IT'S THE WEEKEND: Get ready to step out in stunning South Wales
10:02am Saturday 19th October 2013 in News
EVERY year, thousands of people enjoy walking in the stunning countryside in and around South Wales.
Good preparation is the key to a safe and successful outing whatever the season but as ANDY RUTHERFORD reports, as the weather is taking a turn, it pays to be extra careful.
THE Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains, endless miles of rolling countryside and spectacular Valleys trails...
When it comes to walking, South Wales and its environs provide incredibly rich pickings for seasoned and occasional walkers.
As a means of getting fit and staying healthy, both physically and mentally, there is little to beat a good walk, be it just for a couple of hours or across a whole day, up hills or down dales.
But like any other leisure pursuit, it pays to be well prepared and well equipped.
Suitable clothing and footwear, food, water, a map, a compass, a mobile phone - all are simple but vital ingredients for walking safely, whether you are going out on your own, in a pair, or in a group.
Mel Jones, who lives in Monmouthshire, has a "passion" for walking, and as development officer for the Welsh Government-backed Let's Walk Cymru programme, which aims to get more people walking, more often, she is able to take that passion into her work.
She has also been for several years a volunteer with Abergavenny-based Longtown Mountain Rescue Team, which for almost half a century has been providing a vital rescue service for people lost or injured in places like the Black Mountains and other remote areas.
"The main thing is to enjoy going out whatever the weather and I want as many people as possible to enjoy walking as much as I do - it's fantastic," said Mel.
"But it does pay to be prepared, wherever you are going."
"With clothing, it's important to wear layers, because the air that gets trapped between them becomes like an extra layer of protection."
The amount of layers can be varied during a walk, according to the weather conditions, the terrain, and the effort required to cover it. But keeping as dry as possible is key.
"It is important to make sure the layer next to the skin is dry. If you have sweated while walking, it's good to change it to a drier layer," said Mel.
"This is very important if you do run into difficulties, such as getting hurt or the weather closing in, because in those circumstances you must try to keep as warm as possible.
"Hypothermia is always a danger if people get into difficulties, and hats and gloves are also very important to help minimise heat loss.
"I tend to carry the same kit summer or winter, definitely a full set of waterproofs, good trousers, hat, gloves, thick, warm layers, a fleece. Also, a torch, food and a hot drink - and if you're going for a full day's walk, it is generally recommended now that you should carry more than two litres of water.
"Good footwear is very important as well. Boots should support the ankles and you should make sure the tread is really good, because things like wet grass, for instance on the Sugar Loaf (above Abergavenny), can cause you to slip.
"Twisted ankles are very common, and the majority of Longtown Mountain Rescue Team call-outs involve lower leg injuries."
If you are unfortunate enough to pick up an injury while walking or to get lost, for instance if the weather closes in and you lose your bearings, then there are other simple measures to take to keep warm for as long as possible.
"You should take a map, and if you have one, sit on it to keep off the cold ground. And if you are out with someone else, then cuddle in. It is very important to keep warm," said Mel.
A simple measure to bear in mind when thinking about walking, especially in the hills and mountains, is that for roughly every 500 feet (around 150 metres) you climb, the temperature will drop by about 1(degree)C.
"Basically, it will be colder at the top than it is in the car park, and there is wind chill to think about," said Mel.
"I think it is important to remember that walking should be all about enjoyment, and good preparation is a part of that.
"There are a lot of people who are not sensible when they go out walking and they get away with it, but some don't. On the other hand, people who do it regularly can get caught out."
Lots of advice available
THERE is plenty of advice about safe walking and preparation to be found, and among the best sources in Wales are Ramblers Cymru and Longtown Mountain Rescue Team's own website.
Ramblers Cymru has its own section at www.ramblers.org.uk which is the website of Ramblers, Britain's walking charity.
Ramblers Cymru also hosts the Let's Walk Cymru programme, which aims to increase the number of people taking up walking to improve their health and well-being, using Wales' rich variety of natural green spaces.
The website includes valuable advice for walkers to keep safe, and contains information on scores of walks in Wales and across Britain.
The Longtown Mountain Rescue Team website - www.longtownmrt.org.uk - greets viewers with the phrase 'saving lives in wild and remote places' and again provides vital information on being well prepared for walking in the hills and mountains.
Based in Abergavenny since 2001 the team, which currently has around 40 volunteers, gets called out around 30 times a year.
Volunteers are on call 24/7 and the team covers a large area, from the eastern side of the Brecon Beacons, taking in the Black Mountains, and down to Newport, up to Hereford into Worcestershire and Shropshire, and on occasion to the southern reaches of Snowdonia.
"Not all of our searches are mountain rescues. We search for vulnerable people, for instance someone who may have dementia and has gone missing," said Mel Jones.
"We can have helicopter support, but that depends on the weather conditions up in the hills. Low cloud can be a nightmare, and we do searches in the dark."
* The team has been shortlisted for this year's Lloyds Community Fund award, and is seeking public votes, as a finalist in Monmouthshire. If successful the team will earn £3,000, which will go towards providing vital kit for team members.
Voting is open until November 1. Votes can be cast at Lloyds Bank branches, online at www.communityfund.lloydsbank.com/voting or by SMS text message – text VOTE MWQB to 61119.