How to Lead Guided Walks

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uided walks are an important method of interpretation in the countryside and elsewhere, and giving a good walk is an important skill for anyone wishing to promote a countryside site or project. The traditional guided walk has many variations, but there are some basic principles which apply where ever you are. The following guidelines are based on those devised for use by local authority ranger staff leading guided walks in an urban fringe countryside project.

Guided walks are often one of the occasions when many people first visit a site. It is important that all guided walks work as well as possible, and are a good first experience to encourage visitors to return. This includes both public guided walks and those done for particular groups.

Before you begin

WalkersPublicity is crucial. Posters, a sign at the meeting point, and other means are all useful. By far the best method, however, is to link up with (or start) a regular series of walks, such as those often led by the Health Authority or the Ramblers. This can give you a ready-made audience. It's useful, if you can, to organise the events regularly, eg every second Wednesday or something, so people get in the habit of coming. If you have a series of walks you can produce a leaflet, and distribute it via Tourist Information Centres etc. This tends to be more successful than a number of individually organised walks. Be sure that your publicity, whatever it is, includes at least the following:

• What the event is
• Where it is?
• When (date, time and day of week)?
• How long it lasts.
• How to get there.
• Contact number for leader.
• Any special requirements, eg boots, binoculars, no dogs.

A guided walkYou may also want to consider a press release, even if you have done all the above. See Naturenet's page about press releasesPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet for more ideas. Always turn up at the advertised meeting point despite the worst weather. Run the walk if there is one person or more who wants to go on it - even if that does not include you! Arrive at the meeting point at least 10 minutes beforehand, and leave the meeting point between five and ten minutes after the advertised time. Guided walks aimed at first-time walkers should normally last 1½-2 hours, be over easy terrain, and be about 2 miles walk at the most. If the walk is aimed at those with more experience or taste for adventure, the sky is the limit - but be sure that you advertise it with this in mind.

Starting a Guided Walk

To start off with there are a number of things which should be said, even if many of the group have been out with you before some might not have.

• Introduce yourself, giving your name and job title if you have one. Introduce any other members of staff present if they want to be introduced.
• Welcome the visitors to the place/project, on behalf of your employer and/or the site owner if you are doing it for them. If the project is sponsored or supported by any organisation they will probably appreciate a mention too.
• Explain what the theme of the walk is, if there is one, and how long it will last. Be sure to keep to this time!
• Give a warning if there is likely to be any rough going, e.g. if it is muddy. This is especially relevant if you see someone with a pushchair or unsuitable shoes - if they are warned and still come then they cannot complain afterwards.
• Before you set off, give a brief description of the route you will take and assure the visitors that they will end up back where they started.
• If appropriate, point out that the walk is entirely free, and no payment will be expected. Mention your employer again at this point for maximum advert factor!

Finishing a Guided Walk

• Give out site leaflets, and any other relevant leaflets. If you have them and there is no wind, it can be good to spread a range out on a van and let people choose.
• Give a small trailer for any up and coming events and for the next guided walk.
• Thank the visitors for coming, and encourage them to come again.

Things Not to Say

This is particularly relevant if you work for a charity, local authority or other public body. Be very careful to say nothing which you would not be prepared to say in front of anyone, including your employers or the press.

• Make no political statements.
• Do not give personal information about other members of staff, or yourself ideally.
• Tailor your tone to your audience - usually it is a 'family show' and should be kept at that level.
• Do not make promises or wild speculation about future developments at the site, unless you state clearly that it is only speculation.
• Do not be anything other than polite about other people, such as surrounding landowners, or other official bodies - they may be amongst your audience too.

Health and Safety

All walk organisers should ideally take all possible precautions to guard against accidents on guided walks. in practice this is not always possible. There is some doubt about who is liable in law if someone is injured on a guided walk, and insurance cover does vary so if you have any concerns you should  contact your insurers (or treasurer's dept) and ask them about third party liability in such a situation. They should be able to clarify the situation as it applies to you, and reassure you. Usually insurance for a local authority will extend to volunteers leading walks by arrangement with the council, too.

It is certain that if a member of staff takes member of the public into danger, it would be negligent not to warn them, and give the option of not going. Do not normally take guided walks along anything but the most sensible paths. In cases where someone would obviously not be suitable for the route, such as a frail old person, it is quite acceptable to tell that person that the walk would not be suitable for them. If they come, that is their choice.

Staff ratios

One member of staff is the minimum requirement for a guided walk. When events get popular and involve more than about 20 people, it is time to think about getting more people to help. Here is a table giving suggested numbers of staff and volunteers for public events. It has no legal force and is merely a suggested ratio based on experience. The difference between 'staff' and 'volunteers' will also depend on the sort of project you work for. Sometimes volunteers are the best leaders and know more about the site than paid staff. For these purposes, think of staff as people familiar with the site and its work, and volunteers as people who've just come along to help but don't necessarily know much about the place.

Suggested Minimum Requirements

Number of walkers

Members of Staff

Volunteers

1-20

1

or 1

20-60

1

1

60-100

1

3

100-150

2

5

150+

3+

6+

NB These are minima. More is better.

The Role of Volunteers and other Helpers

Volunteers can be very helpful on larger guided walks. Make sure they can be identified, either by uniform or armbands or similar. Point these out at the start of the walk as people who can be asked for help.

Duties could include the following, and will obviously depend upon the nature of the location and event:

• marshalling car parking if necessary;
• directing stragglers;
• helping the infirm or those with pushchairs etc over obstacles;
• generally answering questions;
• shouting 'speak up!' when necessary;
• helping with specific preparations such as 'Ghost Walk' activities.