Advice and Information - Walk Leaders Guide

Leading a walk involves taking responsibility for the wellbeing and enjoyment of those taking part.  This is not onerous, and other club members with experience of leading walks will always be willing to lend a hand and these guidelines will hopefully also assist.

First steps
1. Choose a walk that is in your comfort zone.  On the day, you have to look after others as well as getting round yourself so it is as well, especially until you have built up experience, to avoid choosing walks that you will find very taxing.
2. If you are unsure about whether your intended walk has been done recently or may already be in a draft programme, speak to the Walks Programme Co-Ordinator (hereafter referred to as WPC).
3. Arrange to recce your walk in good time so that you can change it if you find that it is problematical, before it goes on the programme. If you need support to recce your walk ask the WPC or another club member with the required level of experience.
4. It is a good idea to seek an extra person to do the recce with you. The recce can consider obstacles and/or alternative escape routes. It is recommended that, if possible, the extra person be back marker on the day of the walk. It is advisable to have the appropriate OS map or at least a route map. Bear in mind that on the day you will need to stop for short breaks and a longer stop for lunch, and this is a good opportunity to identify pleasant stopping places. Usually the leader has the first “coffee break” after about an hour and the lunch break after 2 to 2.5 hours. 5 minutes before the end of the break, shout “5 minutes” so that people have time to get ready to continue.  Remember that your pace may be faster on the recce than on the day.
5. Once you have completed your recce and are satisfied with it, fill out a Walk Suggestion Form and submit it to the WPC.  If you need advice about the grade of your walk, you will find information at the front of the Area Joint Programme, or talk to the WPC.
6. If, for any reason, you feel it necessary to cancel the walk you will find very good guidelines of what you should do at the front of the Area Joint Programme under ‘Cancelling Walks’. Kirkcaldy Group asks their walk leaders in such an event to :-
a) Inform WPC or any committee member of your intention to cancel.
b) Either yourself, or someone you have delegated, go to the walk ‘Meet Point’ to advise walkers of the change in plans.
c) It is not to be assumed that a walk leader, for a variety of reasons, will go to the walk ‘Start Point’ to meet walkers although, if possible and you feel there is a need, you may do so.
d) Visitors are expected to contact you (the walk leader) at least the night before the walk. They should leave their contact details with you allowing you the opportunity to contact and advise them if the walk is to be cancelled.
On the day
1. The walk leader should have checked the weather in advance and arrive at the ‘Meet Point’ in good time to greet and welcome members and guests. Walk leaders may choose to meet up with the group at the walk ‘Start Point’. In this situation, they should arrange for someone else to meet and greet members and guests arriving at the ‘Meet Point’ and inform the WPC of their intentions prior to the day of the walk. It is important that whoever meets the group at the ‘Meet Point’ is aware of the required travel arrangements for the day. They may also compile a list of members attending, plus any guests, brief the group on points of interest and potential hazards and answer questions about the walk. They should ensure that all walk participants have a completed ICE card and if not to complete one before the commencement of a walk. They should take the list of walkers with them and give it to the walk leader at the ‘Start Point’ of the walk.
2. At this point the walk leader is in charge and this responsibility continues until the walk is completed and all members are accounted for. Whilst individual members have a responsibility to ensure that they, and any guests, are adequately dressed and equipped, including food and drink appropriate for the walk, the walk leader has a duty of care to ensure that all proper steps have been taken to minimise risk to all participants.  If in their judgement anyone present is not suitably equipped, or is not fit enough for the intended walk the walk leader should explain to them that unless the problem is rectified they must walk, if at all, as private individuals outwith the group and the aegis of Ramblers. If the walk leader requires advice or assistance in doing this, they should approach the WPC, or a committee member, for help. If the problem is a shortage of kit or provisions it may be that other members will be able help out.  Clearly this does not apply to issues of fitness. This kind of problem is fortunately rare.
3. Appoint a Back Marker, ideally someone who knows the walk, and brief them on the route and any issues that need to be kept under review.  Ensure that they know how many people are walking.  The back marker is responsible for ensuring that no one on the walk falls behind, and that all gates are closed.  If the back marker becomes aware that anyone is in difficulties they must inform the walk leader as soon as possible. If the group is a large one and in danger of being splintered, the walk leader may consider appointing a Middle Marker in addition to the Back Marker. It is a good idea to have the telephone numbers of your helpers. 
4. Start the walk at the appointed time.  Do not start early (except for A walks where the names of all attendees are known), and only delay the start if there is a compelling reason for doing so.
5. The walk leader should be at, or close to, the front for most of the time. In particular it is their responsibility to set a pace that, whilst keeping the walk moving steadily, takes due account of the grade of the walk and those participating. The atmosphere on a walk should be relaxed and comfortable, but it is important to keep people grouped within an appropriate range.  This will be determined by factors including the terrain, the weather - particularly visibility, twisting paths or heavy undergrowth, and any apparent risk factors such as steep drops, water, cattle, etc. A general guide is that the leader should keep the pace at a level that keeps the group sufficiently together that the back marker remains in sight of the leader.
6. The walk leader should be alert for signs that any walker is struggling to keep up, or showing signs of distress.  If this is simply because the pace is too fast, it should be regulated appropriately. This may mean speaking to walkers at the front who are in danger of becoming too distant from the group. If someone is unwell the walk leader’s response will be dictated by a range of factors:
• Minor problems such as cramp or blisters can usually be dealt with by first aid, and a considerate pace. 
• If there is a more serious issue of exhaustion or dehydration, consider if rest and rehydration will allow them to carry on, or whether (depending on the point the walk has reached) the casualty can return to the start accompanied by volunteers, or whether they will need to be evacuated in which case the priority must be given to achieving that even if it means abandoning the walk.
• In the event of serious injury or illness, care of the casualty is the absolute priority.  In an emergency situation the walk leader must exert authority to ensure that people stay together and the group does not fragment, with attendant risks of confusion as to the whereabouts of all participants. If people are to be detached to seek assistance their remit must be carefully assessed and a clear course of action decided upon to avoid confusion. If it is necessary to detach people to seek help, two people in any direction should be the norm. Mercifully, serious problems are extremely rare.  
7. Progress and stops should be regulated to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the rate of progress. If people have fallen behind it is important to let them have a rest when they have caught up rather than setting off immediately when they catch up.  If there are particular points of interest on the walk make sure that people are aware of them and have sufficient time to absorb them.
8. On reaching the end of the walk check that everyone is present and fit for the journey home.  This is particularly important for anyone driving alone.
9. Pass the list of participants to the WPC.  Job done!
Updated March 2018