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Hiking and Walking in the British Isles (Britain and Ireland) for newcomers, both British and other nationalities.
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Although many areas in Britain are suitable for walking with a universal and extensive system of public footpaths (including long distance footpaths) and areas of open access land including much of the coastline there are three areas of mountains that stand out from the rest in interest to the hill walker. Other areas to look at include the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Peak District, Brecon Beacons, Exmoor and Dartmoor. For coastal walking consider the South West Peninsula and the Pembrokeshire coastal path. For an easy lowland walk the Thames path
The Lake District (Cumbria, England)lake district map
Characterised by easy to moderate ridge walking on usually well cairned (US ducks) paths. The most popular areas will be very busy in summer. The hills in the south of the area are rockier in nature particularly around Wasdale. Here you will find England's highest peak Scafell Pike, which with Helvellyn and Skiddaw, forms the three most popular summits. Striding Edge on Helvellyn attracts thousands of visitors each year to its narrow ridge scramble. All summits can be tackled as day walks and many circular walks can be devised. Accommodation is plentiful and roads penetrate into all areas.
Related pages:-
The Lake district in photos
Wainwright's Guides the long established authoritative books for lakeland walkers 
Somewhere special to eat out in the ELD: L'Enclume
Snowdonia(North Wales)
Welsh speaking (bilingual with English) Snowdonia has at its centre Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa). Although a steam driven cog railway runs to the top in summer there are many fine routes to its summit. The finest of all being the Snowdon Horseshoe, ascending the mountain along a knife edge ridge of some difficulty for the average walker. Other Snowdon routes are without special difficulty. Other popular ranges are the Glyders (especially Tryfan) to the East of Snowdon, and further still to the East the Carneddeau.. Other hills are quiet and relatively unfrequented. The hills of Snowdonia are generally rockier and rougher than the Lake District, slightly higher, and as a consequence a little more difficult in the ascent.
Related pages:-
Snowdonia photos
Guide books
Nantlle Ridge
Highlands (Northern Scotland)
Wilder landscape with sometimes long walk-ins to remoter mountains.Do not be deceived by low altitudes compared with mainland Europe. Less habitations than elsewhere. Wild camping often appropriate. Many hills are pathless and the excessive use of cairns (US ducks) to mark paths is discouraged. Be ready to navigate by map and compass alone on all but the more popular mountains. 
By far the largest area of mountains in Britain, the highlands can be very roughly divided into four areas. 
Mountainous right down to the deeply indented coast. Hill ranges divided by both fresh and salt water lochs. 
High plateaux, most notably the Cairngorm range. 
Wet low moorland with isolated, often impressive mountains. 
Isle of Skye, Hebrides and Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland)
The Black Cuillin on Skye are probably in a class of their own in the British mountains requiring moderate rock climbing skills in many places. Being further North, summer days are very long. Winter days are of course correspondingly short, night falling as early as 16.00. In July-August biting midges can be a problem in calm, warm conditions near water at low altitude. Skye also offers opportunities for easier walks such as the Trotternish ridge and the Scottish islands are in general fascinating to explore.
Related pages:-
Scottish highlands photos.
Scottish Islands photos
Guide books - Highlands 
Guide books - Islands
Aonach Eagach the easy way

Terminology to get right. (some obvious, some not - even to Brits!)
Scots and scotch. The Scots or Scottish people inhabit part of "(Great) Britain" and the "United Kingdom (UK)", in a union with England, Wales & Northern Ireland. 
"Scotch" refers only to whisky, beef, smoked salmon and mist.

Orkney and Shetland have "mainlands" and named islands, they are never referred to as "the Shetlands". That would be the same as saying "the Britains". You can say "the Shetland Isles" as you can say  "the British Isles".

England does not include Scotland or Wales.
The British Isles includes Ireland but "Britain" or the "UK" do not.

Northern Ireland is the east part of Ulster in the north of Ireland, its inclusion in the UK is a vexed matter in Ireland, although power sharing arrangements are currently in place and there is now (2004) no serious violence in Northern Ireland. If the subject comes up in an Irish pub my advice is to listen politely, or maybe ask questions, rather than voicing opinions which may not reflect the full facts (or the local perception of them) until the subject changes.

Keep to indicated footpaths through enclosed fields. Access to mountain ridges generally unrestricted in England and Wales. Sheep farming is usual economy in England and Wales but is replaced, in the Highlands, by deer and game birds kept for paying guests to hunt , along with forestry. This results in access restrictions during the hunting season. Some hills are however in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland and can be accessed at any time.

Red deer stalking 1st July- 20th October. (often starts later)
Red deer culling 21st October - 15th February.(often finishes earlier)
Grouse shooting 12th August - 10th December.
No stalking takes place on Sundays.
This does not mean that no access is allowed during these periods but that prior enquiry should be made before walking. 
"Heading for the Scottish Hills" Scottish Mountaineering Trust gives telephone numbers and full details. Essential reading. 

