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 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. Good 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.
- 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 made their condition more comfortable. 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 on 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.