Planning a walking festival is like planning any event. This section has information on the wide range of topics you will need to think about and gives you some examples of how other festivals have gone about planning. Don’t under-estimate the amount of time you’ll need to plan everything properly, or the human resource that will be required.
This section is arranged under the following headings to make it easier for you to find the information you are looking for:
- The walks
- Walk leaders
- Health and safety
- Non walking events/activities
Information for new and existing festivals
The timing of your festival is discussed in Section 4. You will need to be realistic about how long you should allow for planning, promotion, etc. For a first time festival, you should allow 12 months; this will give you chance to attend some other festivals. For existing festivals, where the organisers and leaders have experience of previous festivals, 6 months is reasonable.
You will need to be very organised. Many festivals have struggled with this in their early years (“In the first year, it was organised chaos. None of us had organised a walking festival before. Fortunately not many people came so the opportunity for catastrophe was limited”, Diana Denbury, North Pennines Walking Festival). Try to attend one or two festivals to see how things are organised elsewhere.
You could consider giving elements of your festival to other people to organise. For example Durham County Council handled cash collection for the North Pennines Walking Festival. Berwick Walking Festival has gone a step further and formed a partnership with a walking tour operator – Shepherd’s Walks. The operator has developed a website, carries out all marketing and promotion, manages the walks programme and handles all of the bookings.
You’ll need plenty of time to plan a programme of walks. Ideally you should provide clear guidance on the type and standard of walks you hope to offer and send this information to people who volunteer to lead, along with a pro-forma for collecting information on each walk. Set clear deadlines for receiving information from leaders and drop any that do not meet the deadline – if a leader can’t meet the deadline for supplying information about the walk you should question his/her ability to deliver a successful walk.
Think about how long your walks should be. Try to stick to public rights of way or permissive routes. Remember that open access land can be closed at 4 hours notice. You should have written permission for any private land you might cross.
Make sure leaders walk the route at the planning stage. They might know the route, but things change. Leaders must identify a starting point with adequate, safe parking and, ideally, public transport. You should also ask them to identify any significant issues at this stage – risks, possible restrictions, such as why dogs might not be welcome (e.g. nature reserve, stock in fields, etc.).
Walks should be graded to help people decide which ones to book. Try to be as clear as you can as having people book on walks that are too strenuous for them can be a big problem. Make sure all publicity and information has details of how difficult walks are. Provide other information to help people understand what to bring and any special equipment they might need – for example binoculars for a bird walk and a magnifying glass for a lichen walk.
You can download a useful bullet-point guide to route planning used by Talgarth Walking Festival.
You’ll need to think about what sort of leaders you want, what you want your leaders to do and how you want to manage them. Leaders are individuals and will have different approaches. Ideally you will want to achieve a consistent standard, so you might like to consider guidance notes or a handbook for leaders and some training for leaders – such as first aid, walking leader certificate and local sense of place.
As a minimum you should provide checklists and proformas for leaders to collect and supply consistent information on walks and to ensure consistent risk assessments. Some examples you could consider as a guide can be downloaded here (link to sample downloads).
Also think about how many leaders you will need. Ideally, you will need a leader and an assistant or back marker for each walk. Crickhowell Walking Festival has a bank of 80 leaders and used 67 in 2015 to run 84 walks. You might also want some back-up leaders who can stand in for any that drop out at short notice.
Guidance notes for duty safety officer (Crickhowell Walking Festival)
Walk leader letter (Crickhowell Walking Festival)
Health and Safety
You have a duty of care to everyone involved in your festival – participants, leaders, organisers and others. You should make someone, or a small group of people, responsible for health and safety, but everyone involved in organising the festival needs to be aware of their obligations and responsibilities.
You will need to carry out a risk assessment for each of your walks and any other events and you will need a procedure for dealing with any emergency that might occur. Exactly how you do this is up to you, but, in the event of an accident, you need to be able to demonstrate that you have done everything that is reasonable to minimise the possibility of an accident and that you have adequate procedures in place to deal with accidents/incidents should they occur.
