Scottish Saltire

Hillwalking in Scotland

 Scotland the Brave

Quick Guide to safe Hillwalking (draft version Nov 2005)

There's always going to be accidents on the hills, especially when hill walking in winter, whether in Scotland, the Lake or Peak District, or in Snowdonia in North Wales. But year after year parties of even experienced hillwalkers are involved in stupid incidents causing dangerous rescues, when a few simple precautions could drastically reduce the chance of getting lost, stranded or dying on the hills.

The following are my top ten basic hillwalking tips, and will be checked with mountain rescue when I see any next season:
  1. Before you go off hill walking tell someone your route and expected time of return, or fill in a route card at the hostel or B&B. Check the weather forecast and if advised not to go by the outdoor shop, tourist information, mountain rescue, B&B or locals - DON'T GO.
  2. Plan your hillwalk route before you go, pick out landmarks on the map, try to estimate the time it'll take. New hillwalkers often don't realise that when they - and their feet - are tired and aching it's far harder to walk down than to go up, one tired foot carefully after another. Novices should consider taking a qualified hillwalking guide, there's plenty in Scotland, Wales and the Peak District.
  3. Take a compass and map. Better, take two compasses in case you lose one or it breaks. Learn how to read a map, at least be able to take bearings and relate track directions and junctions to the map. Better still if you can read and understand map contours, and visualise the shape of hills to compare with what you see, but be aware visibility can reduce to zero in minutes - or even seconds.
  4. Clothing. It may be a glorious day but for every 1,000 feet you climb it drops 1.5 degrees C. Add a chill factor from the wind, drying sweat and you're tired from the walk, just bring warm clothing even if you don't wear it to start with. Don't wear trainers, get a good pair of hill-walking boots. Saves your ankles when you're on foot.
  5. Clothing. It may rain, or even sleet in summer, let alone snow in winter. Bring something waterproof, bring a change, at least socks! You lose heat from the head and hands, better bring a hat and gloves. In winter you will probably need ice-axe and crampons. Best advice is to seek advice from an outdoor shop.
  6. Water. Don't drink from stagnant pools, it's often not even safe to drink from running streams or burns. Bring your own bottle! Preferably not alcohol as that opens your pores and can cause hypothermia.
  7. Food. At least bring a few chunks of chocolate, or the famous Kendal mint cake.
  8. Don't go hill walking alone, even if you think the route is popular with hill walkers, and busy.
  9. Walk at your own speed. Take rests. It's not easy for faster walkers to walk slow, so it may be better to split the group into two, if it's large enough. Don't straggle off, and make sure you keep counting heads. It's astonishing how many hillwalking groups you hear of on the news who managed to lose someone.
  10. Don't be tempted to stray from the route. It makes it harder for rescuers to find you, and easier to get lost or stray into danger. There may be midges about so don't forget your Stop Bite midge repellent spray or your midge head net!

This is by no means a full hillwalking guide, what I know is that not following these 10 simple basic tips has directly and frequently caused mountain rescue to be called out, accidents and deaths, especially with school or youth trips. I once managed, walking on my own (I was hungover, late and the group had gone without me), to get lost and onto a steep scree slope on Ben Lui in Scotland. I couldn't go up, and I couldn't go down, and I couldn't stay where I was as it took all my tired strength (I hadn't bothered with rests on the long walk out) just to keep my footing and stop from slipping down. I saw a good resting place directly across the scree, aimed up 30 degrees and ran like a madman, and just made it to the resting place. And that was with map, compass, a well-read Poucher's, proper clothing and day pack. Hmmmm!

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