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Leading Group Walks

….. some guidelines for walk leaders

and useful forms to print

Recent updates

The Ramblers has recently published a consultation document on walking and insurance. Ramblers is attempting to standardise good practice throughout the country and plans to introduce some ‘simple processes’ to reduce the risks associated with organising walks. New guidelines will be issued in early October 09.


They have produced a useful checklist for running walks and treating injuries. 1, 2, 3 and 4.


The proposals are:


In order for a day walk, including coach rambles, to be approved as a Ramblers activity and covered by the civil liability insurance, it is proposed that each walk must:


bullet Be brought to attention of the Programme Coordinator, who ideally is confident in the Leaders ability to lead the walk
bullet Be publicised in advance on at least one of: Walks Finder, a printed programme or the Group/Area website
bullet Have a nominated Leader, and ideally a nominated backmarker who are both members and who together, or separately have recced the walk

In order for walks which are part of a holiday (any trip involving an overnight stay) to be approved as a Ramblers activity and therefore covered by the civil liability insurance, it is proposed that the holiday must:


bullet Be approved by Group Committee (or Area if being organised by the Area)
bullet Have a named Holiday organiser who ideally is confident in the ability of Walk Leaders to lead each walk and who will vary the programme during the course of the holiday if circumstances demand
bullet Have a designated Walk Leader for each walk,  and ideally a backmarker who are both members
bullet Be publicised in advance
bullet Take place in Great Britain

Bromley Ramblers’ committee has responded to the consultation, broadly welcoming the recommendations but pointing out that it may not be possible for a backmarker to take part in a recce/walk-out with the walk leader, or on a separate occasion. If this were to become compulsory, the number of walks in our programme would clearly suffer. This view has been accepted by Ramblers.  


But, we need to be ahead of the game, so could all walk leaders please ensure that a back-marker is appointed on each and every walk (unless the number taking part is so small that a back-marker might not be needed).


The following are guidelines for walks.

These guidelines have been produced for those intending to organise and lead Ramblers groups on walks. Even local walks demand careful planning and co-ordination, and it is wise to make sure that you have covered every eventuality.

The guidelines cover:

Where can I walk?
Planning the walk
Advertising the walk
On the day, before the walk starts
During the walk
After the walk
Insurance and safety
Recording and Reporting Incidents

Walking on roads
Mobile phones
Dogs and other animals
Walking for everyone
Right to Roam
Useful contacts


Where can I walk?
England and Wales have an extensive network of off-road routes classed as public rights of way. Local authorities have a duty to protect and maintain these and to record them on official “definitive” maps. Most rights of way are shown on Ordnance Survey maps and should be signed at junctions with public roads. Many are also signed or “waymarked” with coloured arrows along the route itself.

A right of way is not the path itself, but your legal right to cross land along a certain route: in some cases a right exists although no path is visible.

There are several different categories of rights of way.

Public Footpaths are open only to walkers, and may be waymarked with yellow arrows.

Public Bridleways are open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists (although cyclists should give way to other users) and may be waymarked with blue arrows.

Restricted Byways are open to all non-motorised users including vehicles such as horse-drawn carts. They may be waymarked with plum-coloured arrows.

Byways Open to All Traffic can be used legally even by motorists. Although most of them are inaccessible to ordinary motor vehicles, you may encounter off-road vehicles like 4x4s and trials bikes.

By law, rights of way should not be obstructed and can’t be diverted or closed simply for the convenience of the land owner. Unfortunately, many local authorities do not adequately fulfil their legal duties, and on some paths you may encounter problems with illegal obstructions, badly maintained path furniture and misleading signs. Where a path is obstructed, you are entitled to divert around the obstruction, or to remove it (provided you have not gone out specifically to remove the obstruction).

