Walking Festivals are a key feature of the walking calendar. They are a great way to profile stunning walking country and attract new people to walking. Run by local walking groups, local authorities or a collaboration of individuals and organisations, walking festivals provide a celebration of walking, bring friends together and allow enthusiasts to pass on their love of walking and knowledge of the area.
Providing guided and self-guided walks and often something for all abilities, festivals have become an annual feature for many walkers. A web trawl at the end of January found 90 Walking Festivals and events with dates already set for 2024, another 20 or so which have run previously yet to publicise their dates and there are almost certainly more.
Some of the Festivals are in honeypot walking sites – such as The Peak District, Lake District or the wilds of Scotland. But many profile the excellent paths and history around a town or a village in less well-known places.
I was pleased to find a festival in my home town of Evesham – whilst a lovely market town with the River Avon running through it and historical relevance due to the former Abbey and the battle in 1265, it might not be your first thought for a walking break. However the walks scheduled for the event make the most of the pretty villages with thatched cottages, historic buildings and attractive landscapes surrounding the town. I am equally pleased to see a walking festival taking place in the High Weald where I live now.
Some festivals combine walking with the culture and arts of the local area – music and food also feature. Others are large multi-sports events like the Keswick Mountain Festival. Cities too are hosting walking festivals which provide an excellent opportunity to show the history and less well known features. London Walking Festival is underway, which started on the 3rd February. Bristol Walkfest is back for another year and Greater Manchester is calling for guides to submit routes – and can even provide small grants to help with expenses.
Of the 90, with dates already set for 2024, the month of May is the most popular for walking Festivals with 37- of course May is National Walking Month (more on that nearer the time!) September is second with 26 festivals. Both are great months for walking as they have a good chance of sun, days without rain, stunning Spring and Autumn landscapes and avoid the heat and holidays over the summer. Note though many festivals later in the year have not yet confirmed their dates yet, so this picture will change.
The picture above shows when and for how many days each of the festivals run. One festival per line. Blue dots are single day events.
The most popular duration for a festival is 9 days with 20 festivals covering this period. Second is festivals over 3 days. 5 festivals run for an entire month and there are many single day events.
Comparing festivals shows a diverse range of approaches. Some are very local, others have been adopted across a wide area and are county or city wide events – some are Nation-wide. Some festivals are more commercial than others or are based around charity fundraising. But overall what is striking is the sheer volume of volunteers and community members that come together to make these events a success. Many festivals are led by volunteer committees. Walks are led by local volunteers. Volunteer marshals support and direct participants. And volunteers promote and manage the events. Consider this in addition to the many thousands of walks developed and led by volunteers throughout the year – and the miles of paths maintained and repaired by volunteers – what a stunning community of walkers we have in the UK.
Festivals are great opportunities for walking enthusiasts to reach out to the wider community to showcase just how good walking can be. Or for the cultural, arts and heritage sectors to add a walking dimension to their programmes. Or for towns and counties to profile their area and to bring a boost to local businesses and attractions. Whatever the underlying purpose of a walking festival they attract new and different people to take to the footpaths and trails – which is incredibly valuable.
Festivals can also leave a legacy. Those who went on a guided walk may take their family and friends on the same walk – now that they have the confidence venture off the beaten track. They may also go back to the cultural and hospitality venues they saw along the way. And the focus on walking provides new resources and routes – these are the 170 walking routes used during the YHA Festival of Walking which are being walked by guests on a daily basis.
And – I love the concept of being a Festival Bagger! Forget the Wainwrights or Munros – bag the festivals! There are over 100 to choose from (though you’ll be busy in May!) And if you are going along to a festival this year then have a look at this page from the Independent Hostel Guide who have handpicked events near to their locations.
Which Walking Festival will you be attending? Or are you part of the organising committee or a guide?