Author Topic: The Walker's Handbook - a review  (Read 2523 times)


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The Walker's Handbook - a review
« on: June 30, 2015, 02:46:26 PM »
The Walkerís Handbook Ė Everything you need to know about walking in the British Isles.
Author - Hugh Westacott

Foothpath Publications  £19.99 (20% off for Micro-navigation Forum members at :

Earlier this year Hugh, who is a member of this forum, asked for someone to review the latest edition of his book and I volunteered.

First, about me, so that you can judge the position that Iím reviewing from. Male, early sixties, took up walking seriously about 6 years ago, mostly in the Dark Peak, but Iíve also done a little walking on Skye and in the Lakes. Navigation - Iíve got the NNAS silver award. For the record, I don't know and have never met Hugh Westacott. I have had limited email communication with him and he has been very clear that this should be a "warts and all" review.
Few walkers, says the Introduction to the book, will read it cover to cover Ė well I claim the honour of probably being the first. I have read it cover to cover, some chapters twice, and hereís what I think.

This 346 page, A5 sized book is the 5th edition and has been completely rewritten.  I havenít read the previous editions of the book and I came to this one with some doubt that one book could contain ĎEverything you need to know about walking in the British Islesí,  but having read it, in my opinion, it does.  Subjects covered include behaviour in the countryside, kit and equipment, maps and navigation (members of this forum will be pleased to know that this section runs to 105 pages), footpath guides, safety, first aid and mountain rescue, and walking in winter. There are chapters on walking in each of the countries of the British Isles, walking holidays, backpacking, challenge walks, peak-bagging and walking festivals, clubs, walking with children, letterboxing and geo-caching, and how to lead walks and walking tours.

The topics included in the 23 chapters plus appendices range from how to choose walking socks, aimed at beginners, to, for the much more experienced, how to carry out a self arrest with an ice axe, and, as far as I can see, everything in between. OK, you might want to go to other books or web sites to get more detailed information, but at the end of all but the first chapter a bibliography lists those the author thinks most applicable.

The author was a librarian and I think thatís probably why itís so easy to find what youíre looking for in this book.  At the beginning of the book the 11 page contents section breaks down each chapter, sometimes into over 20 sections. Each paragraph in the book is numbered and the index, which runs to 12 pages, refers to individual paragraphs. 

With such a great breadth of information the question has to be asked whether the depth is there and again I feel the answer is yes.  Iím not sure how to qualify this for anyone reading this review other than to say that before I read the book I didnít know what Newcastle disease was or that maps of the Channel Islands donít use the OS grid system, but I do now!

I already know a bit about several of the areas covered by the book, so to assess how well it would inform someone who was new to aspects walking I headed for the chapter on backpacking. Iíve never done this, know nothing about it but have at the back of my mind that I might try it out. By the end of the chapter I am a lot more knowledgeable and would be happy to plan and undertake a backpacking holiday. I also know what kit I would need, what the pros and cons of those items are and could have a sensible discussion with sales staff. So from my point of view this chapter achieved all it set out to Ė a new boy has been educated! I have no reason to doubt that the other chapters would be equally informative to beginners.

These days most books are crammed with glossy pictures, so I was a little disappointed to find that whilst there are numerous line diagrams in this book there are no photographs or reproduced sections of OS maps.  I think that in some situations, for example, ways to ford a stream, pictures would have been better. That said I suspect their omission is due to printing, copyright and approval issues rather than the authorís unwillingness to include them.

The author has recognised that information will get out of date and that errors may have occurred, and has included an email address to which proposed corrections can be submitted. These will be investigated and if accepted posted on the authorís web site.
 I found one significant error. An additional step has found its way into the description of how to take and use a back-bearing which means that anyone using the instructions from this book without thinking would get it very wrong. Other than that there were a couple of typos, and what I think are two comparatively minor errors Ė one about whether you can pick wildflowers and the other about whether all walking satnavs can receive GLONASS.  So, Iíve sent these, together with some suggestions for additions to the bibliography, to the email address provided and weíll see what happens.  POST REVIEW COMMENT Ė Iíve checked the web site ( and the important corrections are there. The minor ones, Iím told, have been added to the master file for the next printing. So that seems to work fine.

The author ends the  introduction section Ď And so I hope that it will not seem too pretentious to look on this, the fifth, and probably last, edition of ĎThe Walkerís Handbookí as my legacy to the wonderful world of walkingí. Well, in my opinion he has achieved his aim. Overall I found this to be a very good book, well written, easy to read, informative and well referenced.

Hugh has been walking for seventy years and has been involved in many aspects of our hobby. Anecdotes have been deliberately excluded from the book but the introduction tempts us with a brief glimpse of what some that might have included Ė the first back-packing trip in 1946 and the single skin tent made from parachute silk with a cotton bed sheet flysheet. I would really like to hear more about these Ė perhaps in Hugh Westacottís Memoirs of a Seventy Year Walker!

captain paranoia

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Re: The Walker's Handbook - a review
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2015, 06:04:49 PM »
Thanks for the review, Ian.  Glad to hear that Hugh's magnificent octopus* has finally been published; it's been a labour of love for a number of years now.

* excuse the Blackadder reference...

Hugh Westacott

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Re: The Walker's Handbook - a review
« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2015, 11:34:28 AM »
Sorry, chaps! In my cackhanded way I've managed to delete some of the replies. Can anyone restore them?

Here is my response to Lost soul

Thanks, LS!

I have to admit that I have struggled with this chapter because it is an aspect of walking about which I know very little.

Also, it is the one subject that is dynamic and constantly developing and thus does not readily lend itself to book format. So all I can do is to discuss the subject in general terms. Iím glad that Ian pointed out that I was being too prescriptive and Iím pleased that it now seems about right.

Iíve contacted CP but I guess heís on holiday in some exotic location.

Best wishes