There are also numerous other paths open to the public. These include:

bullet Permissive paths, where the owner has given permission to the public to use the path. Although permission is usually granted on a long-term basis, it can be withdrawn at any time, and some permissive paths are closed for one day a year on a token basis.
bullet Paths across public open spaces and access land. Where these are not rights of way, they will be open under the same arrangements that apply to the open space or access land (see the section later in these guidelines about the right to roam and access land).
bullet Towpaths along canals. These are sometimes rights of way, and those that aren’t are usually open by permission.
bullet Off-road multi-user paths which often form part of local cycle networks or the National Cycle Network and are also available to walkers. Legally they may be public rights of way, roads from which motor traffic has been banned, or permissive paths. Some local networks of multi-user routes are known as greenways and may combine off-road paths with sections of quiet or traffic-calmed roads.

Established permissive paths, towpaths, off-road cycle routes and most areas of access land are shown on Ordnance Survey maps.

Planning the walk
In selecting a route, you should think carefully about the following:

bullet The availability of paths or open country. Stay off roads as much as possible: metalled surfaces are hard on feet, and the constant wariness of traffic will diminish your enjoyment.
bullet Start and finish points. Are they convenient, suitable and easy to find? Are public toilets nearby?
bullet Transport. It is the Ramblers Association’s policy that wherever possible, walks should be accessible by public transport. However, many of the Bromley Group’s walks are only accessible by car. In such circumstances, cars should be parked safely and without causing annoyance or obstruction to others. Ensure the space available is big enough to take the number of cars that might be expected. 
bullet Lunchtime halt. Is shelter available in bad weather? If a pub is convenient, will it accommodate your party, and can it provide food? Or alternatively, will it allow you to consume your own picnic lunch on the premises if you agree to buy drinks? Check in advance: many pubs no longer allow this, especially if they sell their own food.
bullet Length and timing. The distance should never be so much as to tax unduly the capability and experience of your party. Always assume a slower speed than your own. In particular, allow more time for stiles: since most of these can only be surmounted by one person at a time, they will slow the pace of a group quite considerably.
bullet Terrain and weather conditions will also affect walking speed: for walks in most parts of the south-east a speed of about 2.5 miles an hour would be the average for relatively flat terrain. Hillier conditions will reduce the distance walked in an hour. Muddy and/or windy conditions will also slow your speed.
bullet Newcomers. Although experienced walkers may be able to walk longer distances, a total of around 10 to 12 miles a day, or 5 miles in half a day in gently undulating countryside, or less over more hilly terrain, is easily far enough for many walkers.
bullet Alternative and escape routes. Prepare less exposed alternatives for use if the weather is bad before you set out, and escape routes to shorten the walk if conditions deteriorate on the way.
bullet After you have devised a route on the relevant map, walk it yourself well in advance of the day. Any obstructions or other problems can then be reported to the highway authority so they will hopefully be put right by the time your party walks the route.
bullet It's also best to re-walk your route a week or so before the event, to refresh your memory and note more recent changes

Advertising the walk
You will be asked by your walks co-ordinator to supply brief details several months in advance for inclusion in the Group's walks programme. There is a 'Walk Input Form' in the Members Section to help enter walks in the Programme.


Name/description of the starting point. Give a six-figure grid reference if you can.


Distance. The length of the walk.  


Grading and terrain: it's useful to describe routes as easy, moderate or strenuous, and to point out whether the route is basically flat, hilly and so on.


Date and departure time.


Lunch stop. A number of people will be interested to know if there is a pub available or not!


Public transport details. If appropriate, state which service to catch and from where, departure times, route numbers and destinations, where to get off and directions to the starting point. Allow in your planning for late running services. If the walk is accessible by car, give details of where to park safely and unobtrusively.


Your contact details: phone number, and email if you have one. It’s helpful to give your mobile phone number as well as people may want to let you know they might be late for the walk!

On the day, before the walk starts
Your walk co-ordinator will provide you with a form that all those taking part in the walk must sign (copy also here). This will confirm the number of people walking, but it helps if you count heads as well!

