Cliff Edge near Beachy Head
A lot of coastal footpaths are along potentially dangerous cliff edges.
This sign was seen near Beachy Head.

Large stretches of a lot of the walks listed on this site are either in mountainous terrain or through remote highland moors. It is therefore essential before setting off that you get yourself acquainted with the safety aspects of long distance walking. The mountains and hills in Britain are not high but still potentially dangerous. Because they are near the sea the weather can change very, very rapidly. A bright sunny summer day can turn, in minutes, to wintry ghastliness. The main thing to remember is that almost all accidents can be prevented by following a few basic rules.

Here are the basic rules that can prevent an accident from happening:

  • Wear the right clothes and footwear. Take spare and bad weather clothing with you even if it looks like a brilliant sunny summer day! See also Equipment.
  • Be equipped. Take a lunch box which includes some emergency rations such as chocolate, dried fruit and biscuits. Take a flask with you containing a (hot) drink. Take a small first aid kit, and know the signs and basic treatment of frost bite and hypothermia.
  • Take a mobile phone. If you're in an emergency situation call mountain rescue services, dial 999 (you don't need an area code, even on a mobile phone) and ask for 'Mountain rescue'. In most circumstances you will be connected to the local police station. They will then take control of the rescue.
  • Take a whistle and torch with spare battery. Know the distress signal: six blasts of the whistle or flashes of a torch followed by one minute of silence, repeated until help arrives.
  • Take a map and a compass and know how to use them. I prefer the 1:25.000 OS maps, the larger scale 1:50.000 are better to get an area overview but are not detailed enough for walking.
  • Tell someone were your going, which route you are taking and the time you expect it will take. Report any changes of plan by telephone! When you're home, report in.
  • Plan the route. Make sure it is within the capabilities of the weakest member of the group. Allow enough time to be home before nightfall. Take for every 500 m (± 1500 ft) climbing one hour extra. Never change the route without letting someone know!
  • Take a watch, and know the time the sun will set.
  • Know the weather forecast. And remember that even with beautiful weather in the valley on top of a fell it can be chilly or even cold. Temperature drops on average 2 to 3°C every 300 m climbed.
  • Never go alone. Actually three is the safest number. In case of an accident, one can go for help while the other stays with the injured. Move at the pace of the slowest, and never split up unless to get help.
  • And never forget a miget repellant, see also Pests!

If the clouds do come down, walk in a single file with app. 8 m (± 20 ft) between each of you. The last in line uses the compass, directing the leaders. If you are caught in poor visibility and can't find the way down, stop until the weather clears. Find shelter or build a windbreak from branches or rocks. Put on spare, dry clothing. Sit on something dry, plastic bags are very, very useful. Eat part of the emergency rations and drink something hot. If necessary build an emergency bivouac from anything suitable - a groundsheet, a cape. If cold, keep the limbs moving. Stay awake! Loosen laces and cuffs, and huddle close to companions ... you will know each other better if the weather breaks!

Information about what to do (and what not to do) can be found on
this page by The Ramblers. If you visit the hills regularly it is inevitable that eventually you will encounter an emergency situation, hopefully not your own! But despite what you read or hear in the news the majority of walkers return home without incident so don’t be put off by what is said. Go out onto the hills and enjoy yourself with the knowledge that you are properly prepared for any eventuality.