest you need.
- Avoid sleeping in pastoral land. Livestock are curious, and will want to know how your tarp and sleeping bag taste. And these big beasts can panic very quickly, which is dangerous for you and them. Best stay on the right side of the barbed wire.
- Enjoy knowing you can enjoy a dry night’s sleep within the heaving rain. It’s a pleasant and insane frenzy, and it smells better than baking. Know that all your kit is safely stashed from the wet (especially your boots), and then just lie back and feel the land get drunk on it.
- Fire is a mighty tool. It can consume cities, and it can cook your carots. Respect it, but do not assume its benevolence. Never leave fires unattended. Always make sure your fire is fully extinguished before moving on.
- Think carefully about where to seat your fire. Not everywhere is a good place. Low overhanging foliage, or peaty ground, can have potentially unwanted consequences.
- Try different woods, and wood from different places, to see what burns best. Wood that lies on the ground, or still has leaves on it, will be full of water. But a dead bough, still on the tree, or fallen but not yet grounded, will likely burn beautifully. Different woods have different calorific values. Experiment and learn.
- Remember that a stick of wood is pure accumulated sunshine. It took years making. Be grateful it releases its heat to you.
- Do not build a fire above tree-roots. Trees are often skittish around fire.
- If you can, raise your fire up off the ground. Stones that have NOT been sat in water (they explode) are a great hearth – they soak up and radiate heat.
- Spread the ashes after a fire is out. Hide your fireplace. An unsightly scar on the ground tells people exactly where you have been. Avoid this.
- Make your fire only as big as it needs to be. Infernos are usually unnecessary and often dangerous.
- Be inconspicuous. A fire that is visible from afar will force responsible people to come investigating. Once out their houses, they will resent your having disturbed their evening, and unnecessary disputes may arise.
- Burn your rubbish in your fire AFTER all cooking is finished. Fire ash is the most hygienic place for miles around, being totally sterilized by the action of combustion at hundreds of degrees. But once you burn up your rubbish and waste, it becomes sullied.
Food and Drink
- Eat breakfast, lunch and supper. Drink more water. More water. More.
- Demand local and seasonal food. Refuse food flown in from overseas. Be intolerant of food sprayed with pesticides, fungicides and petro-chemical fertilisers. Let GM food be anathema to you.
- If you are cooking, make enough for the next day too.
- Carry 2 or 3 meals of supplies with you, but no more. The weight of excess is not worthwhile.
- Enjoy the transformation of weight on your back into energy for your belly.
- Bake flat-breads. They are simply a mix of flour, water and anything else you like. They cook very easily, by throwing them into the embers of your fire. Flatbreads make a filling accompaniment to supper, a cheap alternative to shop-bought bread, and a great base for tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch.
- Take turns to cook, even if one of you is willing to do the bulk of this service. Sharing such jobs will share the increase in competence. If a particular job feels difficult for you, do it more.
- Bins and skips can be a good source of emergency food. A radiator key, which can be bought at any hardware store, will open 90% of waste food bins. Shops throw away food that has nothing wrong with it. Their error can be your boon. But always be sensible. Smell it, and try a little bit, before you wolf it.
- Eggs are a wonderful source of protein, fats and minerals. Try and find true free-range eggs, from peoples’ gardens. If you see wandering chickens, knock on a door and ask for their eggs. Chucks in factory-barns do not live the dream of their species, and will not give you good eggs. Like people – in traffic-jams, they become smelly and unhappy.
- If you buy eggs, boil them asap. Broken eggs in your pack are symbolically and hygienically disturbing.
- Wild food is stronger and healthier than domesticated alternatives. It grows by its own volition. Even re-seeded escapees from the farmers’ fields are a step in the right direction. Wild food is replete with soul.
- Consider carrying a small ID book with you. There are many to choose from. This one is good: (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edible-Medicinal-Plants-Britain-Northern/dp/0600563952)
- Watch the weather. It is your home. You will soon learn to tell what it is bringing. There are many signs that tell. Look to the plants and animals.