The form indicates that a voluntary donation would be welcomed to support the production of the Group’s walks programme (50p is the norm, but any contribution is welcome). It also states that the Ramblers Association (and the Bromley Group) accepts no responsibility whatsoever for claims arising from the activities of participants on the walk.

Just before you are ready to start off - and without appearing officious - make sure that:


cars are parked responsibly;


dogs are on leads if required, or their owners have some means of restraining them;


all party members are suitably equipped to cope with the terrain and the prevailing weather conditions; this will have to be a subjective assessment, but in extreme circumstances you would be justified in turning away someone if you thought that a lack of proper footwear or equipment could put them or others at risk.

Before setting off - introduce yourself as the leader of the walk and give a brief oral description of the route, together with details of the lunchtime break and the estimated length of the walk and its finishing time. You could also include anything interesting to look out for.

Ask someone to act as a back-marker (preferably, someone who knows the route as well as you) and make sure he or she is known to the party, and that everyone knows the back marker's function: to close gates and to ensure that no member of the party falls behind unseen. However, it is the leader's responsibility to ensure that contact is not lost with the rear of the group.

Give instructions on a code of conduct if there is any road walking involved. (See the later section on walking on roads).

Also advise the party not to walk more than two abreast when crossing fields that are ploughed or in crop.

If sheep and cattle are likely to be encountered, dog-owners should be advised at this stage, and should be prepared to put their animals on a lead when asked to do so.

On the walk
If there is a large number of people walking, please remind them that it would be helpful to keep other walkers in sight – both in front and behind. However, the group will soon become spread out. In many respects this is preferable to having everyone bunched together, but try to avoid large gaps occurring by slowing down the pace, and making frequent stops to allow those at the rear to catch up. It stops people getting lost! Don't move on just as those at the back appear, since their need for a short rest will be, if anything, greater than those at the front. In addition, close up the party for complicated turnings, crossing of busy roads, poor visibility or in woods.

In reasonable weather, lunch should not be rushed: for many, eating out of doors is one of the most enjoyable aspects of open-air recreation. 45 minutes to an hour should be ample. Before leaving your lunch site, ensure that litter has been cleared up and check that nothing has been left behind.

Dogs do not have to be on a lead on public paths as long as they are under close control. But as a general rule, a dog should be kept on a lead if their owner cannot rely on its obedience. On a bridleway or byway this could be especially important as you may meet horses and a dog owner could be liable for damages if the dog causes an accident.

After the walk
Check that everyone is accounted for and has transport home.

Within a few days of the walk you will need to send any donations collected to the Group’s treasurer and the signed list of walkers to the membership secretary.

Insurance and safety
Make sure you are familiar with the principles of safety, and of choosing the appropriate clothing and equipment for walks. Consider taking training in first aid, and encourage walkers to carry a small first-aid kit.

Walks organised by Ramblers Areas and Groups automatically receive third-party insurance cover, provided the leaders are Ramblers members, through the Association’s national policy. This is designed to protect leaders against claims for damage to property and for injury or death which might have happened on the walk. Please note that this policy does not provide personal accident cover.

 Recording and reporting incidents
It is sadly inevitable that, from time to time, an accident or incident might happen on a walk. So, what should you do? In all circumstances they need to be recorded.

 Major and Minor incidents and injuries
The Ramblers has recently produced a new 'Incident Report Form'. Please ensure you use the new form if reporting an incident or accident on a walk. The new form requests more details, but is more user friendly and easier to understand. The Ramblers requires the reporting of all incidents, whether deemed to be minor or major, or a near miss. If any incident occurs on a led walk (or any other Ramblers activity) it must be recorded and reported to the Ramblers as quickly as possible. A copy of the form can be found at the bottom of this page and should be sent initially to Annie Brough (our Group Secretary) via enquiries.  Anyone interested in Ramblers and insurance generally should go to where you will find a lot of useful information.

