When is a walking trail “done”?

Published 15 February 2017

Flooded field at Upper Inglesham
Flooded field at Upper Inglesham

When do you class walking route as “done”? It’s a question that was firmly on my mind as I sat on a train heading home a few hours after arriving at the source of the River Thames, and thus concluding my walk on the Thames Path.

I was asking myself the question due to the unusual way that I’d arrived at the western terminus of the trail. Flooding had required me to make several substantial detours from the official route, and in an act of desperation, I’d leaped on a bus and then a train and avoided a section about fourteen miles in length that I suspected would be mostly un-walkable due to the path being underwater. Given at one point I’d encountered a section of the route that was a whopping quarter of a mile away from the river itself, and yet was still flooded, it had seemed fair to assume that other bits closer to the river would be similarly impassable at parts.

Now if I had actually tried to walk that section, but had been defeated, and had had to walk down roads and alternative paths instead, well I wouldn’t have worried. I would have classed the whole thing as done, and thought nothing more of it. But that bus and the train, well they posed a dilemma.

In the end, I decided that no, the bus and the train didn’t really matter. I hadn’t taken them to deliberately skip a walk-able section of the Thames Path. No. I’d actually used them to avoid having to spend many miles walking down roads because there weren’t many alternative footpaths I could take. A few miles of road walking I can cope with. But spending most of a day doing it? No thank you.

I also decided that I needed a sort of “definition of done”, as it were. When is a walking trail completed? The rules I came up with, I think are pretty sensible, and are ones I’d pretty much followed over the years anyway, without having formalised them. And once I’d formulated them in my mind, I thought I’d share them. So here they are.

  1. The important thing is to follow most of the route. You will never, ever, walk the whole of a walking trail perfectly. There will always be times when you deviate from the official route. You might get lost, you might make a detour to see something interesting, or you might need to make a detour to get to accommodation or transport. And that’s fine.
  2. Skipping several miles of a route because you don’t feel like walking them is not fine. You haven’t walked the route. It’s not done.
  3. If there’s an official detour, then that’s classed as part of the trail when you walk it. So if the official closed for whatever reason – it’s not possible to follow due to damage, or building work, then you follow the detour. For your walk, the official detour is your official route.
  4. If, for some reason, the path is closed or inaccessible, and there’s no official detour, then it’s up to you to do your best. The route’s management may not be aware of the problems yet, or may not have found a solution. In these circumstances, the detour you make is the official route for you.
  5. Skipping several miles of a route because you’re concerned, given what you’ve experienced, that it won’t be passable is fine. Yes, there may be bits you skip that will be walkable, but hey, you have to take a judgement call. It may not be easy to find those bits that are passable. There’s no point in making massive detours, just for the sake of walking a few metres that might be do-able.
  6. If your official route or detour is going to require you to walk for several miles down roads, or take you substantially out of your way, then relying on another method of transport is fine. There’s no joy in walking in down busy roads, especially when there’s no pavements.

And if you’ve got to this point and wondered why any of it matters at all, well to me it does. For I’m a Completer Finisher see. But that’s a whole other story

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