Hiking for Beginners: How NOT to Hike in UK (or anywhere else)
First thing that needs to be said is that we’re not experts at everything but strong believers in making improvements through trial and error. Which brings us to our first ever attempt at hiking in UK, where we did just about everything wrong but lived to write about it so you don’t have to.
One cloudy weekend in May, we set out for Brecon Beacons National Park which has the highest peak in South Wales - Pen y Fan at 886m above sea level. Technically it’s fairly easy to access and there are several well established footpaths and routes leading to the top with different ranges of difficulty.
Sounds like a literal walk in the park but, of course, there are so many things you can do wrong. So here are some things you should pay attention to do when setting out for your first hike:
If you’re travelling by public transportation, don’t go without planning your way around, especially if it’s a relatively small and remote town or area.
To get to Brecon Beacons, we got a bus to Cardiff from London and then took the T4 bus to Brecon town which delivered us to the destination fine but, not having a lot of options around, our accommodation was in Talybont-on-Usk which is a nearby village. That forced us to rely on buses that go once an hour or so, which messed up our plans and timings quite a lot.
Local public buses might not always be the most reliable or even the cheapest option (it was about £7 to go one way). Sometimes the most convenient and efficient way money and time wise is to hire a car so you don’t have to rely on anyone else’s schedules.
PLANNING YOUR ROUTE
In national parks and other nature locations cared for by responsible entities, there usually are several different trails and ways of hiking with varying levels of difficulty, all reasonably signposted.
Choose a route appropriate for your fitness level and experience. It’s great to push yourself a little and the sense of accomplishment you get after you reach your goal is amazing, but don’t overestimate your ability.
Planning your approximate route beforehand is important due to several reasons - safety, time efficiency and to know if you’re actually going to manage. This of course is even more crucial if you are trekking solo, which, we think, is fair to say a bit more dangerous, especially if you’re a beginner.
If you’re doing this with others, hiking can be a great bonding opportunity, or the opposite. Before you even decide on the details of the hike, make sure everyone on board is aware of what they are getting themselves into, and if you actually want to spend several hours doing this physical activity with them.
Personally, we say get yourself a mate who is cool with a bit of rain.
There are several websites that offer comprehensive guides, maps and even have elaborate grading systems so you can plan according to your fitness level and preference:
Plan the time and location of your starting point as well as the finishing location and time. Even simply following the route beforehand on Google maps will give you a better overview than just rocking up without a clue.
If there’s an option of something other than a dusty old B&B, we say do it. Which is why we stayed in a tiny shepherd’s hut on a sheep farm.
At least we (kinda) did everything right about this one. Until we realised there is an option to have one of these lovely sheep as your dinner in the form of a lamb burger which was a strong no for us.
Apart from that, staying in this little hut in the middle of nowhere among sheep was a highlight.
APPROPRIATE CLOTHING & FOOTWEAR
This is quite straightforward and obviously differs depending on where in the world you are hiking but if it’s the UK - prepare for all of the seasons in one hike. This means thermal wear, hiking boots, gloves, a waterproof jacket/shell/overall and even face mask and the old spare pair of socks will come in handy.
I’m just gonna leave these pictures here as clear instructions on what not to wear.
Last but probably the most important point - do not go or even plan your trip without checking the weather forecast.
This was our first crucial mistake - we were all spontaneous, as usual, and booked our tickets without much thought about what weather conditions we’d come across upon getting there. Even if you are fine with a bit of a breeze and some rainfall, do not underestimate the fog which can be a real killer to your plans.
If you are in the UK, Met Office actually has a website specifically for mountain weather forecasting which includes visibility, likelihood of any weather hazards and a mountain weather map with summit specific forecasts. Mountain Weather Information Service has the same but in a more interactive format.
So long story short - main reason, apart from the obvious lack of preparation, we ended up not hiking further than the Brecon Beacons’ tourist information point. There was a thick fog covering the whole area, even the little town of Brecon, and as the lady at the information point so kindly pointed out - we are mad and are probably going to die if we decide to go on that hike.
Oh and did we mention it was also raining the whole two days we were there?
If that happens and you end up in the same area as us, you can find shelter with a pint at The White Hart Inn in Talybont-on-Usk which was full with lovely and chatty locals when we were there.
Lastly - pet all the animals on the way and hug some trees because if it turns out you're a complete failure at all things hiking, you can at least appreciate that. And remember, the value sometimes is in the journey, not necessarily reaching that peak.