The bagpipes and the gentleman
A definition of a 'gentleman': A person who knows how to play the bagpipes, but abstains from practicing.
with thanks to Ronald 


Recorded information on stalking for walkers 1st August - 31st October
Grey Corries/Mamores 01855 831 511 
Glen Dochart/Glen Lochay 01567 820 886 
North Arran Hills 01770 302 363 
South Glen Sheil 01599 511 425
Drumochter 01528 522 200
Glen Shee 01250 885 288 
New for 1999:-
Callater and Clunie 013397 41997
Invercauld 013397 41911
Balmoral/Lochnagar 013397 55532
Glen Clova 01575 550335

The Irish hills do not follow the general pattern of Britain, where higher peaks are found as you go north. By contrast Ireland's highest hill is in the far south in Kerry, Carrauntuohill, part of MacGillycuddys Reeks, along with the second highest Brandon Mountain. 
All British weather is very changeable, the mountain areas more so (parts of Scandanavia and southern South America such as Iceland and Patagonia are the only places in the world where the weather can compete with the UK for unpredictability).The UK does not however suffer from any extreme weather. Walkers must always be equipped for rain (60 inches precipitation per annum or more) and wind. South and West winds bring mild maritime conditions with rain. North and east winds bring colder drier conditions. 
Snow is most likely between October and May, when ice axe and crampons may be needed, but cannot be relied on to be present at any time. Equally on the highest summits small amounts may fall in any month of the year. Eastern hills always hold more snow than Westerly, this being particularly noticeable in Scotland where coastal hills such as the Cuillin are unreliable for snow. Altitude obviously also plays its part, the higher hills holding more snow. Winter storms on the Cairngorm plateau are notorious for their ferocity, complicated by the topography and short days.
Related pages:-
Temperature Inversions.
Weather books
Ordnance Survey and other maps (Harveys) are easily available at booksellers and specialist shops and are of good quality.
Most walkers use 1:25000 ("2 inches to mile", yellow cover) in the Lake District and Snowdonia and 1:50000 ("1 inch to mile", red cover) in Scotland. 
Note that on the 1:25000 series legal "rights of way" are marked by green dashes, while actual paths on the ground are marked by small black dashes.
Harvey's are specialist walkers maps and substitute detail more useful to walkers for some general information.

Guide books
The High Mountains of Britain and Ireland Butterfield Diadem Vol 121x25cm 320p colour
If visiting from outside UK and Ireland this is probably the best guide for the Scottish hills and major other hills available internationally.
The 3000ft. mountains (including tops) of British Isles. Also available in pocket size version.The 3000ft. limit obviously excludes most of the English Lake District but Ireland is a bonus. Usefully describes the general characteristics of each area at beginning of each chapter. Often gives more than one route to the hills. Access information and many good photographs. If your only interest is the Munros, tops and 'furths' this could be your sole guide book.The "volume 1" in the title of recent copies relates to an abandoned plan to cover the lower hills in a second volume. 

More walking books

Visitors cannot rely on any other language but English being spoken, except where bilingual with Welsh in North Wales and Gaelic in Ireland and the remoter islands of Scotland. Expect marked difference in pronunciation from "BBC" or American English in all mountain areas.

The layer system.
British weather is vary variable and requires a flexible approach. Breathable thermal underwear, a fleece jacket and a wind and waterproof shell jacket and overtrousers suit most walkers. Insulated outer jackets are generally too warm for much of UK windy/wet weather. Wet ground is frequent so reasonably waterproof boots are required.

Natural hazards
Britain is generally free from dangerous wildlife but the following merit consideration (in a lifetime of walking none of these things have happened to me or anyone I know) :-
Our one poisonous snake, you will be lucky to see one and very unlucky to be bitten. If you are remain calm to stop poison rushing through your bloodstream and contact emergency services  by phoning 999.
Sheep Tick
In upland areas can become attached to walkers legs. If red tracking develops afterwards contact a doctor as there is a risk of contracting Lyme disease
Farm stock
Certain types of bull are allowed in fields with footpaths but only when with cows. Should cattle become over curious frighten them away by shouting and waving arms or better still waving a stick.
A minor hazard of lowland footpaths is the stinging nettle, not serious but the stings are uncomfotable. In summer consider having access to long trousers on lowland walks.
Wasps and Bees
Both can sting. The bee (essential to our ecology) will not bother you and stings only as a final defence and then dies. 
However, the wasp, particularly from August until October, makes a nuisance of itself by being attracted to sweet things like your picnic or pint of beer. The sting is not serious unless allergic, except in the case of accidentally swallowing one.


A footnote on food and drink for visitors
GBG The British pub is often the preferred place to eat and relax after a day in the hills. Nearly all now serve food but still usually close at 11.00pm except in Scotland. Food orders may stop much earlier (possibly 9.00pm). Pubs in mountain locations popular with walkers include:-
Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. 
Cluanie Inn between the South Cluanie ridge and Five Sisters. 
The Wasdale Head in Wasdale, Lake District.
The Woolpack in Eskdale, Lake District.
The Newfield Inn, Seathwaite, Lake District.
The Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale, Lake District. 
The Pen-y-Gwryd near Snowdon and the Tyn-y-Coed & Bryn Tyrch near Capel Curig in Snowdonia. 
The Climbers Inn, Glencar, Kerry.
All the above have accomodation and most have campsites nearby. Drink-driving limit in UK 80mgs (1999) which is an absolute maximum of two pints of normal strength beer for a man of about 6 feet in height and drunk over a period.
For more information on British 
beer refer to official CAMRA site.

Order British beer ( called "bitter", "ale" or "real ale", to distinguish it from "lager") from hand pumps on bar top by pint or half-pint glass which acts as measure, therefore glass is full to top (unless the pub is using "lined" glasses). British beer is served at cellar temperature (cool not cold, as suited to the climate and the type of beer) and should not be factory filtered or have added gas to make it fizzy or be served by gas pressure ("keg" beer). 
In Ireland the tradition is different and keg extra stout porter (now abbreviated to "stout")  is almost universal, "Guinness" being the most well known brand. Expect to wait five minutes while the drink settles before being topped up. Almost every pub in Ireland serves "the best pint of Guiness in Ireland", in truth this is a concept more in the mind of the drinker than reality.
More on pubs