Some commonly asked questions:

What about non-members on walks and walks for the public? Organising led walks and walking-related activities for non-members and the general public is a perfectly legitimate Ramblers activity which can help further our charitable aim of promoting walking; contribute to our footpaths, access and countryside work; and help promote a positive and attractive image. Ramblers volunteers involved in such activities are therefore fully covered by civil liability insurance and the presence of non-members on walks in no way invalidates the insurance cover for the walk leader or for other members on the walk. Walk leaders have identical responsibilities to members and non-members alike.

Ordinary walkers who are Ramblers members are also covered by the policy while on Ramblers walks. Non-members are not covered by the policy, and therefore walk at their own risk, except in the case of non-members who are attending up to three “taster” walks with a view to joining the Ramblers. In practice, however, ordinary walkers are much less likely to be the subject of a claim than walk leaders.

For membership recruitment reasons The Ramblers’ Association strongly encourages Groups to run their regular walks programmes on a “members only” basis, with non-members welcome on up to three “taster” walks with a particular Group. However, this has no bearing on civil liability insurance and should not deter volunteers from activities that further other Ramblers objectives such as promoting walking to the wider public.

Do walk leaders have to take a register of all walkers? No. The Ramblers’ Association’s insurance company has suggested that a register of walkers is beneficial because it records everyone who was present on the walk, but it is not a condition of the insurance policy. In the case of a claim (which could occur some time after the actual walk), such a register could be useful in case there was a dispute about an individual’s presence on the walk or not. However, the insurers recognise that it is burdensome to record attendance in this way and it is not a condition of the insurance policy. The Bromley Group encourages leaders to ask all walkers to complete an attendance form, which can be obtained from any of the walk co-ordinators.

Are walk recces (‘walk-outs’) covered? Yes. Carrying out a recce of a walk is part of good practice and a completely valid volunteer activity.

What if a Ramblers member volunteers for another organisation? The insurance only covers members participating in recognised Ramblers activities as described above. If the activity is jointly organised with another organisation, members will be covered by the Ramblers insurance. But members aren’t covered by Ramblers insurance if they undertake independent activities on behalf of another organisation, for example leading walks for a local authority or a commercial holiday operator. If you’re asked to do this, you are advised to check with the organisation concerned that you will be covered by their own civil liability insurance.

Are members covered for administering first aid if someone gets injured? Yes. If someone is injured on a walk, there is no barrier to providing first aid. In fact, it could be argued that by not providing some form of first aid, a Group is being negligent. It is not necessary to hold a first aid certificate in order to give assistance. All that is required is that the best is done by those present to provide assistance until qualified care arrives.

Can a walk leader be held personally liable for an accident or other incident on a walk? No. Any walk organised by a Group or Area or by Ramblers staff forms an integral part of Ramblers’ Association activity. A claim might be made on the grounds of the action (or inaction) of one particular volunteer such as the walk leader, but any such claim would be directed to the Ramblers’ Association, not to the individual.

What should walk leaders do if an accident occurs and someone is injured? A form can be obtained from the Group Secretary. This should be completed in full and returned as soon as possible. Contact details are listed at the end of these guidelines.

Walking on roads
Except for motorways and some other busy roads, all public roads are open to walkers and you have just as much right to be there as a car driver does!

When walking on roads, follow the advice in the Highway Code: use the pavement if there is one and safe crossings wherever possible, help drivers to see you, and where there is no pavement walk on the right, facing oncoming traffic, crossing to the other side before sharp right-hand bends. Take special care on country roads with no pavements where traffic may be moving very fast. Walk in a single file.

The leader and back-marker are recommended to wear reflective arm bands on the left arm on any walk involving road walking.

Mobile phones
A Mobile phone can be a useful addition for a walk leader to take on a walk and has sometimes proved helpful in emergencies. However, they don't work in some locations, particularly in some hilly and remote areas. They are not a substitute for other safety precautions. If you do call for help, make sure to keep your mobile turned on so that the emergency services can call you back.

