How I Plan A Walk

I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for a little while, as I want this blog to become something more than a series of ‘I walked here, this is what it looked like and this is what I found’.]

[Credit for all images:]
For this example of how I plan a walking route to follow, I’ve selected the area of Cranborne Chase on the North Dorset/Wiltshire border.

Please note: all images are taken from OS Maps, without permission.

This isn’t just an exercise in plotting lines on a map, which is something I do often. I’m using an example that was required for a group camping trip in July of this year, when I led this walk on the final day of our long weekend.

My route was to be set in the area of Cranborne Chase – although, technically, it might actually have crossed the border in to Blackmoor Vale. Aware of the other routes being led over the weekend, I was able to narrow my selection down to a more specific space within the region.

Typically, the first thing I’ll look for on a walk is at least one point of interest. Quite often, I’ll be heading to an area to explore said interest. On this occasion, I was given the place and had to plot something out to fit.

Points of Interest

Above, I’ve circled the trig point (triangulation station or pillar; blue triangle) on Melbury Hill (Melbury Beacon) and I’ve also circled a car park (blue P), with a likely route in purple that connects the two.

I do like climbing to high points and discovering trigs so, this is a definite feature of interest for me. Once I’ve found a potential car park, I’ll often try and view it on Google Street View to gauge its size. If it’s near a built-up area, I’ll used Parkopedia to check for pay-and-display costs.

I was satisfied with this being the start of my route and so, moving on to my next point of interest (Compton Abbas Airfield), I can continue to plot my route (purple line) – I’ve actually plotted the entire route, here.

I’d also like to just mention that the main basis for this walk came from someone else’s route, which I found using OS Maps.

Road Walking?

In purple, above, I’ve highlighted the route we walked. In red, beneath that, you can see a public right of way that could’ve been used to reduce the amount of road walking and lead us to the same point (at the time, I misread the contours and thought this path was climbing up and away from the road).

I’m not a great fan of treading on tarmac and try to minimise it where possible. Sometimes, it is unavoidable.

Open Access Land

Wherever you see an orange border (above: Clubmen’s Down, Fore Top, Fontmell Down), this designates Open Access Land; space within which you are legally free to roam, without crossing the boundary.

In red, I’ve circled two possible points for crossing the road – where my initial plan had been to follow this road northwards… But, I soon realised this is a particular busy road. I could see a green public right of way (footpath) running to the corner of the Access Land boundary and took a gamble on being able to pass through here… Which paid off, as kissing gates were in position.

Sometimes, this may not work out. Within the confines of Open Access Land, you’ll often find paths on the ground that are not marked on the map and vice-versa.

So, roughly follow the contours around this downland, I could plot the final stages of my walk, leading back to the car.

Particularly when leading a group or walking with company, it’s important to have a place in mind for post-walk refreshment. This may be a tea shop or café. But, in most instances, it’ll be a pub (blue sign in the photo above). A quick Google search will alert you to its availability (many pubs around the UK are going out of business) and I have, on a very few occasions, found drinking holes and establishments that don’t feature on any Ordnance Survey map.

Basically, I’m looking for:

  • A start point with ample car parking

  • Points of interest along the way

  • A circular route, usually 10-12 miles long

  • Somewhere local to have a drink afterwards.

I do recommend paying the annual subscription fee for OS Maps, as you can plot walks, receive an accurate distance calculation, save your best routes for later and even print out your routes so you don’t necessarily have to buy a new map or carry several and switch between them on a walk.

(Sadly, I’m neither sponsored or endorsed by Ordnance Survey. These are my own words, based on my own experiences.)

I hope this is helpful to you and I welcome all comments and questions below.

Thanks for reading.

Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in Weston-super-Mare, close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset and I enjoy time spent outdoors, whether that's walking, camping or backpacking. My day job involved making furniture from recycled wood (I'm a furniture maker and carpenter by trade). I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Walks With Olly (walking, camping and kit) You can also find me on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My second YouTube channel is titled 'Walks with Olly'.

14 thoughts on “How I Plan A Walk”

  1. An interesting read, I plan walks with public transport in mind, but otherwise am very similar, looking for good paths and interesting points to choose my walking routes. And echoing Teabeestrips, I’ve found viewranger great for finding walks (although use both it and OS maps app to follow routes).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent posts, thank you. We use the OS maps function to plot out routes and distances it is really useful. Another one to say thanks for the Parkopedia tip. Not heard of that before.


    1. Hi Sarah,

      I’m pleased you found my post useful and glad that you can now use Parkopedia as well. I used to find that it would come out on top of the search engine’s results when searching for car parking. But it has become harder to find in recent years and I’m always happy to share.

      Hope you have a great Christmas. 🙂


  3. Always interested in how other people plan walks. I use both osmaps and viewranger. Sometimes I’ll create the route in osmaps, export the GPX and then finetune it on the viewranger website as the open land ranger maps often show tracks not shown in OS. Sometimes I’ll just do the routes in the cicerone guides, or for the lakes, I’m using the stuart marshall wainwright bagging walks, which I’m amending slightly to include any nearby scrambles. I also like to design crazy walks that bag as many summits or trigs as possible. I prefer higher wilder ground so in the dark peak, I try and stick to open access moorland, and leave the well defined paths to have a bit of fun in the less trodden areas. I’m always on the lookout for new Horseshoe type walks or 3 peak type walks to do too. I sometimes use the hillbagging site to try and include as many official hill summits as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mark,
      Viewranger seems to be incredibly popular. I haven’t tried it myself only because I don’t like having to use electronic devices on a walk (with the exception of cameras). I didn’t realise that they could have different detailing to OS. I’m always finding paths on open access land that don’t feature on the map.

      Ha, I’m with you on the trig and summit-bagging! You’d probably enjoy Dartmoor. Have you come across a website called Peakery?


      1. No, haven’t come across that site, I shall take a look. Back to viewranger, you don’t necessarily need to use it as you’re walking. You can just visit the website and draw the route as you would do in osmaps. The landranger map is the best one to use for hills as it shows contour lines. The standard open streetmap is best for detail such as pubs and parking. In fact it’s very detailed and perfect for that purpose. As it relies on contributions from the community, people have added tracks that aren’t necessarily shown on other maps. As I said, I use both. I design it on the osmaps website first then import it into the viewranger website to see if there’s any addition tracks I can use to improve it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Just had a look at peakery. Looks like a much more modern flashier version of the hillbagging website, but international rather than just UK based.


      3. Yeah, I came across Peakery through a YouTube channel I’ve started following (Summit or Nothing). Looking at the peaks myself, I’ve found some are a bit obscure (not actual summits) while other high points may be missing (although, I think you can add your own).


      4. Ah, well if you use hillbagging, despite its less flashy look, it’s linked to the official British database of hills and should include every summit under every classification of hill. Will display them on an OS 1:50k map. The Harold street website definitely worth a look too

        Liked by 1 person

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