The Walker's Handbook

The Walker's Handbook

This is the fifth edition of Westacott’s handbook, subtitled: Everything you need to know about walking in the British Isles.

And it is a very comprehensive tome, as you would expect from a man who has completed the Coast to Coast Walk 48 times, the Pennine Way six times and who has walked from Land’s End to Fort William. He is also a life member of the Ramblers.

The handbook was first published in 1978 and at the time, Westacott says it was the only book of its kind, covering virtually all aspects of the subject.

There are many handbooks about today, but many concentrate on the path to becoming, say, a mountain leader, or are technical manuals. The author of The Walker’s Handbook says his work is aimed at inexperienced walkers setting out on their pastime, but he also hopes to widen the horizons of more experienced walkers.

Most who read the handbook will agree he accomplishes both. It is a comprehensive guide to almost everything you will need to know when setting out into the countryside of Britain and Ireland.

Westacott makes the justified statement that many other books don’t cover lowland walking and assume hillwalking techniques are applicable to lowland walking. Well, some skills are universally applicable, but anyone who has tried to thread his or her way through the pastoral scenery of Britain’s lowlands will know that navigation in these areas presents its own unique difficulties unlikely to be encountered on the country’s hills.

The author makes the point that the clutter found on maps of the lowland areas makes map-reading there more difficult, though the same could be said of many rocky mountain tops where the outcropping detail obscures other features on the map.

Although the handbook is aimed mainly at building a walker’s knowledge and skills, there is a section on how to move on and start writing and publishing your own walking route guides.

One chapter is devoted to those wanting to lead groups who must, according to Westacott, be paragons of all the virtues.

As with any printed handbook, information can quickly become out-of-date. The CRB criminal background check required by many organisations before you can work with young people or vulnerable adults has morphed into the DBS and the Walking Group Leader Award has been superseded by the Hill and Moorland Leader Award. However, the ‘Venture Scouts’ mentioned in the Walker’s Handbook haven’t existed in the UK since 2003.

Nevertheless, this book is a very wide ranging reference volume that anyone starting out can use to avoid the pitfalls that often afflict inexperienced walkers and trekkers.

Subjects covered include clothing and gear, maps and navigation, general behaviour in the countryside, backpacking, weather, first aid and mountain rescue, along with sections specifically devoted to England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles, and their differing access setups.

There is current information on digital mapping, satellite-based navigation systems and their use in the outdoors. There is even mention of our own grough route mapping and route-planning system.

The authoritative tone is maintained throughout but is undermined somewhat in a little rant section at the end of the book in which Westacott takes issue with some of the campaigns and positions undertaken by the Ramblers.

He is clearly no fan of Benny Rothman and his comrades in the 1932 Kinder Mass Trespass. The author’s view of the event is included in appendices which include the above difference of opinion with the Ramblers plus a ‘debunking hoary old myths’ section, along with a three-paragraph discussion of whether animals dig up human faeces and a more understandable poke at the labyrinthine calculations necessary if you have any hope of applying Tranter’s Variations to Naismith’s Rule.

Notwithstanding the peculiar appendices, The Walker’s Handbook is a valuable work for those pulling on their boots and heading for the countryside, and beginner and seasoned walker alike will learn from reading it.

The Walker’s Handbook by Hugh Westacott
Published by Footpath Publications
Price £19.99

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