Grades are awarded in ascending order of difficulty (like piano exams) so, in simple terms, grade 1 is easiest and grade 4 can be a challenge even for fit and experienced walkers. Grading allows participants to judge whether they will be able to complete the walks safely within the time available.
In addition to grades we will endeavour to describe walks on the web site and/or give stats such as overall length of walk and total vertical ascent although recent loss of the superb ViewRanger app has made this more difficult.
Our planning assumes there will be three or four stops on the outward leg of each walk to allow walkers to look around, regroup and catch their breath but it is essential that the group stays together unless otherwise agreed with the leader.
If you are in any doubt about your fitness levels or new to the group you are advised to start with a grade 1 or grade 2 walk; we shall always try to offer one of these.
Relatively short walks (up to 8Km/5 miles) on well-graded, maintained paths. Surfaces are largely firm underfoot and little ascent or descent is involved. Routes are generally signposted. No serious navigational difficulties.
Examples: Castlewellan Lake circuit, the Lagan Towpath, Peatlands Country Park
Routes still follow paths, but these might not be maintained or signposted. Some sections may cross rougher ground or open countryside. There is no sustained ascent or descent but routes can be fairly long. No serious navigational difficulties.
Examples: perimeter walk at Castlewellan, Rathlin Island, Tollymore Forest Park, Ballyhornan Coastal Path
Walks in this category may involve up to 500m of vertical ascent. Terrain can be rough underfoot and any paths are informal in character. Navigation skills are required but route finding is relatively straightforward in good conditions. Most easy to moderate hill walks fall into this category.
Examples: Meelbeg from Happy Valley, Pigeon Rock, Spelga, Slieve Gullion, the Antrim Hills, the Eastern Sperrins
Longer mountain excursions involving up to 850m of ascent. Ground can be rough underfoot and any paths are informal in character. Navigational skills are required throughout and may be necessary to avoid natural hazards such as cliffs.
Examples: Slieve Donard, Slieve Bearnagh and Silent Valley, Cuilcagh Mountain, the Binnians