Hiking: Why It Is Good for You and How to Get Started

Worn out by daily life? Why not try going on a hike? It’s one of the best ways to forget your worries and embrace the great outdoors.

One of the greatest things about hiking is the accessibility. You might only have one pair of relatively sturdy shoes and the most basic level of fitness, but that shouldn’t stop you from setting off for a hike as soon as you leave your door or discovering a trail just a short drive away.

No matter where you are, a quick Google search could reveal dozens of hiking routes nearby. Even if you choose to begin by going for a long walk around the local area, it can still be very beneficial for you. It is the first step in becoming a passionate hiker.

Hiking is simple. Really, it doesn’t take much to get a sense of what it’s like to be alone with your thoughts at the heart of nature. The mind and body can truly benefit from something so easy.

You could develop your self-assurance, stamina, and strength- just some of the traits that can help you advance in the hiking world. No other feeling compares to the satisfaction you get after completing a challenging hike. There is virtually no limit to what you could discover, whether it’s about yourself or Mother Nature.

hiking with the family
Hiking is suitable for all ages

Physical Benefits

Yes, hiking requires a lot of physical effort, but the temporary discomfort is worth it. Walking on natural terrain is an amazing form of exercise. Most of the time, the wonderful views will distract you from the fact that you’re out of breath. The core will generally work to keep us balanced when ascending and descending as the arms work to create momentum, keeping us moving forward.

Our legs are the main factor and will be constantly working, pushing us up the inclines and controlling all bodyweight when declining. If hikes are taken regularly, the body will eventually become stronger and more toned. Of course, the cardiovascular system will benefit from the consistent movement when traversing over the shifting terrain, therefore pushing and strengthening the heart and lungs.

Walking on different inclines and surfaces at an average pace could burn up to 400 calories per hour. For many people, the main motivation behind hiking is to improve fitness and for weight loss. One can maintain an excellent physical condition by going on hikes frequently, although a good pair of hiking boots with ankle support is advised.

Mental Benefits

However, for some people, the mental advantages may outweigh the physical ones. Hiking provides the opportunity to relax and alleviate any stress or anxiety. It simply gives you more time to think. Even if you only spend a short amount of time with nature and fresh air, your mental health can benefit significantly.

It has been suggested that being outside lowers stress levels and anxiety. In the long run, hiking has the potential to lower the risk of depression, boost self-confidence and increase general happiness. There will always be something calming about being outside, observing the local wildlife, and taking in the amazing views that the world has to offer. Hiking is always a great solution once day-to-day life becomes a little too much.

You can forget about the phone calls that you need to make, the emails you might have to write, or any family issues that need to be resolved. Hiking allows you to take a break from society and the technology taking over today’s world. It can be difficult to put down the phone and stop staring at the screen, but believe me, time away from your devices can help you in so many ways. The best hikes involve just switching off from the stresses of every day life.

If you reside in the city or busy town, there can be many distractions, constantly keeping your mind occupied and busy. Long-term, this could cause unnecessary stress on the mind. Hiking on one of the many paths that guide you away from city life will allow you to escape all that stressful commotion.

It can do wonders for your emotional health. Nature is a more welcome distraction, taking your mind off whatever tension or anxiety you may be experiencing as a result of work, relationships, education, or family drama. Exploring creates a compelling thrill, making us itch to go outside again. Nature is a beautiful thing; it changes with time, keeping things fresh and interesting on even the most basic trails and ensuring that some hikes never get boring.

How to Start

The simplest thing to do if you are a beginner is to do a bit of online research. Find a couple of beginner-friendly hiking routes labelled nearby to figure out where to start. See below for some easy routes in Oxfordshire. You could even join some local Facebook groups where individuals share their experiences and offer advice to those that are just getting started.

As you become more advanced, you may need to invest in some essential hiking gear and equipment, like some sturdier hiking shoes, for example. Ask around, look for reviews and recommendations from fellow hikers, or head to a nearby store that offers outdoor gear and find what is ideal for you.

Some essentials include water bottles to stay hydrated, hats for sun protection, insect repellent, waterproof jacket for bad weather, and a first aid kit.

Simple Preparations

In terms of what to bring along, always be sure to pack plenty of snacks and water for the trip, as you don’t want to be left dehydrated with no energy left in the tank. Navigation is also key for all hikers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve walked a specific trail a hundred times, don’t risk getting lost.

In the event that the GPS on your phone starts acting up, ensure that you have a physical map and compass packed as a backup. Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before you hike. This way, you’ll be aware of what equipment you need to prepare before you set off. Pack a raincoat if showers are forecast, for example. When hiking, safety is key. Be certain that you have everything you need before beginning, and then you should be all set.

Wittenham Clumps
Wittenham Clumps

Hiking Around Oxfordshire

Whether you are a beginner or a bit of an expert, Oxfordshire has many lovely hiking paths that you can explore including the rolling hills and outstanding natural beauty of the Cotswolds and Chiltern Hills, to the wildlife-rich Oxfordshire countryside and the River Thames. So here are our picks for the best hiking spots to immerse yourself in the local flora and fauna, and you can read our dedicated article for the best walks in Oxfordshire.

Shotover Country Park, on the outskirts of Oxford, is one of the most well-known hiking spots in the area, and very popular with cyclists. It offers a range of routes that vary in difficulty. If you are a beginner, Shotover offers some slightly easier tracks that will allow you to simply get more comfortable with hiking.

There are certain trails in this 289-acre country park that have no visible paths and may take you through muddy woodland or grassland. Depending on the season, you may want to come equipped with some old boots, as things might get messy. Each route will typically take between 1-2 hours to complete; timings may vary depending on your level of ability.

There is a wonderful 15.6-kilometre point-to-point trail that travels along the Thames Path, from Oxford City Centre to Abingdon. If you’re up for a slightly longer route, you might decide to follow this trail, as it usually takes around 4 hours. However, this moderate riverside hike can become pretty muddy in the autumn, winter and spring months, so it’s probably a good idea to bring along some wellies.

Thames Path can also lead you to a slightly shorter, hour-long circular walk around Fiddler’s Elbow and along Kennington Meadows. This circular trail is 3.9 kilometres long, a relatively easy route with some brilliant views over the water and busy wildlife.

There are numerous routes that you could take around Oxford City Centre, allowing you to visit some of the city’s most treasured historic buildings and attractions. As these trails are around the city, you’ll have easy access to refreshments and clothing stores if the weather takes a nasty turn.

For an easy first walk, you can stroll though the grounds of the magnificent Blenheim Palace.

For those that like a view, on the Berkshire border near Didcot are the popular Wittenham Clumps, also known by some as the fantastically named Mother Dunch’s Buttocks (after a local lady of the manor). 200,000 visitors a year hike up the twin wooded chalk hills of Round Hill and Castle Hill (also known collectively as the Sinodun Hills). The clumps themselves are the beech trees on the summit, which are the oldest known planted hilltop beeches in England. The highlight though is the panoramic views of Oxfordshire, when on a clear day the 360 degrees of the Thames Valley are stunning.

Also near the Berkshire Downs is White Horse Hill in Uffington, which is an easy walk that can incorporate the Wayland’s Smithy ancient burial ground and Uffington Castle. The area is rich in archaeology and history, making it a great place for hikers who like to explore as well as spectacular views. White Horse Hill is a chalk hill figure of a horse and thought to be 3000 years old.

Hiking is something that many people should truly consider taking part in, and with so many walks in Oxfordshire why wait. Once you begin, you’ll find it hard to stop. Nature is inspiring and offers incredible solutions to your everyday stresses.