This section has some examples of what different walking festivals look like as well as key questions to ask yourself when developing your festival concept at the beginning.
For existing festivals – some of the questions will be useful for reviewing where you are and how you might improve and, the examples might give you some new ideas.
The look and feel of your festival will be shaped by a number of things – the characteristics of your place (its landscape, its cultural heritage, the natural heritage), your festival aims, the number of people and organisations that want to help you organise the festival. Your aims will also dictate who you want to attract – for example day visitors and tourists to maximise economic impacts, or local people to encourage walking for health and wellbeing.
Some things you might like to think about at this stage are:
- When to hold your event – what’s the best time of year to achieve your aims? Are there other walking festivals or local events you don’t want to clash with? Or that you’d like to link with?
- Your geographical extent – will you concentrate on one single location or a wider area? Are there walks directly from your town or village or do you need transport to reach suitable walk starting points
- The duration of your festival – a day, a weekend, a week or longer? A spring and an autumn festival?
- What could make your festival distinctive – the landscape, wildlife, famous local people, historical events, your food tradition?
- Types of walks – does the terrain dictate what you can offer? Hill walks, gentler walks, walks with a theme, walks for families? Will your walks start from one place, or several? Are there places to park? Is there public transport?
- Other events and activities you might offer – evening entertainment, a crèche, exclusive visits to sites that are normally closed to the public
- The scale of your festival – think about the impacts you want to achieve. Do you have support from a local authority, an agency (for example a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) or another well-resourced partner (for example a wildlife trust)?
All of these considerations will have an impact on what your festival looks like. Perhaps the biggest consideration is whether you are developing a festival using your own resources, or whether you have the support of a local authority or other big partner. Support of this kind can be very helpful and reduces the financial risks. However, you need to think about whose festival it is and what happens if the big partner pulls out at a future date? With cuts in government funding, it’s becoming harder to find partners of this sort. However, most local authorities still have community grant schemes (as do others and these can be helpful in getting you off the ground (see finance section here).
Time your walking festival to take place at the best time for participants, to achieve your aims and to avoid clashing with other events and festivals. Think about your audience – if you want to attract older walkers, retired people can travel anytime and like cheaper, out of season or mid-week prices; target families in the school holidays. Whilst Bank Holidays give you longer weekends, many established events also take place then so it might be difficult for you to be seen.
Terrain will dictate the difficulty of walks you can offer (upland, lowland, coastal, etc.) and to a significant extent, thus will shape the character of your festival. However, think about the needs of the people you want to attract. Think too about what makes your area distinctive and what other resources you have – historic sites, nature reserves, interesting farms, woodlands – as well as the skills and knowledge of your people/leaders
You must be confident and creative, but be careful not to be over ambitious in the first years. There’s a tendency to be optimistic, but reign yourself in and think about what might go wrong. You need to have all eventualities covered. Decide what you can do well with the resources you have and deliver it well.
You might like to think about adding walks into an existing event or festival. Last year, Abergavenny Walkers are Welcome ran some guided walks that were promoted as part of the Abergavenny Food Festival. This provided a different dimension to the food festival and helped promote walking in the area. The most popular events in the Northern Rocks Geology Festival are a one-way walk to High Cup Nick, which is difficult to do without specially-arranged transport.
As your festival grows, or if you are hoping to attract staying visitors, you might like to offer evening events. These might also be of interest to local people.
Your walking festival will need some kind of hub, but it’s not necessary to start all of your walks from there – in fact you’ll have to move further afield to achieve variety from year to year. You could also achieve this by moving your hub around your area.
Timing Your Festival
- Who are we trying to attract? What’s the best time for them to travel?
- What else is going on in the area? Are the other events competing or complementary?
- Are there big national events that we should avoid (e.g. major sporting events, elections, etc.)
Festival Location and Format
- Where will your hub be?
- Can you run all of your walks from here?
- If not, are there sufficient walks in a definable area?
- How will people get to the starting points
- Do you want to deliver impacts (economic, health, awareness) in one place or over a wide area?
Case study examples
Organisers of the North Pennines Walking Festival tried to do too much too soon, without adequate contingency planning. ‘We didn’t plan for things going wrong, which was what happened – a couple of leaders were ill and couldn’t lead walks at short notice. The weather was atrocious and we had to re-route a lot of the high level walks. It was by just by good luck that everything worked out in the end’. Diana Denby North Pennines Walking Festival.
The Islands of Barrow and Furness Peninsula Walking Festival achieves wide publicity and has become a widely-known event for its guided walks across Morecambe Bay to Piel Island. It’s not easy to do these walks without a guide, so they are always over-subscribed and act as a beacon, attracting people who also book onto other walks in the festival programme, or book onto other walks when they find that the Piel Island walks are full.
Crickhowell Walking Festival has a varied evening events programme, including skills learning (navigation, foraging, etc.), entertainment (film, music, pub quiz), travel talks and experiences (expedition talks, barefoot walking), stargazing and an end of festival ‘twmpath’ (celildh). Most of these are organised by other groups within the community but promoted through the festival. The festival takes a cut on tickets it sells for these events, but does not have the financial risk or organisational commitment.
The Richmond Walking and Book Festival in North Yorkshire combines 9 days of led walks in the town and surrounding countryside with evening talks by a variety of up and coming and established authors.
Make your festival distinctive by giving it a theme. The Kirknewton Archaeology and Walking Festival has walks that visit archaeological sites and knowledgeable walk leaders who can interpret the archaeology to participants.
Think about participants and their needs. The Langholm Walking Festival provides refreshments – tea, coffee and cakes – at the end of each walk, funded from the walk fees. The Borders Walking Festival offered free relaxing massages at the end of some of its walks
Don’t be over ambitious in your first year! Work out what you can deliver comfortably and well. Deliver this and build on it next year.