Our guide to walking groups looks at the many benefits of walking with others and how to find and join a walking group in your local area.
Why you should walk for health: the science
Evidence shows that regular exercise, such as walking, could reduce the risk of depression, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer; 150 minutes of exercise a week could also improve balance, help manage cholesterol levels and strengthen bones. Regular walking can improve your overall fitness, while playing a vital role in cardiovascular rehabilitation.
Brisk walking gets the blood pumping without putting too much strain on the cardiovascular system; studies found that regular walking could help reduce the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, strokes and angina.
Not only will you get fitter, you’ll also burn calories and become more creative. According to Bupa UK clinical fellow Dr Eleanor Atkins, walking for half an hour at around 6.4km per hour – a swift walking pace – could burn up to 150 calories. Walking is known to be as effective as antidepressants; the mental health charity Mind has recommended ‘ecotherapy’ – outdoor physical activity – be recognised as a clinically valid treatment for mental distress. For more information, and for walks near you, see walkingforhealth.org.uk
Find beautiful walks in Britain with our walking guides:
Reasons to join a walking group
Joining a walking group that suits you can not only be rewarding and fun, but also life-changing, and even life-saving.
You don’t have to rely on finding your way around a route when you have a walk leader doing it for you.
There’ll be people joining the group for the same reasons you are, whether it’s to get outside more often, meet new people or get fitter.
The thought of walking 16km could easily put you off. But when you’ve committed to going, you’re more likely to stick with it. Especially if the group is heading to a place you’ve always wanted to visit but never quite had the courage to go alone.
When you’re with a crowd of people adventuring around a new place, or discussing last week’s episode of Countryfile with your new walking buddy, you can easily cover more ground without even realising you’ve done so.
The hill looming ahead of you has put a mental barrier up, you’re ready to turn and walk back the way you came, when suddenly, a fellow walker is beside you, giving you the encouragement and support that you.
How to find a walking group
There are plenty of walking groups that focus on beginners. These groups will plan easier walks that may be slightly shorter, or with less challenging gradients, giving those with less experience a chance to give it a go.You can also find groups suited to hardier hikers looking to stride up a mountainside. There are walking groups for women, for under-30s, for those facing health challenges and groups providing accessible walks suitable for wheelchairs and prams. There will definitely be a group out there that suits you; here are a few national organisations to get you started:
- Walking for Health, walkingforhealth.org.uk
- Ramblers, ramblers.org.uk/go-walking
- Meetup, a website for connecting with groups near you, meetup.com
- Rambling Clubs, ramblingclubs.com
- Walks with Wheelchairs, walkswithwheelchairs.com
Walking groups to try
There are hundreds of walking groups around the UK but here is a small selection of groups you could try.
- Welsh Women Walking, in South Wales, welshwomenwalking.co.uk
- Fife Walking Club, walkfife.com
- Teithwyr Tawe Trekkers, for the over-18s in south-west Wales, tawetrekkers.org.uk
- Hastings and Rother Rainbow Alliance, supporting the LGBTQ communities,
- Brunel Walking Group, in the Bristol and Bath area, brunelwalking.org.uk
- York Outdoor Group, yorkoutdoorgroup.org
- For Northern Ireland groups,walkni.com/clubs/
Case study: Cornish Ramblings
Join a group of like-minded walkers to explore new countryside routes and you’ll soon be fitter, and happier to boot, promises Cornish wanderer and founder of Cornish Ramblings Jody Woolcock
One of the reasons some of my walkers have joined Cornish Ramblings is to combat loneliness. By joining a walking group, you’re sure to find a friend.
Pulling into the car park, I feel nerves and excitement, just as I do at the beginning of every walk. Within the space of a second, I’ve already asked myself a million-and-one questions. The main one being: will anyone turn up?
Armed with my rucksack, trusty cocker spaniel Purdy and all the kit needed to get a group of people around nine miles of unfamiliar woodland,
I step out of the car and exhale.
Walkers are pulling on their boots and familiar faces look up. There are some new faces, too. One or two approach me, nervously asking: “Are you Cornish Ramblings?” Soon there’s a sea of coloured coats and bobble hats and as I look around, the nerves disappear, and I’m reminded of exactly why I do this.
