Starting out in hill walking

Starting out in hill walking

Most walkers get involved in climbing up hills from time to time, whether it's en route to somewhere else, or the objective of their day to get to a viewpoint. This article looks at the literature available, lists of hills such as the Munros, Corbetts, Grahams and Marilyns, walking with a club, festivals of walking and safety issues.

Most people indulge in hill-walking from time to time. This might involve walking to the high point in an urban environment such as Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, or following a path to one of the popular, and more easily attained summits such as Ben A'an in The Trossachs.


A pleasant form of exercise with a purpose


These first tentative and exploratory steps are, for many, a stimulus to go in search of similar experiences. The reasons for going up hills can be varied - perhaps a desire to see more of the country, or a pleasant form of exercise with a purpose.

You're in charge

Only by personal experience will you be able to assess your own competence and ability. The trick is not to be too ambitious to begin with. Don't be afraid to turn back if you are unsure of your ability, or if threatened by bad weather. Above all make it a fun thing, and enjoy the satisfaction of exploring new places, and, if fortune favours the day, delight in 'getting to the top' to enjoy the view.

Learn as you go

Look about you for wildlife and get acquainted with your chosen hill's structure - learn by degrees what old hands used to think of as 'reading the mountain'. Often the lie of the underlying strata helps suggest why each hill has it own individual characteristic (just like you). This shape may determine the route of ascent and shows where the alternative routes may lie in case you need a safe retreat or as an alternative route to get back to your starting point.

Learn by degrees what old hands used to think of as 'reading the mountain'


Collect the set

If you get hooked on hill walking and want some added stimulus to the challenge of seeking fresh hills to conquer, there are many lists to choose from. The best known is the list of 3000ft Scottish peaks known as The Munros, after Sir Hugh T. Munro whose list was first published in 1891, though this can be more closely allied to mountaineering.

Other eponymous names are given to collections of hills of 2500ft-2999ft in Scotland (The Corbetts), and 2000ft peaks (The Grahams). In England the guidebooks by Wainwright have also given a cult status to many of the hills in the Lake District, where 'fell-walking' is the popular term used to signify the practice of ascending the hills of England's northern counties. There are also lists of the 2000ft peaks for England and Wales, and Ireland. And for those seeking every elevation with a minimum of 500ft/150ft of ascent there are The Marilyns, which can be found in almost any county so that wherever you live you can clamber up something on some list or other.

Hill-walking is an all embracing term to cover any ascent of any identifiable hill, or hills, which for most people tends to be anything over 600m (2000ft), but you needn't restrict your activities to a given list as there are many peaks of lesser height which are just as interesting.

Exercise caution

On ascent familiarise yourself with landmarks as this might be invaluable in descent or in retreat due to inclement weather

Going to the hills is an adventure and as such is not without risk. Always travel at a pace you are comfortable with. It is not a race and ideally your companion, or companions, should be of like ability and strength to yourself. On ascent familiarise yourself with landmarks as this might be invaluable in descent or in retreat due to inclement weather. Such observations can usefully prevent you getting lost.

Hill shepherds and stalkers use such a technique and become familiar with many a distinctive stone or ground area as parts of the tapestry of the hill on which they work. They may not use a map and compass, but for you they are a must.

Winter conditions do not necessarily occur only in the winter months and it is not uncommon to have snow on the high tops in any month of the year. True wintry conditions can be arctic and call for very specialised clothing, equipment, and techniques. Learn the rudiments of breaking a fall with an ice axe on a snow slope with an easy run out before tackling harder and steeper snow.

Winter conditions don't only exist in winter
winter conditions Club life

If you are a beginner it's well worth seeking out a local club to learn the ropes from those of greater experience. As well as introducing novices to the hills where this experience can be passed on in the appropriate outdoor environment, you can get help through the informal meeting of members at indoor lectures and social events which are a feature of the programmes of most clubs. The larger clubs, and especially those with members attached to the local rescue teams, often run training weekends, or provide special training courses such as map-reading and navigation for club members.

If affiliated to the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, or the British Mountaineering Council, there is often the opportunity to secure places on nationally run courses, often at preferential rates. These national bodies also produce their own magazines specialising in articles and information about the Scottish mountain scene, or that of England and Wales respectively. There are also many outdoor magazines that feature series of selected walks giving details of routes up a number of hills and mountains with a range of optional ascents to cater for all tastes.

Read Up

The number of walking books now runs into hundreds, with guidebooks to all the major listings of hills produced by a number of experienced walkers. These range from the small pocket-sized almanac to the larger, lavishly illustrated, coffee table offerings that cover the various mountain lists. For those hill walkers who take an interest in the many hill tracks and routes through the hills, the Scottish Rights of Way Society produces an excellent guide to the many pathways through the mountains. These are often used on approaches to the hills, and several can often be combined to produce a long distance walk and passage through the hills of a route of one's own choice. If you are seeking something 'off the shelf' there are several guides to official cross-country routes such as The West Highland Way. Scottish-based Harvey Maps also produces excellent guide maps to all the recognised 'Ways'. There is thus no shortage of information on what to do and advice on where to seek adventure.

Walking festivals

Walking festivals are held in various parts of the country, and include guided walk. These perambulations are often graded and frequently led by local people, or others well versed in the history and folklore of the area to add a further dimension to the walks on, often entertainingly related to make the walk that much more enjoyable. In Scotland, the Borders Region led the way and with their venues changed annually to ensure freshness to each year's programme. This idea is gaining in popularity and festivals are being tried in other locations so expect more in the future.

Search site