- In hideous weather, stop walking and take shelter. There is no need to rush onward. Why do you hurry?
- Church porches, sheds, chapels, caves, caravans, stables, barns, coastal shelters, bus-stops, summerhouses, castles – these are all good options for a dry nights’ sleep. If the weather is appalling, everyone else will be at home anyway, they won’t come out checking. In heavy wet weather, it is good and sensible to sleep somewhere that will remain dry.
- A team, like a family, is no frivolous thing. Life becomes easier with allies, especially a life away from the mechanics of convenience. Be forgiving and understanding of each other’s petty scruples. You will find such acceptance is reflected back at you.
- Engage with the blighters. Wish them good morning, good day, and good evening. People are encouraging, welcoming, curious, and helpful. Jot down their names, addresses and numbers. You never know when you may want to call in again on your new-made pals.
- You might think you know people…but you do not. Appearances are always deceptive. People who, in your hometown, you might walk blindly past, will become on a walk newly accessible, fascinating and exotic. The more boring people look, the more surprising they can be. Withhold your snap judgements.
- Always be polite and friendly. You never know who someone might be, what they have done, or what they might teach you.
- Ask questions. Listen. It is amazing what people will tell a stranger who is just passing through.
- Request advice. There is nothing better than local knowledge from someone who has lived 60 years in a place. And remember, you do not have to take this advice.
- If people do not like you, or what you are doing, the chances are they will ignore you. Let them be. If they engage and say you are wrong to be seeking, welcome the opportunity to educate them. But if they will not hear, do not worry. You do not need universal support.
- If you are lost, and need help with directions, don’t ask people in cars. Their idea of distance and direction is most often misleading.
- If you are offered a gift, accept it. You can always pass it on later, but there may be a good reason for this gift’s arriving. Imagine how sad someone might feel by your refusing their offered gift. Remain open-minded and open-handed.
- Trustfulness is the best default setting. It is infectious. Automatic distrust, however, is naive and limiting. If you believe you will be mistreated, you probably will be. Get over it.
- Pass on messages. Tell people what you saw in the last village. Tell good stories, and spread the word about people and events that are happening. Your role is to spread and activate culture.
- Never forget that people are the oddest monkeys in the jungle, very strange fish indeed. This is ok. You too are most bizarre, so revel in it.
- learn some basic first aid herbs – they will be your allies in daily life. Plantain and yarrow are 2 great and common pals to start with.
- If you find a tick in your skin, feasting on your blood, twist its head out counter-clockwise with tweezers. Do not solely rip off the white blood-sac. Get the head. After it is removed, apply some antiseptic.
- Mosquitoes, and other biters, can be off-put by eating raw garlic, and other bitter foods. They love sugary blood. Make yourself a good anti-mozzie ointment before leaving – rosemary, wormwood and rue, soaked in oil, work well. Look into the writings of Juliette de Bairacli Levy. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Illustrated-Herbal-Handbook-Juliette-Bairacli-Levy/dp/0571048021/)
- Keep dry if you can, but do not panic at light showers. Remember, the same sky that soaks you will dry you. Grab opportunities to dry your clothing, carry a strong cord in your side bag for hanging out your damp kit. Wind and sun are your allies.
- Wash yourself and your clothes as much as possible. Take all opportunities, all warmish days beside a stream, to get yourself cleansed. Life without a hot tap requires discipline and opportunism.
- As often as possible, get your kit out your bag to take the sun and fresh air.
- Do not use harsh chemical soaps. It makes no sense to make the whole world dirtier for the sake of one clean person. Be sensitive to the impact of your cleanliness. Consider the frogs.
- To go for a poo in the woods, you’ll need to dig a quick deep hole in the ground. Either use a pointed stick, or carry a small plastic shovel. Poo into the hole, and use leaves, moss, paper, water, or whatever you like to clean up. Put all the rubbish in the hole, and fill it in well. Wash your hands. It is not complex. Enjoy it.
- Pubs are the most likely place to meet local people, to make new friends, and to get fed and watered. They may let you sleep in their garden too…
- Not all pubs are savoury places. The dingier and more low-key, the better. Anything claiming ‘gourmet’ status is likely unwelcoming to tired walkers. Look through the window and use your instincts. Look for smiling people.
