How to make a molehill out of a mountain

Gill Tunstall navigates her way around the Welsh hills

According to Ruskin, there's no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. How he would have described an Indian summer followed immediately by storm-force gales and rain as thick as Dralon curtains is anybody's guess. But that's British weather for you. Fickle. One minute you're strolling along a mountain path like Heidi, the next you're in the eye of a storm, lost, with a map that rapidly turns to papier mache.

Yet it needn't be that way, as I discovered by joining an introductory mountaineering skills course at Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountaineering Centre at Capel Curig in north Wales. The five-day course covers almost everything you need to know to have a safe day out on the hills.

And that's what Jonathan, a tree surgeon from Essex, Annie, a globetrotting marketing executive, Paul, an electronics engineer, and Caroline, a pensions adviser, wanted to learn. All had walked with groups, but wanted the confidence to strike out on their own.

The first morning dealt, appropriately, with weather. As gales battered the building, we huddled round a Met Office map, with a swirl of tightly- packed isobars like a migraine before our eyes. Like Ruskin, our instructor, Carl Harbel, is a man who looks on the bright side. The weather may have looked bad, but it wouldn't put a dampener on the day. So, after juggling map and compass in the classroom, we headed into the great outdoors for the real thing.

"Navigation is absolutely the most vital thing for a good day out on the hills," said Carl. With that in mind we spent the afternoon splashing round open moorland nearby, navigating from stream bend to wall junction, footbridge to woodland, and learning to read the land from the map and vice versa. We never strayed high, it was too windy for that, but this was exactly the sort of terrain to get to grips with navigation.

"Sometimes when you're out on the hill and it's windy and raining it's easy to follow a boundary line on the map instead of a path," warned Carl. "The thing is that some of these boundaries end up running over the edge of cliffs, so you need to be sure before going on to the hill."

Gradually, we learnt the practical value of our lessons. We worked out how many paces we each took to walk 100 metres and could then measure distance as we strode out. The squiggles on the map became hill tops, slopes and cliffs, white spaces meant flat ground, and by taking a compass bearing we confirmed that we were going in the right direction.

Confidence began to grow, and by day two even the sky looked brighter. By lunchtime we had honed our navigation skills and were heading for the summit of Tryfan, an Alpine-style 3,000ft mountain that rises from the Ogwen Valley like a huge rock fortress. As we scrambled through heather on to boulder-strewn slopes to the top, the clouds rolled in and out, giving tantalising glimpses of the surrounding mountains.

We descended through a rocky gully, slithering down paths that had turned into streams in the unrelenting rain, gingerly lowering ourselves down rock "steps" that seemed impassable at first glance, all the time under Carl's watchful eye.

"It's funny," said Jonathan, as we reached the bottom. "You look down and think, `I can't get down that', but you do it and realise it's all right. Then you look up at where you've been and think, `I just came down there!'"

Plas Y Brenin runs mountaineering and navigation courses all year round. For a brochure call 01690 720214. The British Mountaineering Council (0161 445 4747) has a list of recognised centres and instructors providing similar courses throughout the country.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living