Everyone knows the Alton Walking Festival is one of the biggest and longest in the country. 

We in Walk Alton always claim it’s the best, too! 

The event features well over 100 varied and interesting walks, led by enthusiastic leaders. But is everyone aware of the enormous amount of preparation that takes place before the Festival starts?

The Alton Walking Festival runs from May 1 to May 31. Back in early November that seemed a very long way away, but Natalie and Kaylie in Alton Town Council were already asking potential walk leaders to submit their proposals for walks, so lots of experienced and new walk leaders were putting together their plans a long way before Christmas. 

The programme of walks for May will be in the public domain this month. 

For walk leaders and backmarkers, that means much more intense preparation is now the order of the day! 

On these pages you’ll find some observations on the general theme of walk preparation by our Walking Festival leaders.

I hope that as you read their comments, it will become clear that leading walks for the festival requires very much more than turning up on a (hopefully) sunny day and leading a happy group off into the countryside! 

After the initial route planning on the map, there could well be multiple walk recces before the final event.

Sometimes problems will emerge which may require a change of plan – and it may even be necessary for the walk leader to clear some undergrowth on the route before the date of the walk. 

So if you join a Walking Festival walk in May, please spare a thought for the amount of thought, planning and physical effort that goes into every walk!

The Alton Walking Festival details will be available this month. Get the details oneline at http://www.alton.gov.uk/ or by picking up a printed brochure listing all walks, available from a wide range of locations in and around Alton from mid-March.

One of the longer festival walks is the one from Winchester back to Alton, led by Alison Smallwood and John Elder. Alison writes about a recent walk recce:

All great walks involve necessary planning and a recce. We undertook a full recce of our 20-mile Winchester to Alton walk, with the bonus of additional company for the day from Ian Fleming and Roena Gooch. 

Starting with the 64 bus to Winchester, our route back to Alton was south of the A31, via Cheesefoot Head, Cheriton, Bramdean Common, Ropley and Four Marks – and we were lucky to have glorious weather to showcase our beautiful Hampshire countryside.

Ian and Roena provided valuable tips and information along our way, with local and historical knowledge.

There’ll be another recce nearer the time, as conditions change rapidly during the spring months.

We’re all looking forward to the walk in May and of course hope for another glorious sunny day!

Steph Erskine is a new Walking Festival leader this year.

Having to recce a potential walk for the Alton Walking Festival was a great pleasure. 

I love walking and am lucky enough to live surrounded by beautiful countryside, with footpaths and trails on my doorstep. 

The initial factors to consider were the mileage and the level of difficulty of the walk which I was planning. 

I walked the route three or four times beforehand in different weather conditions to ensure it was suitable. A combination of simple tools helped me judge the walk – Strava (for accurate distance and elevation), an Ordnance Survey map (to find alternative footpaths where needed) and a notebook and pen (to note any hazards along the way, as well as any points of interest). 

I must admit I learned some very interesting facts when investigating the history of local landmarks and architecture, which I’m looking forward to passing on to fellow walkers!

Clare Allen is leading two walks for the festival and writes about the details of walk preparation:

When planning a walk there are several things which need to be taken into consideration.  

The first is how long the proposed walk should be. Are there points of interest on the route, such as bluebells, wildlife, beautiful views or historic buildings? Who are your potential walkers?

After that you have to think about the start point for your walk. If it is a circular walk, there needs to be adequate parking available.  

If it is a linear walk, how easy is it to access the start point by public transport?  

Having chosen a potential route, it is essential to walk the route, if possible, several times. On the recce walk you need to look out for obstacles –  fallen trees, path diversions or animals in a field crossed by a path, together with occasional dilapidated stiles or missing signposts. Sometimes a ‘permissive’ path can no longer be accessed.  

Your backmarker has to be selected (persuaded!) and then needs to walk the route with you so you are both confident about it and about any potential hazards.  

Before the walk you need to make sure you have everything you need for the day – small first-aid kit, whistle, compass, maps and a (fully-charged!) mobile phone.

On the day you should be able to relax a little, safe in the knowledge you have done everything you can to plan an enjoyable walk for all concerned.