In this article, Cathy Southworth, Section Assistant (Hillwalking) at 25th Braid and Hillwalking Assessor, South East Region describes her journey to leading Scouts in the Scottish Mountains.

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir

It was one of those crisp January days in the Pentland Hills, my local haunt for running, cycling and walking. I chanced upon my friend, Scout leader at 25th Braids returning with a flushed face group of scouts from walking. We chatted about the wondrous effect of the outdoors and I blithely offered my help on future walks as an accompanying adult. Little did I know that 18 months later I would be qualified as a Summer Mountain leader and organising scout walks into the mountains myself!

“It’s a grand thing, to get leave to live” – Nan Shephard

Like Nan Shephard I’ve spent much of life feeling my most alive in the outdoors. I have designed most of my weekends, holidays even my work commute to take me outdoors, being active in nature. I am at my happiest creating and experiencing big mountain journeys, whether running, walking or cycling. I find it difficult to express what draws me to these experiences, but what I know is that something special happens. They leave me feeling more connected, spirited and inspired and when they are absent, I sense a loss.

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” – Sir Edmund Hilary

My early days as a Girl Guide and Venture Scout, tramping in The Lake District, Lancashire and Yorkshire fed my outdoor flame. I have fond memories of campfires, singing and adventures that gave me experience, confidence and friends. As I have grown older, I have felt a need to contribute to the growth of our young people in the outdoors. To help equip them with the skills and experiences they need for a life-long connection with wild places and outdoor activity.

25th Braid Scouts in the Pentland Hills (pre-lockdown)

 “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tzu

Here then lay my opportunity when my friend contacted me after our chance meeting, suggesting I should apply for a Terrain 1 (Summer) permit. Classed as an Adventurous Activity in scouting, a permit scheme exists to equip and assess adults for leading under 18 groups hillwalking. The beauty of these schemes is that there is flexibility to meet your needs and stage of development.  Through a discussion with one of the (friendly) Regional Assessors, you can plan a progression that works for you.

Above all, recent personal experience in mountain environments is key. For me this was the easy part, remembering all of my journeys and logging them was not! Once I started, though, I enjoyed reliving the memories and it built my confidence seeing just how far I’d come.

It seems strange to say (my friends think I’m mad) but I really enjoyed the Terrain 1 assessment that involved two days on the Ochil hills. In a small group, we covered all of the skills outlined in the syllabus. Much of the days’ focus was on navigation and once in your stride this proved to be a learning experience as well as an assessment.

I get a lot of pleasure from navigating well; finding my way when momentarily lost, locating a control on an orienteering course, planning a perfect route. I hear many people say ‘I can’t navigate’ or ‘I’m no good at navigating’ with a conviction that it is an innate trait. Like much that we learn, navigating on the hills is just a set of skills to hone and practice. Often its poor teaching that makes us feel it is our lack of ability and confidence plummets. Luckily, now there are some fantastic courses to boost our confidence the other way, for example, Glenmore Lodge, Mountaineering Scotland and within your Scouting training menu as well.

After being awarded my Terrain 1 permit it as with intrepid excitement that I started plans for some Terrain 1 outings that included the Pentlands (the highest peak being in terrain 1 territory) and Ben Venue. I knew immediately that I was going to go for the Summer Mountain leader award. This is the nationally recognised qualification for leading people in the mountains in summer conditions, which in scouting would provide me with a Terrain 2 (summer) permit.

Glenmore Lodge was where I undertook my one weeks training and then a year later, my weeklong assessment. It was a hugely rewarding experience and I am immensely grateful to scouting for part funding. With the end goal being qualified to lead and supervise young people in the higher and more remote mountains, there is no doubt that the process has developed me as a person and mountaineer. This coming not just from the skills I learnt, but the people I met and enriched me.

“The top of one mountain is always the bottom of another” – Marianne Williamson

For me this year was the opportunity to put all of this development into practice and lead some walks in some wild mountain areas. With the unexpected always expected in life, the year has instead afforded some time to reflect, sort out kit and look forward to a return to the hills.

My hope for writing this article is that it encourages some of you reading to make a personal (or an unsuspecting friend or family member) step towards leading scouts on the hills. That by sharing my experience it makes it seem not just a possibility but also a rewarding and life-enhancing journey to begin.

Useful links

Syllabus for Hillwalking Permits in Scouting:  Assessment Checklist for Hillwalking Leadership

National Awarding Body: Mountain Training

Representative organisation for mountaineering in Scotland: Mountaineering Scotland

Glenmore Lodge – National Outdoor Training Centre

If you would like to discover more about Cathy’s experience please contact her at