If you are not from the British Isles, then you will need to understand that our weather forecasting is notoriously difficult, due to our geographic position and prevailing winds.
The Met Office is the root of all knowledge and they publish local forecasts that are starting to become quite accurate over 5 days. Not bad considering the fortune they spend on Supercomputers. Local, regional, mountain forecasts can be found at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk. They also have useful Smartphone Apps too.
I also like http://www.mwis.org.uk/ which is focused on mountain weather, but I wish they had an App as I am on the trail when I need the forecast – duh!
I use www.yr.no in Europe, it works well in countries other than Norway too.
In Scotland, you also need to pay attention to the Midge forecast (no-see-um). This is more important than the weather forecast in the summertime. These wee beasties’ can eat you alive! But don’t worry, they have an App for that too at http://midgeforecast.co.uk/ Only iPhone at the moment 😦
Likewise, tide timetables are useful for coastal walking particularly for planning estuary crossing and avoiding high tides on certain sections see http://www.tidetimes.org.uk/.
Lastly, you can be stopped dead in your tracks due to flooding. The Thames Path, for example, can be impassable in winter so check first
on http://www.shoothill.com/FloodMap/ or with the Environment Agency at https://www.gov.uk/check-if-youre-at-risk-of-flooding
Forewarned is forearmed.
I plan to give some basic advice about safety, but you will need to take professional advice if you have any concerns. The items below are based on my own experience and dangers I have faced. Areas to consider:
- Being realistic about your capabilities – I have met ultra athletes who will run 50 miles per day for 20+ contiguous days and others who are content with a 5-mile hike. Each of them within their comfort zone. Know your limits and plan accordingly, leaving something in reserve as a contingency. Avoid injury and exhaustion as either can ruin your trail adventure. Rest days do wonders.
- Your ability to navigate in adverse conditions – learn how to use a compass and a map. The National Trails are generally well signposted, but reduced visibility can leave you disorientated and you need to be able to navigate to safety. Likewise, when the heavens open and the wind picks up, your soaked GPS Smartphone is going to fail. Don’t rely on it. My advice is to stop the moment you think you are lost and navigate back to the path.
- Your ability to stay warm and healthy – as they say in Norway – “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, so make sure you go properly dressed with good wind and rain protection. I always carry a bivouac bag and spare clothing for emergencies. The good quality footwear of course, plus skills in foot care – blister prevention is better than cure. I am not very good at that and just trudge on, much to my regret later in the day.
- Tell someone your journey plan – when booking accommodation, let them know your arrival time and give them your mobile number. Text friends with your itinerary and let them know when they can expect a further update. If you change your plans, don’t forget to update them. Don’t expect to have a mobile signal in remote areas so take that into account too.
- How to deal with midges, ticks, horseflies, cattle, dogs – in Scotland’s summer months midges can be a real pain, do your research. Likewise, ticks carry disease, so know how to remove them properly and wear appropriate clothing in known tick areas. Be wary of bullocks, heifers, cows with calfs and bulls – know the difference and learn about their behaviours, specifically if you walk with a dog. Avoid loud noises, approaching cattle in their blind spots, getting between calf and their mothers, sudden movements spook them. I still don’t understand why farmers place water and feeding points next to field gates and stiles, frequently blocking your way entirely, meaning you have to try to move the cattle. If in doubt, leave the field by putting distances between you and the cattle and let your dog run free.
- Your ability to assess the weather conditions, tides, flooding – see the weather forecasting section, but in addition, know what to do when lightning is a risk and the effect strong winds can have on your balance. I have been blown over on cliff paths and got myself into trouble attempting to cross flooded fields. Strong winds and rain lead to exposure if you are not properly dressed.
- Essential safety equipment – whistle, compass, map, emergency clothing, food, bivouac and most importantly – the knowledge of how to use them. Many walkers have been rescued carrying the equipment that could have saved them. You will get cold quickly if you become incapacitated, so know how to stay warm and how to communicate to others that can help you. A first aid course would not go amiss either.
- Where to get advice – there are plenty of resources on the internet and this blog is not intended to be a complete guide. Just Google it!
I do not aim to give a full reference to safety in the outdoors. Each of us will have a different attitude to risk, so please make sure you can mitigate your concerns. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself and your party.