Running a guided walk on the day of an event is a great opportunity to let people know about the park or green space, including its heritage, wildlife value or a new restoration project that is taking place. It can help to develop a sense of pride in the park amongst the local community and will almost certainly teach them something they didn’t know before they came to the event. It is also a great opportunity to let people know about the work of the Friends group and attract new members.
Guided walks can be fun and are an excellent way to share your love of local history and/or wildlife. In order to be successful, they need to be planned well. While the guide does not need to be a professional, they must be confident in their subject matter. With preparation, almost anyone can make a success of a guided walk.
Plan the guided walk
Nominate walk leader(s) and people who will help. The ideal lead person should be personable, enjoy speaking to members of the public, be confident, have a good local knowledge of the park and be good at time-keeping.
Decide on the theme and focus of the walk(s). It could cover historical elements of the park or focus on the wildlife and ecological interest but ideally choose one element to concentrate on – trying to cover heritage and wildlife for example will mean that only part of your audience will be engaged at any one time.
Design the Guided Walk
- Decide on the elements of the walk and which areas of the park you will visit.
- Decide on the time necessary for your walk and how many times it will run throughout the day.
- Plan your exact route round the park.
Develop an accompanying leaflet
Although this is not necessary, it can be useful to provide further information on the topic of the walk and the park in general. It could be printed on a home computer, copied at a local shop or printed by printers if funding is available. The leaflet could include:
- Park map, showing the route and important features and information points;
- Information about the history and key elements of the walk;
- Information about the park;
- Details about the Friends group.
Prepare for the walk
- Carry out research on your chosen subject/topic (if necessary);
- Conduct a practice run of the route;
- Get any props (such as costumes) well in advance.
Promote the walk
Advertise the fact that the event features walks and what they will cover before the event. Make sure this is described in any press releases about the whole event.
Advertise start times and locations on the day of the event, giving people plenty of warning.
On the day of the walk
Make sure start times and meeting points are fully advertised and signposted within the event area. Start from somewhere central and prominent, such as a café, museum or visitor centre. It can be a good idea to start the walk from the Friends group information stall.
Start and finish walks on time but be flexible in case of emergencies. The walk guide has to allow for the slowest member of the group.
Make the theme of the walk apparent to anyone who joins.
Try to keep groups to 20 maximum. If your group is larger you will get stragglers and waiting for them means your timing will go wrong.
Ideas for Guided Walks
A guided walk of the historical features of the park – If there are several areas of interest and too much to fit into one walk, consider having several walks (eg one for the park and one for the house).
Latest developments within the park – If the park is to be restored or there is a new project taking place within the park, this could present an ideal opportunity to inform people of the latest developments of the park.
A wildlife focused guided walk -This will often be dependent on the season; mid-summer may not be the best time for birds due to the foliage of trees limiting views, although it might be a better time for butterflies.
A horticultural focused walk -This may well depend on the level of expertise within the Friends group or the level of horticultural interest within the park.
A tree walk – Primarily pointing out the various tree species but with lighter topics as well: what they were used for, funny things about the trees, etc.
Fungi walks in autumn; bat walks on summer nights; dawn chorus walks, etc.
Make sure the guided walk is adequately covered by insurance (the walk can be included in the cover for the rest of the event).
Make sure that any risk assessment for the event takes into account the route of the walk.
Make sure that you are in phone or radio contact with the staff and volunteers in the main event area at all times in case of emergency.
Make sure that there are no unsupervised children on the walk unless the guide has been checked by the Criminal Records Bureau. Even with a CRB check, it is unwise to have unsupervised children.
Make sure at least one other event organiser knows where you are going and what time you are planning to be back.
The lead walk guide should not have any other responsibilities for the event during the day. They will need to concentrate on the walk and nothing else, so all other areas should be taken care of by other volunteers and staff.
Other ideas to link to the walk
Friends group stall. This can provide information about the guided walk throughout the afternoon and act as a starting and finishing point.
Taskdays. If these are taking place on the day of the event, the guided walk could use them as a point of interest. A walk could also show work which has recently been undertaken on workdays.
What to do if it rains
While you should try to stick to the planned times of the walks, you may need to be flexible. It may be the case that one or all of the walks will have to be cancelled if rain is severe.
Be prepared for reduced numbers if it continues to rain. Consider whether you will have a minimum number for the walk to take place.
Consider supplying umbrellas for members of the walk if this is practical.
Modify the walk to follow a route that is undercover if this is possible (eg a museum within the park).
Issues to consider
Try to keep guided walks to under 40 minutes. However interesting, most people will start to lose interest if it is longer than this. Make sure that you do not try to fit too much into the time allocated. A shorter time will also allow the guide to have a rest.
Make sure there are enough volunteers to help on the walk. This will stop people from getting lost, improve ability to respond in an emergency and also provide people to answer questions.
Try to repeat the walk two or three times during the afternoon. This will allow more people to take part, especially those who may not know about the walks until later in the afternoon.
Consider having a limit on numbers for the walks. If the walks prove to be popular, allocating tickets is one way to make sure it does not increase above capacity.
Make sure the route is fully accessible for people of all abilities, including wheelchairs and people with visual impairments. If it isn’t fully accessible, make it clear when people enquire. If the walk is throughout a hilly park, some people may not be able to walk at full pace or complete the walk. The progress of the walk will only be as fast as your slowest member.
It is a good idea to have parts of the walk where people can leave if they want to, so be prepared to direct them back to the meeting point or the main event area. It can also be an idea to have some rest stops built in. The walk could easily pass a park café half way through.
If it is a very hot day, it can be a good idea to take some bottled water in case anyone suffers from heat exhaustion.
Consider whether you require any props. If you are leading an historical walk, this may include costumes to dress up in, books or old photographs. If you are leading a wildlife walk, you may take books with diagrams in, feathers or models. (Don’t load yourself up though!) You need to consider where you will get these and what time and cost implications these will have.
What to do next
A guided walk will present a captive audience so make the most of this to promote the work of the Friends and attract new members. You could ask at the end of the walk whether people would like to sign up to get further information or collect contact details from anyone joining. It can therefore be an idea to finish the walk at the Friends group stall. This is also an opportunity to give them further information about future events.
- British Association for Local History www.balh.co.uk
- Local History Magazine www.local-history.co.uk
- Association for Heritage Interpretation www.heritage-interpretation.org.uk
- Heritage Education Trust www.heritageeducationtrust.org.uk
Reproduced with permission of North West Parks Friends Forum