Dogs and other animals
Treat un-tethered bulls and loose dogs with caution. Back away slowly, and report the incident to the police if you consider the situation unlawful as well as dangerous.

Other livestock can often be deterred from following you too closely by turning to face them with both arms raised. Don't brandish a stick, as this may excite them, and use an ordinary speaking voice rather than shouting. Don't lead a walk between a cow and her calf!

Walking for everyone
Sometimes those with special needs, such as people with disabilities, are interested in joining Ramblers walks. How easy it is for a person with a disability to join a regular Group walk will vary according to the walk and to the particular disability: there are more practical issues involved in taking a wheelchair user on a walk than, say, someone who is deaf but otherwise able-bodied. However, you should try to accommodate everyone wherever this is practical.

When taking people with disabilities on your walks, you should bear in mind the following points:


neither you nor the Ramblers Association can take on any medical responsibilities; where appropriate, carers should be in attendance unless a prior arrangement has been made with the walk leader;


it is important that participants or carers consult with the leader before the day of the walk to discuss all aspects of the route; and


Ramblers Groups and members are covered by public liability insurance policy, and if any groups of disabled persons join the walk they must be placed on record as being under the Ramblers Association's organisation for the duration of the outing.

Right to Roam:
access land in England and Wales open to walkers

On Monday 31st October 2005, the process of implementing the new right of access provided by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW), some times called the 'right to roam', in England and Wales was completed.

The new rights of access apply to mapped areas of mountain, moor land, down land, heath land and registered common land and gives the public the chance to legally explore away from the beaten track.


The best way to find out where the right of access applies is by looking at a new Ordnance Survey Explorer Map. All the maps have all been updated to show access land. Lookout for the access symbol on the front.

You may come across the symbol when out in the countryside, for example on fence posts to let you know when you have reached an area designated as access land.  You can also find out more about where you can go by checking at the Countryside Access web page ( This site is also the best place to find information about any local restrictions which may apply to the right of access.

 What you can do on access land? Most recreational activities that are carried out on foot, such as walking, bird-watching, climbing and running.


 What you can't do on access land? Camping, cycling, horse riding, motor sports and the driving of any vehicle other than a mobility scooter or buggy.


 Can you always walk on Access Land? No, not always. Farmers and landowners have the right to close their land sometimes, usually for reasons of nature conservation, land management or public safety. If access land is temporarily closed, it will have a ‘restriction’ placed on it so there is no public access. This will show on the online map ( in red and details about the restriction will be in a list below the map. Land that is marked with red hatching means there is limited public access and you should check the restrictions list below the map for more details. It could simply mean that you can’t take dogs on the land or that it is closed one day of the week.


 Are dogs allowed?  You can normally walk with a dog on open access land. However, sometimes there may be a ban on taking a dog or it may need to be kept it on a lead due to sensitive wildlife. Access land marked in yellow on the maps means you can take your dog, but if it is marked in red hatching, you should check the details of the restriction to find out if dogs are affected.

Fixed leads no more than 6 feet long must be used at all times near livestock, and from 1st March to 31st July as this is the ground-nesting bird season. You may also find that dogs are excluded from lambing enclosures at lambing times.


Walk Leader's Forms and useful docs.
These are various forms that will be useful to Walk Leaders.  Simply click on the link and you will be taken to a Word document to print or email.

Walk Record Form  This form is to record the details of those taking part in a walk 

 Walk Input Form  If you can lead a walk in the next Programme please complete the details using this online form  after discussing  and choosing a date with the Walk Coordinator. 

If you don't have the facilities (but you must have if you are looking at this!!) then use this email-able form here and email/post  to your Walk Coordinator. Here is a link to a simpler form you can fill in and include in an email.

Accident Reporting  The Ramblers Incident Report Form and guidance notes are here

Quick Guide to Mapping, the Compass and Rights of Way  A really useful Word document used on the Navigation Course that explains the maps we us, how to use a compass and map together and what 'Right of Way' means to a walker.



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This page was last updated 15-02-2018