There are many ways to sample the delights of hill walking while learning some sound skills at the same time. Despite some potential pitfalls it is quite gratifying to do it on a 'teach yourself' basis and learn from your experiences. The important thing to bear in mind if this is your preference is to make sure you temper your enthusiasm to match your level of experience. Being over-ambitious can get you into a whole heap of difficulties, ranging from becoming hopelessly lost (which everyone should experience at least once in their lives) to sustaining a serious injury that requires rescue.
Being over-ambitious can get you into a whole heap of difficulties, ranging from becoming hopelessly lost to sustaining a serious injury that requires rescue
There are a great number of folk who believe that it is dangerous to venture into the hills alone. These people are entitled to their opinion but it must be acknowledged that for some, travelling alone in wild places is one of the greatest pleasures in life. However, the way you gain the experience to keep yourself safe is crucial to your continued enjoyment of the hills.
Very often the best way to be introduced to a sport or activity is to be encouraged by friends to 'give it a go'. Hill walking is no exception and, if you are fortunate enough to know folk who go walking, it is a fine way to begin. Sometimes friends can be a little over-ambitious and might take you somewhere that you find a bit too challenging - but at least if you never go again you'll have something to remember!
Hill walking with friends © Sarah Stirling
One of the things that you rarely will get going out with friends is a structured form of training in the essential skills for your chosen pursuit. To achieve this you will need to join a course of training. During an introduction to hill walking course you should expect to be taught all manner of things, for example: the importance of pacing yourself, ways to save energy, how and what to pack in your day sack, emergency procedures and, of course, the all important skills of finding your way around the hills using a map and compass.
Map work on a clear day where you can see for miles is a very different kettle of fish to finding your way to a wild summit when all you can see is the ground a couple of feet in front of you. Courses should be structured to give you a refreshing mix of challenge, excitement and learning in a manner that encourages you to continue to participate.
There are many courses on offer throughout the UK and in other parts of the world. Always look for one that is run by a reputable provider who employs qualified personnel. There is a structure of training and assessment for folk who wish to lead and instruct others in the hills.
- The basic qualification is the Walking Group Leader's Certificate. This is a very basic level of competence to lead others in low hills and less wild places. It is not a qualification to teach skills.
- The next tier is the Mountain Walking Leader's Certificate. This is a higher qualification than the WGLC but still orientated towards leadership rather than instruction.
- The MIA (Mountaineering Instructor's Award) is the first qualification that allows folk to lead and instruct. The next qualification up is the MIC (Mountaineering Instructors Certificate) which the same as the MIA but with a winter endorsement.
- The top tier is the British Association of Mountain Guides (BAMG), a body that is a member of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations.
There are many courses on offer throughout the UK and in other parts of the world
There are people who offer courses run by unqualified personnel. In many cases these can be good value as the people who run them are usually highly experienced individuals - but you should exercise great care in choosing such a course as there can be no assurances of properly trained people who will work on theses courses. In many foreign lands it is illegal to offer such training unless you are properly qualified.
Some of the best value courses are provided by the National Mountaineering centres in Wales and in Scotland. Details of these and almost all other courses can be gleaned from the classified ads sections of the main hill walking magazines.