Getting Your Bearings With Mountain Aid

We’ve all done it. We’ve all been momentarily lost in the hills, before the clouds part or before compass and map – or GPS nowadays – gets us back on track.

Failing these aids, however, if I was to get lost on the hills with anyone, it would be Andy Cloquet. Andy is a master of the art of navigation  and is regularly called upon by the charity Mountain Aid to put members and other interested parties through the basic course of navigation.

I joined Andy, a team from Stirling Triathlon Club and Mountain Aid’s Davy McLellann on the Ochils one sunny Saturday to see Andy put his theories into practice.

Andy adopts a “wwwhh” approach – WHERE am I, WHERE am I wanting to go, via WHICH direction, HOW far is the route and HOW long do I think it will take me.

I have the basics of navigation as do the five triathletes with me, so it’s Andy’s job not only to teach but to refresh.

“Anyone who has gone across open country in some sort of fashion tends to have at least the background of some navigation,” he says. “An Instructor’s job is to help them remove any memory cobwebs and perhaps simplify what they may have been taught before.

A Simple But Essential Tool

“Most navigation is about having easy-to-follow strategies which, if used sensibly, enable a person to know pretty accurately where they are at any time. Then, if weather obscures visibility or a location is missed, other strategies come into play.”

“The worst thing is a grubby finger roaming aimlessly on a map, with its owner trying to make the map fit what can been seen. The area of a fingertip can be, in effect, a vast area. My Index finger on a map would cover 800m.”

Andy instructed us to time 100 metre intervals and to enable us to work out the last “H” in Andy’s mnemonic. He also told us how to “read” the countryside and understand its vegetation and identify location of burns and other geological markings. He’d pin-point a place on the map and ask us to navigate to it, preferably without compass.

It looked so straightforward and, looking back, I believe it was, but knowing this simple form of navigation can save lives in the unforgiving Scottish mountains.

As charities go, Mountain Aid is a relative new kid on the block. When the charity Boots Across Scotland was disbanded in 2008, several committee members tried to persuade the Trustees to keep it going. This was rejected out of hand so they decided to form a new charity. Mountain Aid attained official charitable status in 2009. Their patron is Cameron McNeish.

100% of funds raised are used for mountain safety initiatives. For more information email

Charity Aims

  • to promote safety in the hills by offering training and educational opportunities
  • to support mountain rescue services
  • to find ways of helping anyone permanently injured in the Scottish hills.