Monday, 22 February 2010

Health and Safety Rambling

Even if you're only out for a short day hike, it's a good idea to think of your personal safety. It just takes a little thought and planning . . .

Here's a cautionary tale. The countryside in my part of the UK can't, by any stretch of the imagination, be called wild. Most of this part of the World is like a big park. Yet you can still get into trouble. This is how I nearly did just that.

Some years ago I was out walking alone on a hill not ten miles from where I live. It was a nice day, good weather and pleasantly warm. The walk was about 12 miles and I'd set out a bit late, so the finish would be around 8 p.m. - not yet dark in the UK in May. As I climbed a stile (a kind of small gate in a hedge) I missed my footing and fell.

I was lucky - my dignity (and backside) were about the only thing hurt. As I picked myself up a thought hit me - what if I'd fallen badly? Broken my ankle? It struck me then that, although I was only a couple of miles from the nearest habitation, I hadn't seen anyone for about two hours. At this time of day most hikers would be heading home. Ever tried to walk two miles with a broken ankle?

I was lucky. Had I sustained an injury, the evening was warm and, even if I did have to spend a night in the open, it would have been uncomfortable rather than life-threatening - and someone would have come along eventually.

The point is this: say instead I'd been in the remote Highlands of Scotland, or the Sierra Nevada, or any real wilderness area? I'd have been in real trouble. What I'd done on my little local hill was stupid but not dangerous. If I'd been in a remote area it would have been dangerously stupid.

So - some basic points for exploring the great outdoors. They're easy to remember and I do not exaggerate when I say they might, one day, save your life.

1. Never go hiking alone. In wilderness areas this is simply begging for trouble.

2. Always let someone know where you're going and, more importantly, when you expect to be back.

3. If for any reason you have to change your plans, let your 'anchor' person - the one you told your original plans to - know what's going on. It's common courtesy and could save a lot of people a lot of trouble.

4. If venturing into remote areas - especially for a few days - make sure you have the correct clothing, sufficient food and water - and a survival bag. These are, simply, large, robust plastic bags you can crawl inside to protect you from the elements. They are usually a virulent shade of orange so they can be seen easily. They fold up to next to nothing but, if you're hurt and outdoors in the Grampian Mountains in January, they could mean everything. Always carry one.

5. Don't go into wilderness areas alone. I know I said this already but it's rather important.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the last person who would want to dissuade anyone from exploring and enjoying the great outdoors. It's a fantastic place. I would only ask you to take simple precautions such as the ones above. Just remember that nature might be gentle - but she takes no prisoners!

Steve Dempster is actively involved in running several websites and spends part of his working day creating short, informative articles such as the one above. Get more info on walking in the UK at the Countrywalkers website!

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