When you are with a large group of people, every day hazards can become more risky. Fortunately guided pilgrimages are relatively low-risk activities, but as they take place in a dynamic environment, some awareness and foresight will ensure all of your pilgrims conclude their journeys safely.
We provide a standard risk assessment for guides to use when they plan their route. This needs to be reviewed by walking the route in advance of the pilgrimage to ensure it is suitable (you can do this as part of your recce, no need to make a separate journey). It will usually cover everything required for your pilgrimage, but you can also add things if you need to.
The objective is not to limit the activities you plan to carry out, but to ensure we have adequate measures in place to reduce the risk of an incident, and to give you the confidence to make judgement calls around when to make changes or even cancel a pilgrimage. We don’t want to turn the day into a string of safety messages, nor spend too much time on obvious hazards, prefering to adopt a sensible approach. Ideally safety measures should simply feel like you are looking out for each other, rather than an ‘official’ precaution. Often you’ll find your route is so low risk you don’t really need to make any changes or provide any extra advice.
Being out in the natural environment usually brings with it lots of obvious hazards; tree roots, mud patches, worn steps, insect stings and much more. You’ll find most of the things highlighted in the risk assessment are already covered by the standard advice we give pilgrims, such as proper footwear, and appropriate weather protection.
Requiring simple actions
We’re mainly concerned with things that may not be reasonably expected or obvious to our pilgrims. For example, bare chalk paths can become exceptionally slippery in wet conditions. Stormy conditions the night before may have caused tree damage. Wobbly or deteriorated stiles might throw you off balance. These simply require you to point them out to pilgrims, and ensure the message is passed along to the whole group. Some things you may wish to lay out at the start of the day, others may need an on-the-spot alert to ensure everyone is aware.
You have the option to add any specific hazards for your pilgrimage route to the risk assessment, and you are always welcome to discuss safety matters with us if you’re not sure.
You are not legally required to be a qualified first aider to lead a group. If you are already first aid qualified, that’s a bonus! You are also not legally required to be a qualified first aider to supply people with basic items such as plasters etc. It’s good practice to carry a small kit for yourself anyway, and if someone needs minor assistance if you want to you can share supplies, you won’t get into trouble.
You can find some good, basic first aid advice here:
If someone has a near miss – i.e. if they have an accident which could have resulted in an injury but didn’t out of sheer chance – you will still need to report this using the accident report form. You won’t get in trouble; this just allows us to monitor safety and make improvements to our training, route planning and support for guides.
In the highly unlikely event that there is an incident, you will need to report it as soon as possible. If it is something serious, which would require a hospital visit or cancelling the pilgrimage, please call us so we can support you on the day (of course deal with the emergency services first!).
It’s a good idea to have the What3Words app to be able to pinpoint your location so help can find you quickly. If you can, take photos of anything relevant to the accident, and the names and contact details of any witnesses. Please familiarise yourself with the form so you know what information you’ll need to gather.
You’ll find a copy of the accident report form here
Some top tips
Crossing or walking along roads
We’ve all experienced the ‘herd mentality’ of walking with a group of people. Individuals who are usually perfectly sensible crossing the road by themselves can get caught up in conversation, not pay attention and move with the group without awareness of how much time they have to cross or the presence of oncoming vehicles.
At the start of the day:
- remind people they are responsible for their own safety when crossing or walking in the road.
- If your route involves any road walking, ask them to ensure when a vehicle approaches, that they all walk on and move to the same side of the road. Usually the right-hand side, except in cases of sharp corners for example.
- When walking along the road, ask the rearmost members of the group to call out to alert fellow pilgrims of any oncoming vehicles.
When approaching a road, wait for the group to gather together and remind them to take care of themselves, and only cross when they are comfortable. Make sure you wait on the other side so they do not feel pressure to cross for fear of losing the group.
Whilst we include foraging practices as part of our information, it’s really important that you only encourage the sampling of edible items if you are 100% certain you know what they are. This is not just about recognising the plants, but also being able to recognise similar but inedible species as well as safe places to collect from. We’ll provide you with information on plants that are very hard to mistake for harmful species, but you can always stick to plants which have stories, symbolism or healing associations without needing to be consumed.
Contact with natural water used to be an everyday part of life. We have lost that connection in the last century, so it is great to be able to include interaction with wild water sources as part of our pilgrimages. As well as the obvious risks associated with wild swimming or crossing rivers, you can pick up some nasty illnesses from water so it’s worth bearing these things in mind:
- if you are planning on including wild swimming, please discuss this with us as the measures we need to put in place may vary a lot on the specifics of your location.
- for general access to water, deep or fast flowing water should be avoided, be sensible about choosing a place where there is little risk of slipping and falling in, and ensure there is enough space for the size of your group.
- for tasting water, whether that is from natural springs, holy wells or other clean sources, you’ll need to check to see if the water is safe to drink. Where it is not known to be a safe source, we use specifically designed filter flasks (such as Grayl) which make any clear freshwater drinkable; this is the safest way to ensure your water is free from run-off chemicals, parasites and pathogens. Unfortunately these are rather expensive pieces of kit and at this stage we cannot afford to supply them to guides just yet (but we’re working on it!). If you have one, that’s great – if not, there are other ways you can interact with the water that do not involve injesting, and we’d recommend those instead.