It is important to recognise that things will go wrong and that you must be prepared for them.
All of your walks and other events should be risk assessed. Some examples of risk assessment forms can be downloaded here (risk assessment downloads). You should review all of the risk assessments and consider how you can minimise all of the risks and what you would do in the event of an accident or incident of some kind. Use this to prepare an emergency plan and make sure all of your team understands how to react in the event of a problem.
Some common risks that you might encounter are
- Blocked routes
- Steep drops
- Boggy ground
- Road crossings
- River crossings
- Extreme heat or cold
- High winds (on upland/exposed routes)
- Participants not being able to complete a route
- Participants existing medical conditions
- Participants requiring medical attention
- Lost property
- Poor mobile phone coverage
Your insurers will expect you to have risk assessments and emergency procedures in place. Make sure they are happy with your risk assessments and emergency plan.
Make sure that all ‘staffed’ locations have a copy of your emergency plan and make it easy for people to find the list of what to do in the event of different kinds of incident. Include incident report forms and make sure there’s a space on them for anyone who completes one to record their name and contact details so that you can follow up.
You will need public liability insurance. The Walkers are Welcome scheme and the Ramblers Association have insurance schemes and, if you involve them in your festival, they may be able to help with cover. Local authorities may be able to help too.
If you are in any doubt about any aspect of risk management, emergency procedures or insurance, take legal advice.
Walk Leader safety plan and report (Crickhowell Walking Festival)
Marketing is a common sense activity. It involves identifying what kinds of people you want to attract and developing your festival and targeting your promotion towards them. If you’re not sure where to start, contact your local authority (most have a public relations officer) or destination management organisation; they might be able to give you some advice.
Most festivals have a website and a printed festival programme and these are usually the main ways of providing information and raising awareness. However, on their own, these will not be enough to promote your festival and you’ll need to organise some publicity to help people find the programme and website.
Your local destination management organisation or tourism partnership might have market information on walkers and other people who come to the area. Some, like the Brecon Brecons, have walking tourism strategies that you can fit into and already promote the area for walking. Be sure to engage with any such promotion.
Generally speaking, advertising is expensive and it can be difficult to measure the results. However, you might like to consider classified adverts in the walking magazines and some advertising in your local newspapers.
Be sure to identify all of the printed and on-line events listings and make sure the festival (and if possible individual walks) are featured in these. Other activities you could consider are
- Distributing posters or flyers in places where local people gather (libraries, doctors surgeries, cafes, pubs, etc.) and where tourists visit (accommodation, visitor attractions, etc.)
- Sending press releases to your local media and the walking media (or other specialist media if your festival has a particular theme)
- A banner or large poster visible by traffic passing through or near your location
- Advising accommodation providers about the festival so that they can tell their customers
- Social media (facebook, twitter, pinterest, youtube, instagram, etc.) is free, but will take time; also, it appeals to a younger audience
- Make sure your social media feeds appear on your website
- Try google ads – you can specify the key words you would like to respond to and cap your spending each day or week
Be sure to collect contact information from people who enquire about and attend your event and use this as a mailing/e-mailing list for future festivals
Beyond aiming to attract visitors to the town, Crickhowell Walking Festival didn’t identify a target market. However, the organisers use feedback on the walks programme to develop it each year to meet the needs of participants. A kind of self-selecting approach to marketing planning.
Most participants, especially those from away, will be happy to book (and pay) on-line and if possible, your website should include this option. However, some people will want to book by telephone or in writing, so you should, if possible, also allow for this. If you do not have IT skills or a big budget, a lower cost option is booking by e-mail and paying on arrival at the festival or at the start of each walk.
There are different ways of handling bookings and each has advantages and disadvantages. For example, you could manage all of the bookings yourself. This will give you control and will maximise your income, but you will need to set up an electronic finance system and find people to manage this as well as handling any telephone, e-mail or postal bookings.
You might like to pass on the bookings to a third party – the North Pennines Walking Festival has tried three methods – managing the bookings itself, arranging for a local authority to handle the bookings and appointing a private contractor. Having evaluated all three, the current preference is for a private contractor.