- Do not walk into a pub with your big backpack on. This will worry some people. Stash your bag outside, with a waterproof cover on it, and walk in like every other folk.
- If you have music, dance, or stories, offer them in the pub, and you may be rewarded well.
- Try asking for leftovers, or for bread and cheese instead of main meals. Pubs often throw away a lot of food, and may be persuaded to donate some to your cause. But buy a drink first.
- If you are going to ask for help from a pub, wait a while, and scope out the lay of the land. Not every pub has friendly staff, and the first person you see is not always the best person to ask.
- Many of the promising ‘PH’ symbols on an OS map are lost goals, empty, closed, or defunct. Be warned.
- Sometimes travellers are led astray by a Gribble, an elusive rumour of a glorious pub that can never be found. Enjoy these futile quests. The Gribble is always around the next corner.
- A walking staff is possibly the most important thing you will carry. Find it in the woods, cut and whittle it, carve designs into it, and be glad for it. It will save twisted ankles, help you walk on dangerous ground, tell you how deep puddles are. It will give you strength, help you bash aside brambles, reach distant apples, and will carry the charge and accumulated mana of your journey. Knock your greetings onto great trees. Bash out your mental turmoil into the ground.
- If you are short of money, consider busking. It is a friendly and satisfying way to earn a little extra cash.
- Practise your art. Be confident you can deliver something worth a dropped coin. If you like it, others will too.
- For music, find a place where other noises will not disturb your delivery. Roads are music’s enemy.
- A sign helps people engage with the idea of your act. Tell them why you need their money.
- A hat is the traditional collection point for coins. But also deliver your gift without a hat or sign, sometimes, for the simple goodness of doing so. Balance your giving and taking.
- If you can improve a place by art, then do so.
- If you see ugly detritus, litter, dangerous rubbish, bag it up and dispose of it safely. Take responsibility for the landscape. Do not hold other people responsible. Rubbish droppers are sorry folk – but we who know better, and yet do not clean up their crimes, are perhaps worse.
- If you espy an opportunity, get involved. Help out. Share your strength. It will make you even stronger, and the whole world a little better.
- If you do muck in and help out, try not to expect an instant reward.
- Maps are wonderful, showing you the future as an eagle might see it. Carry them.
- OS 1-50,000 is the cheaper way, but 1-25000 is more fun. If you cannot afford to buy maps, simply open one up and take a quick digital photo. You can then browse and zoom at your leisure.
- Maps do not tell you where you are. Cultivate your sense of direction. Watch sunsets and sunrises. Know your place.
- If you are lost, it is alright. Open your eyes. What have you been led here to discover? A long looping detour is never futile. The journey is an internal event, not a race against numbers on paper.
- If you cannot decide which way to go, spin a stick in the air, and follow its direction. All will be well.
- A map is not the territory. Often features marked on the map will have disappeared. Don’t get disappointed.
- You will soon notice there are no plugs in the woods. Fear not. Churches, pubs, cafes, and a number of other surprising places have unguarded electricity points. If you take power, leave some kind donation.
- Carry spare batteries for your head-torch. Replace/recharge as soon as one set is finished.
- Consider rechargeable solutions for all your electric devices.
- Consider not carrying your electric devices. How many telephones and gadgets does your group really need?
- Open your ears and eyes. In city lives, it is advantageous to ignore loudness and detail. On a foot-bound journey, this is no longer true. Wake up.
- Also be carefree. If you are running low on supplies, have a feast, using up your very last, to pave the way for dramatic rescue.
- Acquire new heights and depths of strength and fearlessness. Then spread it around, further than you imagined possible, and get utterly knackered. Find new heights, and new depths. Be heroic, and foolish, without need or cause.
- Watch the moon.
- Sing to the animals. Snails, pigeons, whatever. Give them some respect.
- Always try to remember you are out for a good time.
That is that. For more advice, drop a line and we’ll try to answer.
Much love, and all good things,