In the British Isles, hillwalking or fellwalking is the recreational outdoor activity of walking on hills and mountains, often with the intention of visiting their summits. This can include activities which might be referred to as hiking, backpacking or mountaineering elsewhere, covering terrain which can include mountains, high moorland, remote passes and coastal walks.
Fellwalking is specifically used to refer to hill or mountain walks in the Lake District, Lancashire, especially the Forest of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales in Northern England as fell is the preferred term for both features in those parts of England.
Britain offers a wide variety of ascents, from gentle rolling lowland hills to some very exposed routes in the moorlands and mountains. The term climbing is used for the activity of tackling the more technically difficult ways of getting up hills involving rock climbing while hillwalking refers to the easier routes.
Some summits require climbing skills, and many hillwalkers will become proficient in scrambling. In Britain, the term mountaineering tends to be reserved for expeditions abroad to ranges such as the Alps, or for serious domestic hillwalking, typically in winter, with additional equipment such as ice axe and crampons, or for routes requiring rock climbing skills such as the traverse of the Cuillin ridge. The British Mountaineering Council provides more information on this topic.
In Britain, popular locations for hillwalking include the Lake District, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, Snowdonia, the Quantock Hills & Exmoor, the Brecon Beacons & Black Mountains, Dartmoor, Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Highlands, including the Cairngorms, the largest National Park. The mountains in Britain are modest in height, with Ben Nevis at 4409 feet (1344 metres) forming the highest peak, but the unpredictably wide range of weather conditions and often difficult terrain can make walking in many areas challenging.
Peak bagging provides a focus for the activities of many hillwalkers. Among the many lists compiled for this purpose, with the Munros – mountains in Scotland over 3,000 feet (914.4 m) – particularly popular, and Corbetts and Marilyns gaining in popularity.
The Ramblers Association, the British Mountaineering Council and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland promote the interests of hillwalkers in the UK and provide information for their members and others.
Microsites which champion the cause of hillwalking or fellwalking include The Online Fellwalking Club.
In England and Wales, access has in the past been confined to public rights of way, but currently wider areas have been opened up to public access by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. In Scotland the traditional presumption is of a right of access to the countryside - provided no damage is done to crops, livestock and hunting activities including deer stalking. These rights and obligations are now codified in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. In Ireland the issue of access has become increasingly contentious in recent years due to a reluctance to introduce effective legislation. Many landowners in the west of Ireland are openly hostile to walkers.
Navigation and map-reading skills are essential, as conditions of poor visibility can arise unexpectedly at any time due to the variability of British weather and the risk of rain, low cloud, fog or the onset of darkness. In some areas it is common for there to be no waymarked path to follow. It is unwise to venture out into the hills without navigation skills, an Ordnance Survey map or walk guidebook, and a compass. In most areas proper walking-boots are essential, and hillwalkers should always have good weatherproof clothing, including spare warm clothes and in mountainous areas a survival bag in case an accident forces a prolonged, and possibly overnight, halt. Food and water should also be carried, along with an emergency whistle, torch/flashlight (and spare batteries) and first aid kit. A fully charged mobile phone is useful (where reception permits) and walkers should let someone know their route and estimated time of return or arrival ("ETA").
Scrambling is a method of ascending rocky faces and ridges. It is an ambiguous term that lies somewhere between hillwalking and rock climbing. It is often distinguished from hillwalking by defining a scramble as a route where hands must be used in the ascent. There is less to distinguish it from climbing, with many easy climbs sometimes referred to as difficult scrambles. A distinction can be made in defining any ascent where hands are used to hold body weight, rather than just for balance, as a climb. While much of the enjoyment of scrambling depends on the freedom from technical apparatus, unroped scrambling in exposed situations is potentially one of the most dangerous of mountaineering activities. For this reason most guidebooks advise carrying a rope, especially on harder scrambles, which may be used for security on exposed sections, to assist less confident members of the party, or to facilitate retreat in case of difficulty. Above all, scramblers are advised to know their limits and to turn back before they get into difficulties.