It will cost you money as well as volunteer time to run a walking festival. Few, if any, festivals cover their operating costs from walk and event participation fees, though some aspire to this position. Most festivals depend on one or more forms of external funding to break even. This might come from:
- Support from your local authority or other ‘partners’
- Grants (for example community grants available from the public sector or from businesses or grant giving trusts)
- Advertising in your programme and on your website
- Sponsorship by local businesses
You will need to consider any conditions that come with grants or other kinds of support. You should also think carefully about sponsorship. National equipment suppliers might offer you a generous sponsorship deal. However, you should consider how this would be seen by local suppliers. For example Crickhowell Walking Festival decided to take a lower level of sponsorship from a local outdoor shop rather than a larger amount from a well-known national retailer in the interests of supporting local business.
Preparing a business plan and a cash flow projection will help you to understand your financing needs and it will help you avoid running out of money before the festival takes place.
Some festivals also offer a programme of evening or other non-walking events. These can take time and effort to organise and not all will be successful. You might want to invite other organisations to organise events and then promote them as part of the festival. This will reduce your work-load and your risk and it’s a good way of helping other organisations in your community.
When considering walk routes
- The route follows public rights of way and permissive routes
- Avoid road crossings where possible
- Identify a suitable starting point (parking, public transport, shelter, refreshments)
- Circular walk, or transport available
- Record and check the mileage
- Give a grade to each walk
- Identify escape routes
- Identify points of interest
- Identify risks
Information to be supplied by leaders proposing walks
- Grid reference and nearest postcode for start and finish point
- O/S Explorer and Landranger map sheet numbers
- Road numbers and brief directions to starting point
- Meeting point description
- Any reason why the walk is not suitable for dogs
- Title of the walk
- Description of the walk
- Maximum number of participants
- Any specific equipment needed
- Any specific clothing needed
- Lunch arrangements (if all day)
- Grade of walk
- Walk distance
- Start and finish times
- Outline route plan (key points and approx. timings
- Any audiences that the walk is suitable/unsuitable for
Case study examples
Berwick Walking Festival is managed by a local steering group, but it is organised by a commercial walking operator. Shepherds Walks works with the steering group to plan the festival, then recruits walk leaders and promotes the festival. Bookings are handled by the company’s automated booking system. This public-private sector approach has a number of advantages as together, the group can draw in public sector funding and volunteer leaders that can then be used effectively by the commercial operator for example in developing an attractive website and promoting the festival to the 18,000 walkers of its database. See berwickwalking.co.uk
North Pennines Walking Festival includes guidance on how leaders and others should engage with people who have various disabilities. You could supplement this with training – ask your local disability access group if they can help.
The Glenkens Walking Festival asked the local mountain rescue to run a training programme for walking leaders. This ensured good quality training at a good value price and generated funds for Mountain Rescue
The Isle of Wight Walking Festival has a comprehensive grading system with easy to understand symbols to explain the pace, how strenuous walks are, facilities en route and special information for people with mobility difficulties (see IoW Festival symbols page).
Talgarth Walking Festival has a simple 4-grades system that combines length and how strenuous the walks are (see Talgarth grades).
Winchcombe Walking Festival achieved national publicity by inviting walking journalists and travel writers to visit Winchcombe and to attend their festivals. Accommodation providers are usually happy to give a free room for visiting journalists and others will help with additional costs
“There’s a tendency for walk leaders to propose a lot of long, difficult walks. However, there is often more demand for shorter walks with some kind of added interest” – David Thomas, Crickhowell Walking Festival
Deliver a high quality, friendly experience and people will return and recommend you! Langholm Walking Festival provides post-walk tea and cakes. The costs are covered in the walk fee.
Try to find bigger themes that you can link into – in 2015, the North Pennines Walking Festival themed to fit in with the 50th anniversary of the Pennine Way
Be realistic about your costs and don’t be afraid to charge. People are prepared to pay a fair price for a good quality product
Sources of further information
The North Pennines Walking Festival has produced a detailed handbook that has procedures for all aspects of the festival.