The club organises walking trips, mainly to the mountainous Scottish highlands. We go to destinations all around the Highlands, Islands, Southern Uplands and Northern England. Our trips are a superb way to get out into the truly wild and mountainous parts of Scotland, whilst making lots of friends along the way.
The club runs both day trips and weekend trips, roughly every two weeks during the semester. Weekend trips are accommodated in youth hostels and bunkhouses rather than camping. This is a privilege worth taking when you consider the academic year is mostly winter. Camping in January can be very cold!
We’re not always on the hill however. The social scene is fantastic. We hold regular pub nights on Tuesday evenings where we all meet up for a drink and chat. We also have frequent social events throughout the year, including Ceilidh dancing and a pub crawl.
Hillwalking is a great way to exercise. It is aerobic and develops strength and stamina as well as all-round fitness. Even if you consider yourself unfit you may be surprised how far you can walk in a day. And unlike some other forms of exercise, it has a purpose: you are going somewhere!
Walks with the club are organised by experienced members and you do not need any previous experience of walking to come on a trip. Many of our members climb their first hill with us! Experienced walkers, both from within Britain and overseas, will fit in easily and there are walks to stretch even the fittest and most confident mountaineer. Indeed, if you have already done quite a bit of walking (for example the Duke of Edinburgh award) then we encourage you to organise walks. This is really rewarding, helps you develop your leadership skills and enables you to choose the route! For those not so confident, you can “second” a walk – a great stepping-stone to becoming an organiser. You can also develop your skills through professionally run training courses in navigation, winter skills, and on the Summer Mountain Leader training and assessment programme for walk organisers.
The highest mountain in Scotland is Ben Nevis, with a summit of 4409ft (1344m). Most walks with the club will climb Munros; Scottish mountains with summits over 3000ft (914m). This is a significant amount of ascent and even the fittest will feel it! The weather is not always bad but is always changeable. You have to be prepared and equipped for strong winds, heavy rain, sleet and snow at any time of year. But don’t let that put you off, we frequently have very pleasant weather and the more you come out walking the better your chance of an amazing view!
The Scottish Landscape
Scotland is an incredibly beautiful country, with a diversity of landscapes far greater than its size ought to allow. Away from the urbanised Central Lowlands, most of the country is sparsely populated with the mountainous Highlands left remote and wild. The geology of Scotland is incredibly varied, leading to a landscape that changes dramatically throughout the country.
Scotland has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with many rare and charismatic animals – none of which will eat you, except for the dreaded midge which only appears in high summer. Keep an eye out for red deer, ptarmigan and golden eagles. The open landscape is, however, not natural. Neither are the conifer plantations that are found in many of the glens. Both are a product of the Highlands’ turbulent history, which you will see writ on the landscape in ruined shielings and abandoned townships.
Sightseeing tours run by other organisations will take you to Scotland’s castles and towns and a few roadside beauty spots. However the only way to truly appreciate the landscape is to walk through it, to climb its mountains and look out over a wilderness that stretches to the horizon and beyond.
The Weather in Scotland
Scotland’s weather has a notorious reputation, but in reality it is no worse than any other part of Britain. The climate is temperate maritime, which means summers are mild and winters are cool. Rain falls all year round (as snow in the winter) but not every day! The weather is controlled by low-pressure depressions and high-pressure anticyclones which form mostly over the Atlantic. The weather changes every few days and is fairly unpredictable. Weather forecasts are reasonably reliable for the next two or three days, but the weather can change dramatically within even a single day.
The hillwalker must always be prepared for rain, wind (up to 50mph is common on summits) and the associated wind chill. The tops of the mountains are often shrouded in cloud, which can reduce visibility to a few feet. In the winter, temperatures can remain a few degrees below freezing all day. If it is windy, the temperature on any exposed skin or non-windproof clothing will drop even further due to wind chill. Snow can blanket the summits well into spring, and patches can be found all year round. In the summer, temperatures can be anywhere between 5°C and 20°C. In an anticyclone (calm and sunny days) can hit temperatures of close to 30°C even on summits!
Trails and Paths
The Land Reform Act 2003 gives a public right of access to the Scottish mountains, based on a long tradition of free recreational use unlike most European and North American countries. There are few waymarked trails and those that do exist stick to the glens (valleys). There are no rights of way like you would find in England and Wales: there may be a path but equally there may not. On an average day in the hills you may have to negotiate boggy glens, heather moors, steep hillsides, boulder fields and rough paths. It is therefore essential that adequate footwear is worn. Navigation is difficult for those used to travelling on paths, and the inexperienced can and do get lost in the hills. If you are going out on your own, be sure that you know how to user a map and compass, and be confident that you can navigate blind using bearings and pacing when the mist descends to cover the hills. If not, make an effort to learn on walks with more experienced club members and on our training courses.
A Dangerous Sport?
Many accidents happen every year in the Scottish mountains, but thankfully very few have affected our club due to our high safety standards. Most accidents in Scotland are due to inadequate preparation, equipment and knowledge.
Blisters are very common and usually rather uncomfortable. They are caused by boots that do not fit, and especially when dirt and moisture enters an ill-fitting boot. They can be prevented by applying a plaster to a hot spot before a blister forms or partly treated by using one afterwards.
The most common injury is a sprained ankle. These are common when descending a hill, are excruciatingly painful and may prevent you walking off the hill. The best way to avoid sprains is to wear a good pair of walking boots with plenty of ankle support, and not walking downhill too quickly.
Potentially more serious are exposure and hypothermia. Hypothermia is when the body’s core temperature drops to a dangerously low level, and to preserve your core temperature the body starts to shut down blood supply to the limbs. If action is not taken immediately you will lose consciousness and the group will have an emergency on their hands. Hypothermia is easily avoided by staying warm and dry and eating and drinking enough. Gloves will protect your fingers from frostbite and it’s worth bringing a spare pair in case one gets wet or blows away!
In winter, a simple slip on snow can become a death slide in a matter of seconds. To avoid this, ice axe and crampons (spikes that attach to your boots) must be taken on any winter walk. You may be inexperienced in the use of ice axe and crampons but it is very difficult and often dangerous to walk on snow and ice without them. You may not need them at the start of a walk, but it is difficult to assess snow and ice conditions further up the mountain. Your walk organiser will teach you the basics of using them. If you want to learn more about walking in snow we run a winter skills course that will give you the knowledge you need to venture into the mountains safely in winter.