Top tips from Julia Bradbury, co-founder of The Outdoor Guide
1. Use a trusted map for walkers
This may seem like a ridiculous first point but knowing where you are going is vital! Online maps are great, but make sure you’re using an accurate mapping service. We’d recommend Ordnance Survey for planning your Dawn Walk, but there are other options available.
You will also need to take a paper map whilst out on the trail. They are updated regularly to reflect changes to the landscape and public rights of way, so always get the latest version. If it isn’t you may find a path you were planning to use has moved or disappeared entirely!
2. Make sure you understand how to use your map and compass
If your memories of GCSE Geography are a little hazy, it might be worth brushing up on map and navigation skills before heading out. This is particularly important whilst walking in the dark.
Whilst planning, make sure you’re aware of the contour lines, especially the ones that are close together. Having to climb a huge hill when you expected a gentle slope would put a bit of a dampener on the day.
Navigation and map reading are all part of the adventure but spend some time exploring your route in daylight first. That way, when you’re out there for real you’ll know what to do!
3. Plan according to your ability
If you’re relatively fit, walking 10km should be achievable. If you are new to walking, it might be best to do the 5km route.
It’s really important to be realistic about your ability. It may be that you’re an experienced mountain climber, in which case gaining significant altitude during your hike won’t be too much of an issue. If not, it might be wise to choose a flatter route, perhaps alongside a river or lake.
Circular routes mean you will always get back to where you started – they’re our favourite kind! There’s is nothing worse than finishing a linear walk, only to find yourself exhausted, miles from your car.
4. Stay in touch
Make sure you tell someone where you are planning to hike, and when you expect to arrive back. If you don’t know how long your walk will take yet, time yourself walking a shorter distance. That way you can estimate how long the whole thing will take.
Please also make sure you’re aware of any areas with low or no phone signal. You should be able to call emergency numbers even with no signal. Please remember that Mountain Rescue is already over stretched so only call if it’s a real emergency.
You can also download the app What Three Words. It’s a geolocator app which has assigned every corner of the earth three unique words. You can quote the three words to an emergency responder and they’ll be able to find you.
5. Take a torch
Since you will be starting in the dark, we would encourage you to wear a head torch and take a hand-held torch (phones don’t count!) Robens makes great quality gear tested by outdoors experts and are our preference, but there are other options.
It’s also worth checking what time the sun rises on the 18th of September. That way you can plan to do the easiest parts in the dark and the harder bits when the sun’s up.
If you can, it would be helpful to practice your walk before the real thing, taking mental (or written) notes of obstacles and uneven ground.
6. Pack as light as possible
If you’ve decided to undertake the 10km hike, your packing requirements will be a little different to the 5km walk. In both cases less is more. You don’t need a heavy rucksack weighing you down.
Our backpack must-haves for the 5km walk are: snacks, a mobile phone, a portable phone charger, water, a map, a compass, waterproofs, a head torch and a hand-held torch.
For the 10km walk you should take all of the above, with larger quantities of food and water to keep you going. Over the course of a 10km walk you will burn about 800 calories. You’ll need to replenish that!
If you’re taking wrapped snacks, tissues or anything disposable, make sure you take a reusable litter bag so you can avoid littering. You don’t have to stop at your litter, you could also collect other people’s – two birds one stone!
7. Don’t forget to check the weather regularly
English weather is notoriously unpredictable, especially in mid-September. Even up until a few hours before your walk, the weather will be constantly changing.
Take waterproofs if there’s the possibility of a shower (there usually is!) If the temperature is hot, plan to take extra stops and bring lots of water, sun cream and a sun hat. If it’s chilly, don’t underestimate how cold it can get when you’re exposed to the wind – layer up! You can always take something off if you get too warm.
As Alfred Wainwright, king of the Lake District Fells said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’.
The most important thing when planning your Dawn Walk is to do your research, check multiple sources about the area and make sure you prepare for inclement weather. The second most important thing is to have fun.
This information was compiled by The Outdoor Guide, a free, online walking resource co-founded by Julia Bradbury and her sister Gina. They are committed to getting as many people into the great outdoors as possible. The website features walks for a range of abilities, including routes suitable for wheelchair users and families with buggies.