No one likes getting into a rut but it’s easy just to keep hitting the same trails, especially if they give you a good workout. So here are our picks for five of the best location types for Sport Walking, to give you a few ideas to mix up your routine.
1 – National Trails
National Trails are probably the best all round places to Sport Walk, whether for training or to complete longer sections because they are, by their very nature, testing long distance routes, so they offer up ready made challenges. If you have a goal to complete the trail in full, then they’re also great for familiarising yourself with the terrain and distance – if you walk a 40k section, you’ll have a really strong feel for what it will be like to tackle the whole length. The other great thing with National Trails is that, in most cases, the way marking is excellent, so you don’t need to worry so much about checking which way to go at path junctions. National Trails are in every part of the country, so you’re never going to be too far away from one, even if you don’t have a National Trail on your doorstep. Get more info here: http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk
2 – Forest Parks or Trail Centres
Trail Centres are probably best known for their Mountain Bike courses but many also contain walking trails and as long as you keep off the bike routes, you can string together a good network of paths – perfect for fast training sessions and shorter, more structured workouts. If the forest centre is in a mountainous region, then take advantage of the potential to build hill sessions. Regardless of where it’s based though, there are usually facilities on site that make training there really easy and because you’ll probably be re-using the same loops each time, you can easily see how you’re progressing. Start your research at the Forestry Commission but also, have a look at this article on Bike Radar for some other ideas. Not every centre will have trails for walkers but many do seek to accommodate all trail users so do a little digging and see what’s possible.
3 – Canals
Canals may lack vertical challenge but they’re still great places to Sport Walk. For steady base tempo training sessions, speed work or to refine your technique, step onto a tow path and you’ve got a near endless resource. There’s zero navigation, unless you just use a section of canal as a part of a circuit and being next to water brings a real sense of calm. In summer, tow paths can be quite cooling routes compared to other routes and they can also provide invaluable link sections between trails through built up areas. The only possible downside is that they can get a bit muddy in places because of the trail traffic but don’t let this or the absence of any inclines put you off canals – they’re superb Sport Walking locations. Check out the Inland Waterways Association website and download their canal map to find your nearest route.
4 – Mountains
If the rolling hills of the South Downs or The Ridgeway offer a perfect location for ultra distance challenges, mountains are arguably the ultimate Sport Walking test. It’s not all about the climbing either. The mix of terrain and trails, the exposure, the weather – good or bad. That’s the beauty of taking your Sport Walking into the mountains, every different environment is a test. You do need to adapt your kit, take more supplies and ensure your technical knowledge is up to scratch to be safe but the thrill of moving fast over mountain terrain takes some beating! If you’re not experienced on big hills and mountains, it’s best to get some training first.
The distances you’re likely to cover in most cases will be less than for lowland walks but of course the ‘vert’ will more than make up for that! Go for any of the high peak challenges though – the Welsh or Lakeland 3,000ers or the Scottish 4s or even the Bob Graham and you’ll have both distance and altitude gain to contend with.
You do need to take more specialist mountain capable kit when you migrate your Sport Walking to high ground. When we go into the mountains, not much changes in terms of the overall kit we use but we do take more robust survival gear as well as full mountain waterproofs and a thermal gilet, on top of the normal spares and extra layers. Of course, the other vital precaution is to adapt your plans to reflect the weather and we certainly wouldn’t take a Sport Walking approach in the mountains in really challenging weather conditions.
Get info on starting out in the mountains from the British Mountaineering Council.
5 – Cities
The last top spot for Sport Waking is the big city. That might seem strange, given what’s on offer in the countryside or wilderness but cities offer something very different and a unique walking experience. Urban or city walking offers the chance to see famous landmarks, iconic city scapes, get a slice of history or just experience the vibrance and colour of city centre environments.
Moving fast through crowded streets can be tricky but you can make this a challenge in itself, especially if you’re training with others. Have a race to see who can get to the end of a bustling street the first – it’s a great way to sharpen your instincts for avoiding obstacles so that you can move faster through tight and winding single track in the woods.
But city walking doesn’t necessarily have to be busy – you can plot a course through some of the less popular districts or link up parks into a green circuit. Cities are, by their nature, diverse spaces so head for cultural quarters, theatre lands, ‘old towns’ or riversides. If you really want to see another side to a city, set out with a group in the early hours for a night walk. Stick to main streets, avoid parks and always stay in a pack or at least a pair but harness the night for a really different way to experience city walking.
So there you have it. Five top locations to go Sport Walking, either for training or as a walking challenge. Pick one and build it into your routine for an instant refresh.