To be a Ramblers walk leader, you don’t need to have completed any official training. Ramblers do provide some guidance, and as a group, we run walk leader training sessions every now and then. However, a few of you have asked me about the walk leader qualification I’ve been working towards over the last year, so I thought I’d write a blog post describing what it is and how it works.
Mountain Training & Qualification Types
Mountain Training is the awarding body for skills courses and qualifications in walking, climbing, and mountaineering across the UK and Ireland. This is linked to the Mountain Training Association, which is a membership organisation for climbing, walking and mountain leaders in the UK and Ireland.
Mountain Training administer 16 qualifications – see the infographic below with the various walking qualifications. You can choose to start with any of the first three qualifications: Lowland Leader, Hill & Moorland Leader or Mountain Leader.
I’m sure many people reading this will be interested in the higher qualifications of Mountain Leader or Hill and Moorland Leader. However, to gain the qualification you need at least 20 days experience leading walks in the area you want to qualify for. Almost all local walks in Berkshire would fall under experience for the Lowland Leader qualification.
What does the Lowland Leader qualification involve?
There are 6 steps to gaining the Lowland Leader qualification.
1. Sign up for the award on the Mountain Training website.
Simply create an account on the Mountain Training website and pay the award fee, which is currently £49.
2. Record at least 10 days quality experience leading walks in lowland terrain.
Once you have signed up to the award, there’s a section of the Mountain Training website called the “DLOG”. This is where you record your experience. The days have to be “Quality Lowland Days”, which really means that you have to have learned something from the experience.
It can be a bit of a faff to add the walks, unless you pay to join the Mountain Training Association (£39 per year), which gives you access to premium features, and you can then simply upload a .GPX file, and the whole process is much easier.
3. Attend a Lowland Leader training course.
Mountain Training has a course list which makes finding a course to attend very straightforward. However, most of the providers across the UK are focused in the most popular areas for walking, namely the Peak District, Lake District and Snowdonia. I had to wait nearly 6 months to find a course nearby, which was also public transport accessible. In the end, I attended a course with Wild Heather in Marlow, and I highly recommend her!
The course lasts 16 hours over two days and covers the basics of navigating and leading groups. Our course simply felt like two BW walks back-to-back: a relaxed hike with a bit of talking about walking at pubs and cafes along the way, and I found it very interesting to hear what our instructor and the other course participants had to say. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the syllabus covered much more than just navigation skills: we learnt lots about how to manage groups of walkers with different abilities and interests.
For reference, my course cost £150, but they range between £120-£200 depending on the provider.
A few snaps of our Lowland Leader course with Wild Heather (from Instagram).
4. Attend a 16-hour outdoor first aid course.
Finding a 16-hour first aid course was much harder than finding a lowland leader course. There are many different awarding bodies, and no comprehensive listing of providers or courses. The ITC First website had the biggest course list I could find, so I ended up attending two different courses (long story) which were ITC First accredited. I had very different experiences on the two courses I went to, but they both involved a lot of role-play and practical activities. These first aid courses cost around £130 upwards.
5. Record at least another 10 days quality experience leading walks in lowland terrain.
This is a chance for you to apply the knowledge you gained through the training course.
6. Finally, attend and pass a Lowland Leader assessment.
This assessment I attended had a very similar feel to the training course I attended, and again I recommend choosing Wild Heather to be your assessor! The difference, of course, was that we each were required to lead a 5km walk without any assistance. The assessment also lasted 16 hours spread over two days. The assessment I attended cost £155, but again, they range between £120 and £200.
A few snaps of our Lowland Leader assessment with Wild Heather (from Instagram).
Why become a Lowland Leader?
The candidates on my assessment and training course intended to use this qualification for a wide range of purposes. Several of them were completing the award to allow them to lead groups of students completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Some wanted to lead walks as part of their business, and others simply to bring people together.
Personally, I was curious to learn how our walk leading styles compared to the standards required for the award. When leading walks, I often worry about problems occurring, and how I would deal with these. I feel much happier with the knowledge that I’m doing all I can to avoid any such situations, and I now feel I’d be able to deal with it professionally if an incident should occur.
Would I recommend becoming a Lowland Leader?
I had an amazing experience completing the award, and I’ve met many like-minded people who share my love of walking. I feel like my confidence has grown substantially, as I have proof that I am capable of leading walks on my own, and I don’t need other people to be there to support me (though it’s always nice!). I wouldn’t say the award is necessary for being a Ramblers Walk Leader (it’s not cheap!), but I hope that the skills, experience, and confidence I have gained have made me a better leader. If you ever have the opportunity to do the lowland leader course or gain the lowland leader qualification, I’d encourage you to take it 😊.