Thursday, 18 November 2010

The video: Glentrek all-girls hill walking navigation course

All-female navigation course: Fun and success

The best way to learn how to navigate the Scottish hills is to get out there and try. Our brilliant instructor ML Mike is a firm believer in learning as you go along and so his Glentrek navigation skills days include a walk to the summit of a hill or to a meaningful destination.

Just recently he led an all-female group on a successful Glentrek Basic Hill Walking Navigation Skills Day in Glenshee, Angus. Three of the women were self-confessed non-navigators, while one had "some vague idea that a map and compass were useful but I have never really got to grips with the art".

The group were all determined to become independent navigators (at some point in the future and perhaps after a few more lessons) and several said they were looking forward to the day when they could take themselves off to the hills "without a man in front"!

The women were not anti-men, they have simply reached the point where they would like to walk solo or as part of an all-female group and they had come to the conclusion that the only way to do this was to join a navigation session, and preferably a female-only class.

Many outdoor activity companies are reporting that female-only groups, from climbing, to walking, to navigation, to mountain biking, are becoming increasingly popular.

As one women in the Glentrek navigation course group said: "If there is a man in the group they tend to take over the navigation. Whether they are better at using a compass, or whether they think they are better, they still lead and then I just follow."

Indeed, ML Mike pointed out that women in all-female groups are more likely to ask questions and become involved in the navigation discussions than when part of a mixed group.

Certainly, the female-only atmosphere was uplifting. The navigation was achieved through friendly discussion, camaraderie and great laughs and chat.

At the start of the session, ML Mike gave a lesson in map orientation, basic compass use, how to identify aspects of the landscape and OS map detail, such as grid sizes and contours. If you're at all intrigued then why not book on to our next navigation course?

Then the women set off to summit a Munro. Stopping at frequent intervals, ML Mike revealed a range of important map skills techniques, such as route plotting, contour reading, grid references and navigating by compass and pacing from A to B. If anyone in the group was slower to get the hang of the skills then they were helped along by ML Mike.

So many times there were cries of "Oh, so that's how it works!" or "I just never knew that but now it makes perfect sense" and "Look, we made it to the right point. How brilliant!"

The day wasn't all learning and there were plenty of opportunities to take in the fantastic scenery, spot wildlife and stop for snack breaks and lunch. Reaching the summit of the Munro, Carn a Gheoidh, was really satisfying.

One of the participants said: "I feel so much more confident now. I wouldn't call myself an expert but I can see how we navigated the route and how we arrived at the summit. It's an up-lifting experience."

The final lesson was safe navigation back to the start of the walk. Despite snow flurries, mist and a darkening sky, the group successfully found their return route and still had enough time for tea, cakes and a good chat about the day at the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel.

To see some of the highlights of the day check out this fab blog video.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Scotland's landscape is worth a fortune

A new report has revealed just how important Scotland's amazing landscape and and abundant wildlife are to the economy. The study by Scottish Natural heritage (SNH) shows that "nature-based tourism" is worth £1.4 billion to Scotland. It also supports some 39,000 full-time jobs.

When you take a closer look at the report Scotland benefits by £900 million thanks to walking and landscape enjoyment. People visit Scotland for a wide range of walks, from gentle strolls to mountain challenges.

Of course, we already knew that many people come to Scotland - or stay for a holiday on home turf - to enjoy walking pursuits and holidays. But it's great to have this confirmed by an investigative report. Indeed, we're delighted to be part of this growth industry.

The SNH research also found that wildlife tourism, including bird watching, whale watching, guided walks and practical conservation holidays, brings in £127m and is the main reason for more than one million trips to Scotland each year.

Adventure activities, such as mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, are worth £178m.

Commenting on the study, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: “Scotland’s wonderful natural environment and fascinating wildlife have so much to offer and it’s exciting that there are visitors coming here to appreciate our world-class landscape.

“Tourists obviously enjoy what they see and there’s such a wide variety of activities on offer, whether it’s walking in the glens, spotting some of Scotland’s iconic species or getting involved in conservation.

"Nature based tourism generates significant benefits for the economy, including thousands of jobs. It’s vital that work on the conservation and enhancement of our natural environment continues to ensure we can deliver these benefits for generations to come.”

Ian Jardine, SNH chief executive, added: “We have always known that landscapes and wildlife are one of the main reasons why visitors come to Scotland. We also know that enjoying nature is one of the key activities they like to do when they get here.

"Now we know just how important that is to the economy of Scotland. With spending on nature activities worth nearly 40% of all tourism spending, nature-based tourism can generate significant benefits for the economy."

Great news indeed!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

What to wear for winter walking in Scotland

Just because it's colder, wetter, windier and darker it doesn't mean you should give up on walking in Scotland. As we've been blogging all year, walking is a great form of exercise and a fantastic mood booster so giving up shouldn't be an option. However, winter walking does come with more dangers than in the summer months so it's important that you're prepared for the weather conditions.

Lower-level walking in winter in Scotland

Rain, lighter winds, some ice and perhaps even snow will be the challenges facing the walker in the lower-level hills.

The minimum kit should include: Robust, waterproof walking boots, wick-away base layers, fleece, waterproof jacket, trousers, waterproof overtrousers, warm hat and gloves.

Pack in your rucksack: Extra base layers, an extra fleece, another pair of gloves, water, a flask of hot tea or coffee, food and energy bars or cereal bars, a compass and a map.

High level walking in winter in Scotland

Walking in Scotland's higher hills or mountains in winter is for the experienced only. Alternatively you could hire a guide. Weather conditions can rapidly change and it's vital that you know how to navigate in very low visibility. Expect ice, deep snow, high winds, white outs, heavy snow fall and rain.

Essential kit needs to be carried on your back so you should also be fit.

The minimum kit should include: Four seasons walking boots, wick-away base layers, fleeces, waterproof jacket, trousers, waterproof overtrousers, warm hat and warm gloves.

Pack in your rucksack: Extra base layers, an extra fleece, another pair of gloves, an extra hat, crampons, ice axe, a shelter in case of an accident, mobile phone, water, a flask of hot tea or coffee, food and energy bars or cereal bars, a compass and a map. A GPS gadget is a good idea too but you can't rely on this so a map and compass (and the ability to use them) are vital. A first aid kit would be a wise addition.

Always check the latest weather reports and avalanche warnings before setting out. If in doubt, it's best not to go, instead choosing a lower level alternative.