Many of the world's mountaintops may be reached by walking or scrambling up their least-steep side. These routes are not always obvious, but mountaineering books generally mention them; they are often used as the safe and easy way to descend from a more difficult route. A more extreme version of scrambling is rock hopping which entails jumping from one rock to another, often without the protection of a rope.
Ridge routes are especially popular in Great Britain, including Crib Goch leading to Snowdon mountain top, the north ridge of Tryfan or the nearby Bristly Ridge on Glyder Fach, Striding Edge on Helvellyn and Sharp Edge on Blencathra in the Lake District as well as numerous routes in Scotland such as the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe. Many such routes include a "bad step" where the scrambling suddenly becomes much more serious. The bad step on Crib Goch for example, involves only 20 feet (6.1 m) or so of climbing, but the position is exposed and the faint-hearted might retreat at this point. The rock face here is well polished by countless boots, and might seem dangerous, but there are many "jugholds" which offer firm support. The way beyond to the ridge proper is then easy scrambling, and the ridge itself offers interesting diversions either onto a safer path below or via crags with a very high level of exposure. By contrast, the traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on Skye demands use of a rope at one point at least, and is not for the inexperienced scrambler. The ridge routes of Liathach and Beinn Eighe in Wester Ross are easier to traverse but are extremely exposed. Descent from such ridges is very limited, so once committed, the scrambler must continue to the end.
It is however, important to appreciate that many easy scrambles in good weather become serious climbs if the weather deteriorates. Black ice or verglas is a particular problem in cold weather, and mist or fog can disorientate scramblers very quickly. The problem of hypothermia occurs in rain as well as mist owing to the cooling effect of precipitation. Since good weather is the exception rather than the rule in the British mountains, scramblers normally go equipped with a cagoule or anorak and other protective clothing as well as emergency supplies of food and hot drinks. A high resolution map is also an essential accompaniment so that the route can be followed with accuracy, and escape envisioned via recognised paths in the case of bad weather or injury. Cell phones and even satellite phones are usually carried in case help is needed.
W A Poucher wrote several guide books of British hills and mountains which describe, in detail, the various routes up specific mountains; the precautions needed and other practical information useful to walkers. The guides cover Wales, Peak District, Scotland, Isle of Skye and the Lake District. Even more detailed guides were written by Alfred Wainwright but these are mainly restricted to the Lake District and environs. Both authors describe the major paths, their starting points and the peaks where they end, with important landmarks along each route. Neither are entirely comprehensive, so Poucher for example, has no routes at all in the Berwyns or Clwydian hills in North Wales, and he describes relatively few walks in South Wales.
Major guides to the many long-distance footpaths in Britain are provided by HMSO for the Countryside Commission, one of the first being that for the Pennine Way by Tom Stephenson. Many other volumes are available and in print, such as the South Downs Way and The Ridgeway. There are fifteen such National Trails in the United Kingdom, covering both mountainous and coastal regions, with many more established by local authorities in lowland regions.
- Backpacking is the United States equivalent, including ultralight backpacking
- Hiking and thru-hiking
- Hill lists in the British Isles
- List of mountains and hills of the United Kingdom
- Long-distance footpaths in the United Kingdom
- Long distance trail
- Mountains and hills of England
- Mountains and hills of Scotland
- National parks of England and Wales
- National Trails (Britain)
- Outdoor literature
- W A Poucher
- The Ramblers
- Rights of way in England and Wales
- Rights of way in Scotland
- Ten essentials (gear)
- Travel literature
- Walking tour
- Walking in the United Kingdom
- Alex Messenger (4 April 1999). "BMC - Safety & Skills". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
- "Mountaineering Ireland (Previously MCI)". Mountain Leader Training Northern Ireland. Mountaineering Ireland. 2009. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
- "Munros and Corbetts". Mountaineering Council of Scotland. Retrieved 2010-06-17.