In this blog post I share my personal experience of completing the Hill and Moorland Leader qualification, an introduction to where it all began, and some of the practical aspects. At the end you'll find my top five tips.
Qualifying as a Hill and Moorland Leader feels like a significant turning point for me. When I was initially considering a career change back in 2015 and getting back into walking, joining the Mountain Training scheme seemed the most obvious option. But I saw so many barriers at that time, the biggest one being that I had only walked up a handful of mountains and I certainly didn't know how to navigate my way. I also wasn’t sure that it was the career change that I wanted to make, so I didn’t want to start investing money in it that I didn’t really have.
So, I decided to find out if it was a good direction to move towards by going on solo walks to new places and then inviting people to join me on meetups. These began down south from London, but then the hills of the North beckoned. Eventually I discovered the Peak District for the first time, and that is when everything started to change. It put everything that I thought I knew about myself, and all of my life choices, into question.
After a few years of unravelling things, paying off debts, finding a place that feels like home, and letting things settle for a while, here I am 7 years later! The journey to this point hasn’t been quick, but it has been grounded and feels connected with the landscape and people around me, as well as with my work as a coach. I wasn’t ever chasing this qualification, I was just searching for a more enjoyable life which brought me here - to this new beginning. Here I share some of my experiences and thoughts on completing the Hill and Moorland Leader qualification.
What was your main motivation for starting this training?
In 2021 there was growing interest in my work as a career coach, and particularly in walking sessions on Kinder Scout. While I felt safe and comfortable going running and walking up there on my own, I felt it was really important to train and qualify as a leader. I wanted to be able to give people the option of stepping off the main paths and to experience the moorland environment. I think that this can complement the coaching framework by encouraging people to have new experiences and to explore options that don’t always seem obvious or clear. In my experience, the unpredictable nature of Kinder Scout mirrors the nature of change and uncertainty in life, and I think it can work really well to experience this physically as a way of finding out how we can adapt and become more confident in our abilities and intuition. As a facilitator for this experience, I need to know how to confidently handle any challenges that the environment presents.
What are the benefits of gaining this qualification?
These are some of the main benefits personal to me:
I now feel appropriately prepared and qualified to lead walks under the Hill and Moorland remit, giving me more choice and freedom with my route choices.
Gaining access to a discounted insurance policy through the Mountain Training Association which is bespoke to my qualification.
More confidence to navigate in a variety of environments and conditions.
Expanding my knowledge about flora and fauna, history, and discussions about important issues that have an impact on the landscape. This is interesting for me, brings me a deeper sense of connection, and also enhances the experience for the people who book my coaching sessions and events.
I feel that I’m part of a supportive community through the BMC, Mountain Training Association, and through the connections that I have made along the way.
The focus of having something meaningful to work towards.
Feeling the motivation to explore new places and to enjoy new experiences in order to meet the requirements of the course.
I have expanded my freelance work options.
A memorable and enjoyable experience throughout the training, consolidation period, and the assessment.
Does having the qualification make you feel different? If so, how?
Yes I definitely feel more confident in my skills now that I’ve been assessed and purchasing insurance for the specific qualification helps me to feel more comfortable about leading. Having the qualification also opens up my options to working for other people and organisations.
What were you most nervous of before the assessment that ended up being nothing to worry about?
I was most nervous about doing a short talk related to the local environment, even though I had prepared and practised it beforehand. I’ve always had a fear of public speaking, even to very small audiences. I felt a tightness in my stomach on the second day when I was thinking about doing it, but when it came to it I really enjoyed it. I think that most people in the group were nervous about delivering their talks, but all of the other group members did an excellent job.
What did you find the most difficult?
I found concentration challenging during the training and assessment, as it was tempting to get caught up in great conversations with other people in the groups. I definitely had to keep reminding myself to focus and to pay attention, and I think others struggled with this too. I think that walking outdoors can often complement the flow of conversation between people, so it’s natural to want to discuss things and ask each other questions. I noticed during my training that I couldn’t fully focus on navigation if I was deep in conversation, so I had to let go of this during my assessment. I had to basically tell myself to zip it.
Any tips for getting experience of working with groups?
I think that a lot of qualified leaders are happy to be shadowed on their group walks and to have the extra support. I’ve heard that Mind Over Mountains have been particularly supportive of this.
Setting up my own group walks certainly helped too. This gave me great experience in planning, as well as leading. It was really positive to listen to feedback afterwards and to build up my confidence. I collaborated with other leaders and facilitators for some of these too, so that gave me a good insight into working with other people and their leadership skills.
Was there a defining moment when you knew you felt ready for assessment?
The feedback that I received from my mentor Clare Kelly and other qualified leaders really helped me towards judging the right time for me to book the assessment. There’s always ways to improve and develop, but they helped me to see that I had the foundations in place.
The navigation sessions with these leaders were definitely the most valuable part of my experience between training and assessment. They helped me to identify the areas that were a bit rusty or where I was lacking confidence, and they also helped me to get out of my comfort zone to get the most out of my skills.
Some of these practice sessions were offered to me, some were organised by my request, and some set up by my friend Suzanne.
Costs & required time of the training course and assessment
Please note that these costs are from 2021 and some of these have increased. The provider was Beyond The Edge in Grindleford, Peak District. You don’t have to pay for these all at once. You can get your BMC membership, Mountain Training registration, and book onto the training first. You can book the rest later, but the first aid course is essential before assessment.
I did the training in April 2021 and qualified in March 2022 so it took just under a year. I had originally planned to do the assessment after six months, but time flew by and I rescheduled my assessment booking in November 2021 due to illness.
General costs - annual
BMC membership - first year £20
Mountain Training Registration - £50
Mountain Training Association - £36 (not essential)
Hill and Moorland Leader Training course
£220 - 3 days (including night navigation on the second day, wildcamping not required)
Outdoor First Aid Course
£130 - 2 days
Hill and Moorland Leader Assessment
£240 - 3 days (including night navigation on the second day, wildcamping not required)
Other costs to consider include getting the appropriate kit and maps, including a group shelter and spare hats/gloves/torch/large jacket. Also transport, accommodation (if you need it), and buying a few books including the hillwalking guidebook (which I borrowed from a mountain leader). I took the train each day and relied on lifts from other group members during the navigation training and assessment.
My top 5 tips:
Spend some time exploring, learning, and joining group led walks to find out if doing this qualification is something that you’re going to enjoy.
Encourage yourself to get out of your comfort zone on your walks, even if you do that with someone else who is qualified or more experienced than you. I think that this is especially important for night navigation.
Get your map out and find random points to reach such as small pools of water, boundary lines, quirky looking contour lines, and sheepfolds. When you get there, treat yourself with a brew and enjoy the peaceful views.
Notice how you best learn new things - is it through experiences, learning by doing, reading books, watching videos, studying maps, going out solo or with a group? Then focus on that.
Get yourself a mentor who will guide you, challenge you, and who believes in you!
Big thank you to Andy @_highsandlows, Rebecca @bec_howard_, wildfoodandwalkingsticks, and gabrielle_outdoors for sending in your questions.
Clare Kelly - Her on a Hill
Thank you for reading my blog post. If you have any more questions to ask me then please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on social media. If you're interested in career change stories please sign up to my newsletter and check out my podcast About The Adventure.