The sequence of experiences along a trail route

Having established the qualities by survey and the types of trail required by visitors, the detailed route planning can commence. Much of this can be based on the survey/analysis map, but a more detailed survey will be needed on the ground, exploring the landscape and marking feasible routes ready for clearance or construction.

In most circumstances the route design should start from the car park/picnic area at a logical and inviting place. Some kind of threshold is a good idea, such as a dramatic stand of trees, a large rock or a bridge over a stream. Beyond that it is often helpful to design to enable the walker to set a pace and adjust to the type of landscape being entered before the first point of interest is encountered. Wild places may be unfamiliar, so an easy stretch will help to accustom the walker to this before anything too dramatic happens.

Narrow, dark or slightly stressful stretches can be introduced, which have the effect of raising expecta tions and increasing the sense of contrast between what has gone before and what is coming after. A slight degree of disorientation can give an impression of a small area seeming larger than it really is.

The appreciation of scenery can be heightened by gradual disclosure through slot or filtered views before being revealed as a panorama. Where points of interest occur, seats can invite the walker to rest and absorb the surroundings or the view.

If the trail leads through a forest, emerging from beneath the dark canopy into an open sunny area can provide relief and a pleasant surprise. Larger open areas can be skirted by the path’s keeping partly in and partly out of the forest edge.

Water is a great attraction to visitors, so trails leading to dramatic views of waterfalls, either to the top where the water disappears over the edge, or at the bottom with the noise, spray and churning currents, can provide memorable experiences. Water crossings can also be exciting, whether stepping-stones over a smaller stream, a narrow bridge over a chasm, or a more dramatic structure such as a suspension bridge with its swinging movement.

Lakes and ponds also attract access, at least to some part of the shore. Views across the reflective surface of a still lake, the lapping noises of gently waving water, the chance to paddle or cool one’s feet—all give a tremendous value, to say nothing of the wildlife that may be seen. When a small lake occupies a hollow there is also a sense of space and enclosure, which enhances its quality and often gives an aura of mystery.

Curious and unique geological features also arouse interest: caves or overhangs beneath cliffs; strangely eroded rock formations that suggest weird life forms or fossilized trees; narrow canyons or gorges; lava formations; narrow knife – edged ridges or perched glacial erratics.

Seashore areas provide natural access routes; people enjoy

following the edge of the sea, and along such stretches there is rarely a need to go inland. Sandy beaches are most attractive, but clifftops or the edges of shingle beaches are also valuable. The sight of the sea, the noise and the movement of the waves at different seasons and in varying weather conditions and the special quality of light at the ocean—all provide variety, which keeps people returning.

Sites of archaeological or historical value should also be included in the trail route if they are robust. Stone circles, burial mounds or earthworks can be found in what are now wild landscapes in many parts of Britain and Europe. Remains of old settlements—even recent industrial relics or wartime defences—can be interesting. Far from detracting from the wild impact they can serve to reinforce it, demonstrating how human endeavour can be reclaimed by time and nature. A poignant reminder can be given of the harshness of life and the vulnerability of earlier people trying to scrape out a living in harsh circumstances.

Opportunities to see wildlife should be identified where they congregate: for example, salmon runs, bears fishing, deer lying up, beavers and their lodges, ospreys nesting or butterflies basking in the sun. The trail might need careful alignment to minimize the noise, sight and scent of people, and hides can give a good view without disturbing the animals. Seeing wildlife can be a rare thrill for many people (see Chapter 11).

A trail should be designed to raise expectations continuously and fulfil those expectations in unexpected ways. The development of the route should pace this, with feature points along the trail interspersed with relatively simple sections, leaving the most dramatic climax until last, to be followed by a calming, more reflective wind-down back to the car park area.

Not every landscape will have all or even many of the features listed above.

A trail can be made more interesting by winding the route amongst different vegetation types, creating spaces in a forest or planting trees in an open area. It should also be designed to respond to landform by rising in hollows and descending in convexities so that it blends in and reduces any feelings of intrusion to a minimum. Features can be created, such as ponds or small lakes; benches can be placed; vegetation can be managed to create a butterfly habitat; or sculpture can be introduced.

Updated: October 4, 2015 — 2:06 pm