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Head for the hills

 

Are you eyeing up the hills this spring?

Dog-walkers will be heading into the countryside in their droves over the coming weeks. The clocks have changed, the New Year dearth of Bank Holidays is finally over, and – fingers crossed – the weather can only get better. Finally, we’re emerging from hibernation. It must be time to get fit for the summer...

After months of being confined to town parks, woodland trails and riverside paths, lots of people will be thinking about trying something a little more adventurous this summer – maybe heading for the hills. If so, it’s best to build up gradually.

For those not used to hill-walking but who are dreaming of spending long summer days striding out across the moors and mountains of Britain, you need to make sure your body and your dog are ready for it. Starting with relatively short walks on small hills allows your muscles, your joints, your lungs and your four-legged companion to slowly get used to climbing hills.

Start off easy so you and your dog can get used to hill-walking

Longer routes on grassy, mid-level hills come next. It’s important to remember not to push yourself too hard early on: screaming calf muscles, sore knees, constant breathlessness and injuries will only put you off. Head straight up Snowdon or Ben Nevis and there’s a chance you’ll never want to see another hill again as long as you live. And, if your dog’s not used to it, you might have to carry them down. (A minor nuisance with a small terrier; virtually impossible with a Labrador.)

When you feel your body finally adjusting to the ascents, when you no longer wake up aching from the previous day’s walk, when you feel a spring in your step even when you’re going uphill, that’s when you can start thinking about tackling one of the biggies. But bear in mind, the higher you go, the tougher things become, and that’s not just because you’re having to climb more and walk further; rocky terrain is harder on your body than having grass underfoot. Your knees, hips and ankles all have to work harder, twisting and turning, as your eyes decide where your feet should go next. Your dog needs time to adjust to rough ground too. Their paws may become sore, sensitive or even cracked if they’re not used to this type of walking.

Once you’re hill-fit, some magnificent days await you and your dog

Don’t forget there’s also more chance of encountering cold or wet weather on higher ground, conditions that will sap your energy – even in the height of summer – so make sure you have warm, waterproof clothing as well as enough food and water for both you and your dog for the day.

Summer hill-walking isn’t rocket science and it isn’t the preserve of the super-fit or an elite class of mountaineers; it’s something that, with a little bit of simple preparation, can be enjoyed by just about anyone of reasonable fitness.

I’ll have more tips on preparing for the hills in the next few weeks...