Hillier than Thou?

I think we’ve just about recovered from our 100th Munro, and the various celebrations that followed – but at the moment there’s no plans for more walking for a while, at least not on the hills. Time in that case for some more thoughts about the politics of walking. Is there a right or a wrong way of walking? Or is there just a right or a wrong way for you?

I’ve been hill walking for a few years now, since I took it up four years following my back surgery. At first, when you discover the fabulous rewards – such as the stunning views on a crisp winter’s day, or the colours of a long summer evening – it all just seems like so much fun. The odd bad day when you don’t enjoy it for whatever reason, or don’t get to the top of the hill, doesn’t really seem to matter. And then you discover the Hillier than Thou brigade.

Disclaimer – this is not aimed at any of my Facebook friends or fellow bloggers, or other friends from the hill walking community. You are all great 🙂

The Internet can be a brilliant resource for hill walkers. Hill walking websites offer many things. For instance great information on routes, including detailed descriptions and photos – these are great for wooses like me who want to know if there is any significant scrambling or exposure, tricky river crossings and the like. The opportunity to meet up with like minded people, go for a walk and share a few post walk drinks afterwards. The opportunity to find a walking club near you and meet more new friends. And of course the many hill walking blogs!


Unfortunately, the Internet also comes with a downside – like on Twitter, people can hide behind an alias to have a pop at you – and some do. In the hill walking community, this tends to be people who think for whatever reason that there is such a thing as a ‘proper’ hill walker and therefore, by definition, there are people (e.g. me) who are not ‘proper’ hill walkers for reasons such as:

a) Using a gondola or similar to access the hill higher up than the car park. (Example: Aonach Mor).
b) Not walking in poor weather.
c) Turning back on the hill for any reason except dire emergency.
d) Not liking scrambling or exposure.
e) Being overweight/ not as fit as one could be.

Do any of these make someone not a proper hill walker? No. Hill walking is supposed to be fun after all and surely how you enjoy the great outdoors is up to you? As far as the above points go, in my view:

a) Using the gondola is not ‘cheating’ any more than driving to the car park 600m up at Glenshee Ski Centre is, or getting the train to Corrour at 400m. In none of these situations are you using your legs from sea level. It’s a personal call – if you feel you don’t want to use the gondola then don’t.

b) Not walking in poor weather is also a personal call. Some people don’t mind it, others do. Nothing wrong with it if it’s your cup of tea – and I’ve done it myself, but I don’t enjoy it. Walking in pouring rain doesn’t make you somehow ‘better’ – just wetter.

c) See my blog post on when to turn back. Sometimes I’ve turned back and wished I hadn’t, but not often. And that’s far better than not turning back and wishing you had. And certainly far better than becoming a mountain rescue statistic.

d) Some people really enjoy scrambling and some hate it. I find it difficult because I’m not very flexible and also – having broken my back in a riding accident – I am very conscious of the possible consequences of a fall. I won’t do anything that I feel might land me with a high risk of another fall with worse consequences. I’m aware this might make me a woose, but it’s for a good reason.

e) Does it matter as long as you get up and down the hill safely and enjoy yourself? It’s not a race. (Unless you do hill running as some of my fit friends do. Nothing wrong with that but not on my radar).

dorain from dothaidh

As far as I know, nobody has written a set of rules as to how you hill walk. Why would you not be a ‘proper’ hill walker if you don’t like scrambling? Nobody is going to say doing the Munros at either end of the Aonach Eagach or Liathach doesn’t count if you do them separately (I certainly will be). If scrambling’s your bag great, but why judge other people if it isn’t theirs? A fellow blogger and Munro compleatist was on the receiving end of incredibly rude online comment from a B&B owner in the North-West of Scotland for admitting she was nervous on a scrambly hill route. What has he achieved, other than ensuring that anyone who read those comments is highly unlikely ever to stay at his establishment?

Do it how you want, in your own way. And have fun!


10 thoughts on “Hillier than Thou?

  1. Great post and title Tessa 🙂 Wish I could give you 2 likes for it.

    I think I’m probably cowardly due to the huge amount of broken bones I had in earlier years larking around and stuff as a kid/teen. It certainly imprints into your brain what can happen when it all goes wrong. Also, we’re supposed to be afraid of heights – it’s normal. Some people may be able to get past that and that’s great for them – but it doesn’t mean they’re better than more sensible types who avoid risk.

    I’ve had a lot of flak on forums too as you know but was very surprised when I got random flak on my blog for being nervy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh yes – and I forgot – I used the Gondola for both Aonach Mor and also its two Munro Tops. I didn’t feel guilty either but did expect some flak for it. It’s like driving up to the Gale Road carpark to do Skiddaw and Latrigg really and a lot of people do that. Or Pen-y-Pass to do Snowdon.


  3. Couldn’t agree more with this article, you do want you want to do. Agree completely with the not walking in bad weather, or tailoring your walk to suit the conditions. I did it myself on Saturday I’d planned on a tricky ascent of Bannerdale Crags in the north Lakes, heading up the steeper east ridge. Saturday was low cloud, drizzly, slippy etc etc. So I chose Souther Fell instead after setting out from Mungrisdale and having a look I continued to Mouthswaite Comb and up to Souther Fell. I didn’t feel silly for not doing the harder route but mountain rescue are volunteers and don’t need me being silly just to get a thrill. The mountains don’t go anywhere and there will be better weather days. As they say “reaching a summit is optional getting back down again is mandatory”

    Liked by 2 people

    • The East Ridge of Bannerdale is okay but steep and quite a bit crumbly. You can get further ‘inland’ away from the edge though so it’s generally okay. Probably best left for a nice day though… I came down it but going up is probably better.

      Too true about the mountain rescue being volunteers – I wish more people thought of that rather than seeing them as some kind of backup.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Interesting blog Tessa, I can see where you’re coming from. There’s a lot of bile on social media, even amongst the hillwalking community.

    Now I’ve got the Munro monkey off my shoulder, I’d rather not go out in bad weather. But equally some times you’ve got to bite the bullet and get out particularly if cabin fever is kicking in. Keeps your navigation sharp too.

    It’s nice to push your boundaries whether it be distance or exposure. But we all enjoy what we do and that’s the main thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed, that’s the main thing and I agree challenge is good sometimes – doing Striding Edge for me was given I don’t like exposure, and found it fine, though conditions were good.

      I know what you mean about cabin fever.. In our ‘off season’ from walking so expect to get it fairly soon!


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