Mountain Safety and Access to Mountains

Attribution: Jim Macdonald and David Ritchie (Baosbheinn from Bad na Scalaig)


In 2010, the mountain rescue teams (a voluntary service) that cover the Highlands took part in 254 callouts. The Scottish mountains are not high by international standards. However, their latitude, nature and vulnerability to varied weather systems should ensure that they command respect from those who wish to enjoy their many pleasures, especially in winter.

The list below gives an idea of good practice that should help give hill-goers a safe and enjoyable experience. A day out may mean 5 hours or more on the hills, so it is best to be well prepared.

  • Let someone know where you are going, your route and expected time of return.
  • Wear suitable clothing (including waterproofs) and footwear (boots) and carry spare clothing.
  • Carry map and compass and know how to use them.
  • Carry whistle, headtorch and survival bag.
  • Carry adequate food and liquid for what will be hard exercise, and spare food.
  • Carry a mobile phone – a signal can never be guaranteed but the phone could be a lifesaver if you can’t extricate yourself from any predicament. It should not, however, be used frivolously. An initial 999 call to the police will be passed on to the local mountain rescue team.
  • Winter hillwalking is a more serious enterprise requiring more gear, e.g. ice axe, and more experience.

Ross and Cromarty is covered by the Dundonnell, Torridon and Kintail mountain rescue teams.


The number of walkers and climbers going to the Scottish hills has increased hugely over the last 20 years. While access to the hills has always been relatively unhindered in Scotland compared to elsewhere in the UK, all walkers were encouraged to be considerate of the interests of landowners and farmers. In the mid-90s the work of The Access Forum, leading to the publication Scottish Hills and Mountains: A concordat on Access, removed any previous doubts on access, subject to the conditional word ‘responsibility’. Here is the opening paragraph of the Concordat.

‘There is a long-standing tradition of access to hill land in Scotland – cherished by those who use the hills and long accepted by landowners and managers where this freedom is exercised with responsibility. As more people go to the hills, there is a growing need to encourage sensitive management and recreational practice. The Concordat aims to ensure that people can enjoy access to the open hill in a way which shows a consideration of the interests of others’.

‘Responsibility’ means having due consideration for the day-to-day business of estates, especially during the stalking season, which normally runs from 20 August to 20 October. An alternative at these times is to go where stalking is not carried out, as on National Trust for Scotland property, or on Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) reserves. The vast majority of estates are welcoming and co-operative to walkers. During the stalking season a phone call to an estate can often ascertain which areas are not being stalked and therefore open for walkers.

Further co-operation between estates and walking organisations has resulted in the publication of a small booklet detailing the stalking timetable for individual estates and giving phone numbers for information on areas not being stalked. These booklets are widely available in outdoor shops.

As always, walkers are encouraged to ‘Follow the Country Code’ and do not leave gates open, damage fences or walls, light fires, leave litter, or alarm animals.

Further information

There are many books containing information on access and routes to Scotland’s hills and mountains. The Scottish Mountaineering Club’s two books, The Munros and The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills, are excellent and are updated regularly. The last 10 years have seen a growing number of websites with extensive coverage of routes, photos and ‘blogs’. Just enter Scottish mountains on a search engine.

David Ritchie
August 2010

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