It all started almost three years ago, when I found myself stuck in a rut. I’d always loved walking, but realised I was playing it safe by sticking to routes I already knew well. When you’re prone to getting lost, heading out for 16km on your own somewhere you’ve never been before can seem quite daunting. That’s when I realised how I could get around this situation: start a walking group.
After a few months of umming and ahing I still hadn’t done much about my idea, until the day I went to an event in London and met my walking idol, former Countryfile presenter Julia Bradbury. When I told her about my pipe dream, she gently persuaded me to just go home and do it!
So I did. Cornish Ramblings was born, as a non-profit community group. And almost three years later, I have a wonderful following of loyal and like-minded folk who regularly join me in getting lost across Cornwall.
The feel-good factor
The benefits of walking in the countryside are many: an abundance of clean air your lungs will be grateful for, incredible scenery, endless pathways and plenty of routes to build your stamina while increasing your physical, emotional and mental health (see box, right).
Starting Cornish Ramblings has been a blessing for my mental wealth, and some of my fellow walkers tell me
it has been the same for them, too. Michael Pinfold, who has been with us since the beginning, was suffering from acute anxiety and depression at the time he joined the group. “I thought getting out into nature would help me,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from a walking group, but I’m glad I decided to go along. My social skills have improved, and I’ve been on beautiful walks that I wouldn’t have known about.”
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On this particular Saturday, 22 people turned up for a 14.4km hike around a gorgeous part of Cornwall, Golitha Falls. It’s always great seeing new faces, especially those who’ve never joined a walking group before and don’t know what to expect. To see them at the end – usually windswept and smiling – fills me with joy. After all, my walking group is about getting people out and moving.
The walk begins in Draynes Wood, an ancient woodland in the Fowey Valley. It’s rich in soft green mosses and liverworts, and lichens cover rocks and trees. Otters are often seen exploring the series of spectacular cascades and waterfalls that is Golitha Falls. Feeling like the Pied Piper of hikers, I lead the group from the falls and woodland to open fields with stunning views.
I mentioned earlier that I used to get lost on walks. I still can’t read a map very well, but I’m learning. Instead I keep everyone on the right path by using an app on my phone, iWalk Cornwall (iwalkcornwall.co.uk), which includes many circular routes across the county. There are many other walking apps, too, including ViewRanger (my.viewranger.com) and the OS (osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk). Members of the group occasionally lead a walk, too, if there’s a route they know and want to share. That way I get wind of some wonderful places right
on our doorstep. Many of the walkers enjoy exploring new areas.
Since Cornish Ramblings started, I’ve been on some incredible walks across Cornwall, and although I’m biased, it really is one of the most perfect places to go walking, regardless of the time of year. There are endless coastlines, evocative countryside and quaint villages on my doorstep. Bliss.
Whatever the weather
When the mizzle starts a quarter of the way around, I’m happy to see everyone marching on, chatting happily as they pull hoods up and waterproofs on. I am an all-weather walker and encourage people to come along and enjoy a hike regardless of the forecast. The only time the weather may scupper a walk is when it’s blowing a hooley and we’re heading to the coast; wind, torrential rain, cliff edges and a large pack of hikers can leave me a little antsy, so good judgement is necessary when deciding to go out.
Soon we’ve reached our goal: Trethevy Quoit, an impressive Neolithic burial chamber. It makes a perfect place to stop for a photo or two.
As we make our way back to the start, I reflect that what began as a selfish venture to explore more of my county has become quite the opposite. I encourage people from all walks of life, and from all ages and fitness levels to come for a ramble. My website describes us as a mixture of “novice walkers, keen hikers, sturdy stompers, active explorers, fair-weather adventurers, hill seekers, coastal lovers, woodland ramblers and most importantly… walking addicts”. I’m fortunate that my group is a mixture of ages. My goal is to encourage younger walkers as well as the older ones. Many are from Cornwall, and some from further afield, including holidaymakers who’ve heard of the group. We’ve even had a handful of hikers who happen to be walking the same way join us.
The last word goes to Jackie Kitchener, who comes along to most walks with her husband. “Keith and I love walking,” says Jackie. “We also enjoy meeting people and Cornish Ramblings is the perfect way to combine the two.”