start from scratch
If you're a complete beginner, this course is for you. You don't need any prior experience and everyone else on the course will be at a similar level. You'll learn how to use map and compass to navigate independently in the hills. This course is about walking on established footpaths and simpler popular Munros. It's the perfect starting point for a long, safe & enjoyable hillwalking career.
What will I learn on this course?
- Learning the language of the map - symbols & scales
- Choosing a suitable objective and planning your route
- How to keep the map "the right way round"
- Simpler decisions - which way at junctions, uphill / downhill,
- Trickier decisions - cutting corners, heading away from paths
- How to get the most out of your compass
- How to handle cloud, mist, or darkness
- How to sort yourself out if you get lost
- Traditional navigation skills - pacing, timing, skills such as "aiming off" or "attack points"
- Modern navigation skills - GPS, internet guides, digital mapping
- General hill skills always get covered too - safety, equipment, environment.
Above all, everything I teach is aimed at you gaining confidence and independence so you can stop being a follower and find your own feet in the mountains.
What equipment do I need?
All your usual hillwalking clothing and equipment, including:
- good quality waterproof jacket and trousers - we stay out in all weathers
- plenty of fleece or synthetic layers - night navigation can get really cold
- sturdy hillwalking boots suitable for rough ground away from paths
- gaiters (not essential but a great idea for these courses since we spend little time on paths)
- hat & gloves
- spare pair of gloves
- spare insulating layer (down or synthetic jacket)
- small personal first aid kit including any personal medication
- small rucksack around 40 litre capacity
- 2 headtorches, or 1 torch with spare replaceable batteries. Examples of popular models for your main night navigation torch include the Petzl Myo, Petzl Reactik, LED Lenser MH10, Black Diamond Storm, Black Diamond Icon, Alpkit Quark & Alpkit Prism.
- Waterproof map case, ideally an "Ortlieb" case. This is the only brand of waterproof case which works really welll in call conditions. It'll last you a lifetime. I find the A5 size best.
- Compass, ideally a Silva "Expedition 4" compass. This specific compass is the only model currently available in the UK which has measuring scales ("romers") for 1:25000, 1:40000 (Harvey Maps / BMC Mountain Maps) and 1:50000.
- A digital watch with stopwatch function - the classic choice is a Casio F-91W which retails at just £9.99. You do not need a £500 GPS smartwatch to learn to navigate (no matter what the magazines say!)
- If bringing smartphone, it must be in a waterproof case or cover
How fit & experienced do I need to be?
In terms of hillwalking fitness, you need to be able to enjoy a full day out on the hill. We'll be on our feet most of the day, and in a typical day might cover something like 6km with 300 - 600m of vertical height gain. Most of this will be on footpaths and rough trails, with short sections off-path over heather and rocky terrain. The focus is not on covering distance or going quickly though - there's a lot of stopping, talking and thinking time. There may be time to fit in some night navigation element at the end of the day.
It goes without saying that no two courses are the same and my plans will constantly evolve in response to the needs and abillities of each group member. I know you're not going to learn much if you're constantly on the edge of physical exhaustion, so I'll balance that against the need to get into some proper mountain terrain in order to practice.
Where will the course take place?
You only need to get yourself to Inverness, which has easy transport links by air, rail and road (see my Travel page). We meet at Whin Bught Park, close to the city centre (see map at bottom of this page).
The city is surrounded by hills which are perfect for learning to navigate. The actual hills we visit change from course to course, but we never need to drive for more than 30 minutes. It would be rare for my courses to include an ascent of a major summit - that's for you to go and do in your own time afterwards! We often start off with some exercises in Bught Park itself. Learning in a city park environment is the perfect introduction to map symbols and keeping the map the right way round. After that we can progress into local forests and then on to the hills.
What are the timings for the course?
We'll meet at 0900 at Whin Park. You can either walk or drive there (there is plenty of free parking). We'll get to know each other and set up the course. We'll then head out to the nearby forests and hill surrounding Inverness. No two courses are the same so the exact venue will depend on the group, the weather, and mountain conditions. We will be back at Inverness Leisure in time for a cup of tea and a review, and the course will be finished by 1700.
If you're planning to stay in the Highlands after the course, I'll gladly spend some extra time at the end of the course helping you to plan the next stage of your adventure. We can look at the weather forecast and think about the hillwalks which will help you to build on what you've just learned.
How much does this course cost?
This course costs £65.
You need to arrange your own travel, accommodation and food for the whole course. I do provide tea and cakes for our review sessions but you'll need your own packed lunch.
You need to bring all your own clothing and kit - see separate question on equipment. I do provide all the maps, so no need to bring your own unless you want to.
A 10% discount is available for members of Mountaineering Scotland, Scottish Hill Running & the British Mountaineering Council.
I am able to part-fund a limited number of places each year for participants who are either unwaged or on low income. If you would like to attend one of my courses and feel that you fit one of these criteria, please email me directly before going through the booking process.