Picture this: You've got the weekend off, or perhaps you've got a short visit to somewhere new - an overnight work trip, or maybe a friend's wedding in a far-flung part of the country. You arrive at your destination on a beautiful day, spot a dusty footpath twisting its way up the hill that overlooks your parked car, and...
Disaster: You've not packed your trainers! You vow to return in the future to see where that winding trail could take you, towards that distant peak. If you've never created your own #littleadventure, here are my six top tips for planning your next amazing trail run:
1. Get a good map and learn how to read it
The best maps in the UK for planning and executing your next #littleadventure are OS Explorer maps - at 1:25000 scale they are detailed enough to show you everything you need to know on the ground, without being too complicated. Get a paper map for the area you want, or use technology to your advantage if you have a smartphone by purchasing an annual subscription to the OS mapping service - giving you unlimited streaming and downloading of maps of all scales to your phone for only £19.99 per year. You can also use your phone GPS to give you an exact location on the map if you get lost, which is a great safety net!
The basic things you'll need to know are:
- footpaths and bridleways (green dashes)
- roads (yellow are smallest, then orange and red - and motorways are blue)
- the thin orange contour lines (which are closer together the steeper the slope is)
- North is always up,
- and lots of other useful points of reference such as rivers, car parks, churches, phone boxes, and pubs are also marked.
If the area is a slightly darker shade with a thick border, this is public access land and you are free to roam wherever you wish! You can find a full list of what everything means here.
2. Create your route
Zoom out a bit on your map and try to get an overview of the area in which you want to run. Can you see any natural loops jumping out of the page at you? Running a circular route lets you see more of your surroudings if you're limited on time, rather than retracing your steps - but if you're in a hurry or aren't feeling confident about your navigating then an out-and-back might be an easier option. If you enjoy hills and the satisfaction climbing them brings, try looking for the highest point in your chosen region and creating a route based on that!
3. Check the weather and pack what you need to be safe
Even if the weather looks glorious, make sure you take a few basic things with you just in case. What you should take depends on where you're going - if you're jogging a few miles between villages in the Surrey Hills then just some water and maybe a rain jacket will suffice (and extra sun cream if it's hot!), but if it's an all-day epic in the high mountains then you'll want to take more - the Fell Runners Association requires competitors to carry "waterproof whole body cover (with taped seams and integrated attached hood), hat, gloves, a map of the route, compass, whistle, and emergency food" for races under its rules, and this should be the minimum you take with you. It's always best to have some money, a small first aid kit, and a fully charged phone too if you can, even if you have a paper map.
4. Know what amenities are on your route
These days it's really easy to find out what you're going to be passing on your adventure, not just from OS map symbols but by using online services such as Google Maps. If you're going through a village, is there a shop where you could buy some more water and something to eat - or maybe a small pub/cafe who could fill up your bottles if you ask nicely? Be sure to check opening times if you can - you'll be amazed how much information about even the smallest businesses can be found by a quick search.
5. Don't be afraid to take it steady
If you're reading this, it's likely that you're wanting to go out to see somewhere new and explore your surroundings rather than get in any high intensity training - so slow down, keep the pace relaxed, and enjoy what our beautiful country has to offer. Don't forget to listen as well as look, to hear all the different birdsongs and animal calls - you'd be amazed how noisy our countryside can be, but definitely in a good way!
6. Run with a buddy to double the fun
Whether you've got mates who run, or perhaps a four-legged friend, running with company can be a great opportunity for an unforgettable shared experience. If you're not confident in map reading, try teaming up with someone who is and you can learn a lot in just one trip.So there you go. Grab a map, pick your route, and get out there to discover some of the amazing and less travelled places our country has to offer. If you are struggling for inspiration, how about visiting the highest point in your county? Find out about yours, and more #littleadventures, at my blog thefootpathlesstravelled.wordpress.com!