‘Instead of time diminishing my enthusiasm, my eagerness to get out there continues to grow’
Start small – go for short, local walks, monitor your progress, increase the distance. Photograph: Frank Miller
When I sat down to write this article, I was scratching around trying to find a hook that would kick off the piece. What was it that enticed me to take up hillwalking?
While I was bitting the end of my pen waiting for some literary inspiration to land on my head, I looked out of the window and noticed a clear, blue sky. I didn’t need any persuading. I put the pen down, gathered my walking gear and headed out into the hills. Basically, that is it. However, there is a little more to my story.
I was first introduced to the “joys” of hillwalking by a very enthusiastic, older sibling. That was nearly 40 years ago and instead of time diminishing my enthusiasm, my eagerness to “get out there” continues to grow. I must admit that my introduction was harsh. My brother – the older sibling – had some mountaineering experience. He could read maps, use a compass and he knew how to pace himself in a changing environment.
Also, he was well-equipped with proper boots, raingear and provisions. On the other hand, I was clueless. Aside from a new pair of liberally “Dubbined” Hawkins boots – everything else was totally unsuitable. My waterproofs were industrial grade PVC, my clothes were too heavy and my backpack – which was de rigueur at the time – was designed by an idiot for idiots.
However, the killer punch was that I had entered the lion’s den. I stepped out with an experienced mountaineer – normally the best of advice – but the brother had a wry, sadistic sense of humour taking this greenhorn up lung-bursting climbs while not affording me enough time to recover and insisting on carrying on through the worst of conditions while ignoring my whining pleas to take the easy way out or to turn back.
It was like the story of life – there is no going back.
Oddly, I persevered. I became fitter and bought better equipment, I learned how to read maps and use a compass and began to revel in the challenges. Since then I have walked most of the mountains in Ireland. I have topped the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales and I have walked in the Pyrenees, the Picos de Europa, Austria, Madeira, the Sierra Nevada…the list goes on and I want to do more.
So, how can you do it? Start small – go for short, local walks, monitor your progress, increase the distance, reduce your time for covering the same distance. Carry a backpack – when you get comfortable with that, make it heavier.
Then do some forest trails, build up your stamina and in the meantime learn how to read maps and use a compass. Finally join a local walking club that will accommodate beginners.
When eventually you find yourself out on a mountainside with rain trickling down your neck and water sloshing around in your boots, don’t blame me because this article gave you the encouragement to get up and go – blame the brother.