Updated: May 5
When it comes to rules, I’ll hold my hands up and admit to - very occasionally - bending or pushing them as far as they’ll go. However, when it comes to walking, I’m an avid follower of the rules and agree in dotting the t’s and crossing the i’s wherever I can.
As someone who takes people for walks on a regular basis, I need to be aware of all the things you can and can’t do when leading a group of ramblers. As the ‘about us’ page states on my website; Cornish Ramblings is a group full of ‘novice walkers, keen hikers, sturdy stompers, active explorers, fair-weather adventurers, hill seekers, coastal lovers, woodland ramblers and most importantly...walking addicts.’
With this in mind, I’m aware many of those who come on a walk may not be as savvy to the guidelines as those who are doing it as a profession, or as clued up as the more regular walkers.
Firstly, let’s clear up one question that’s asked frequently. What is a right of way?
Legally, “a public right of way is part of the Queen's highway and is subject to the same protection in law as all other highways” (gov.co.uk). Basically, it's a path you have a legal right to use on foot. However, there are a few variations to these rights of ways;
1. Public footpaths: these footpaths are only open to walkers
2. Public bridleways: these are open to walkers, horse-riders and cyclists
3. Restricted Byways: these are open to walkers, horse-riders, cyclists AND drivers/riders of non-motorised vehicles (such as a horse and carriage)
4. Byways Open to All Traffic, or BOATs for short: These byways are open to all classes of traffic, including motor vehicles, but may not be maintained to the same standard as ordinary roads.
There are one or two rules I try sticking to when walking individually or as a group. Some are common sense, others an etiquette, and the rest are Highway Code requirements. Below are a few points I have summarised for you to keep in mind when out for a ramble.
1. Say hello to other hikers
Nodding hello, saying good morning, smiling, making eye contact or even stopping for a chat, these are all appropriate greetings hikers should endeavour to do when passing fellow ramblers. It takes a mere moment and could even make somebody’s day.
2. But there's no pavement?
One of the areas I occasionally struggle with is keeping the group - especially a large group - to one side of the road when traffic is pelting towards us and there isn’t a pavement to walk along. Some go to the left whilst others duck to the right, either way I’m usually at the front hollering at everyone to get over whilst manically waving my arms at them.
Here are five important points to remember when/if a no pavement situation arises;
1. Be prepared to walk single file, especially on narrow roads or in poor light.
2. Keep close to the side of the road. If you need to stop walking to let a car pass, then do. Keep yourself safe and don’t be afraid to hug a hedge if necessary.
3. If you’re a small group, keep to the right-hand side of the road and face oncoming traffic.
4. If you’re a large group, you must move to the left-hand side of the road.
5. If you’ve a dog, tuck them in front of your legs to keep them close to the hedge rather than out in the road if a car is passing. Whilst walking, keep them on the side of the hedge at all times.
3. Stay to the right, pass on the left
Without over complicating things, one point to try and remember - as to not start that awkward dance in the middle of a path with oncoming hikers - is what side to pass or overtake. If you see someone walking towards you, the hiking etiquette is to keep to the right and let them pass on your left. If you need to overtake someone, let them know you’re coming up behind by calling out ‘on your left’.
4. Pull over on hills
It takes more energy to get momentum going up than it does coming down. If you come across hikers steadily making their way uphill, pull over and let them pass. Some walkers may find you a welcome excuse to stop for a rest and will signal for you to carry on. But if you see someone making their way up a slope, please allow them to keep going.
5. Keep dogs under control
Ensure your four legged buddies are safe to be off a lead and will come back when called. Ideally, keep them close to you at all times and if you do let them off, don’t let them run amok or out of sight. When approaching a field, get into the habit of putting them on their leads before they run in, just in case there is livestock ahead. If you’re on or near farmland, dogs should always be kept on a lead regardless of whether there is livestock or not.
Don’t forget to scoop the poop!!
6. Help other road users see you
Wear a bright coat - fluorescent if walking in the daytime and reflective at night – and/or a reflective armband. Pop a reflective patch on your backpack. Use a torch. Don’t wear all black. These little details can make all the difference between being seen and being hit by a car. Before you head out, please make sure you think ‘can I be seen clearly in this outfit’ - especially when walking on a road where there’s limited vision.
7. Sharp bends
When walking on the right-hand side of the road, it may be safer to cross the road well before a sharp right-hand bend so that oncoming traffic has a better chance of seeing you. Once around the bend, make sure to cross back to the other side (unless you’re a large group walking along a pavement-less road!).
8. Close all gates behind you
If you have to open a gate, ensure you or the last person in your group shuts it behind them. If the gate was open when you got there, leave it open. If there isn’t a way of going through the gate, but it is a public right of way, then climb the gate carefully.
9. Use stiles wherever possible
To avoid damaging hedges and gates, please use the stiles provided. If there aren’t any, find an alternative route, taking care when clambering over or through the hedges. There may be barbed wire (or stinging nettles – been there done that!) so assess the area before diving in.
Hedges and walls are hard to maintain, so please look after our countryside – if you’re on a public right of way, there should be a way to get over or through so ensure you look around before potentially damaging the walls or hedges unnecessarily. Most stiles have handy little entrances for dogs, but if not, please make sure they have help getting over so that they don’t damage the hedges, walls or themselves.
10. Walking near livestock
Try not to get between cows and their calves, walk around the herd and keep dogs close. If a cow comes running towards you, let your dog off the lead – your dog can outrun the cow and escape into a hedge. Don’t walk with your back to a cow if they come towards you and don’t make sudden moves. Walk towards them and you’ll likely see them retreat. Cows are inquisitive creatures and don’t mean to cause harm, unless they’re protecting their young.
11. Pick up after yourselves
No matter what it is, always take your rubbish home with you or pop it in a bin. Even food that’s finished with – apple cores for example – need to go back with you and not thrown into a hedge. Did you know, apple cores can take up to 8 weeks to biodegrade?! Your trusty source of energy, the banana, may be great at boosting you up a hill, but did you know its skin can take up to TWO YEARS to biodegrade?
- Paper bag – 1 month
- Apple core – 8 weeks
- Orange peel and banana skin – 2 years
- Cigarette end – 18 months to 500 years
- Plastic bag – 10 to 20 years
- A plastic bottle – 450 years
- Chewing gum – 1 million years
Don’t be a tosser! Take your rubbish home.
12. Stick together
When walking in a group, a natural split between those at the front and those at the back will usually occur. The walk leader should appoint someone to be at the rear to make sure no one gets left behind, unless the group has a manageable number of people where the leader can keep an eye on everyone from the front.
Life can be made easier for the walk leader and the rest of the hikers by individuals not wandering off. Pay attention to the group in front of you as to not lose sight of everyone. Let someone know if you want to stop to take pictures or if you need to pull over for a wild wee - you may not want everyone to stop and wait for you but making someone aware where you are going will ensure you’re not left behind!