Interview with a Summer Mountain Leader

Posted by Tina Gardner on 19/01/2014
Phil Watson ML

Phil Watson’s mountain experience began, as it does with so many, with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Forty years later (and after a good stint in the Royal Marines) Phil became a Mountain Leader and currently shares his passion for hill walking with others, from his home in the south west. Find out more about his journey through the mountains and why his favourite bit of kit is a brown paper bag.

How did you get into the outdoors? Has hill walking always been the activity that you enjoy the most?  I suppose I've always enjoyed the outdoors. Living in Australia for a few years as a teenager gave me the freedom to explore the bush that I would never have had in the UK. Returning to England we moved to Carlisle which is where I got to sample the pleasures of the Lake District. I was lucky enough to attend an Outward Bound course - a great experience for a teenager.

My return to the hill has been quite recent as I have been involved in sailing for many years, gaining a Yacht Master qualification. More recently I have enjoyed the freedom of sea kayaking. A few years ago I became involved with a team training youngsters to walk the Ten Tors Challenge on Dartmoor.  For the uninitiated, this is a 35, 45 or 55 mile, two day unsupported walk which takes place in early May. We start training the previous September, and introduce camping into the schedule in January! This awakened my thirst for the hill, and I subsequently attended a Mountain Leader training course with Adventure Unlimited, then spent a year gaining experience in Scotland, the Lakes and Snowdonia before attending and passing the assessment this year. A bonus is that my wife Lynn also enjoys being on the hill, she's a star!

You’ve got a military background, what was the best mountain adventure you had while working as a Marine?  I served for 33 years in the Royal Marines band service, joining as a young musician and rising through the ranks to retire as a Major. Three events highlight the hill walking I enjoyed while serving in the Royal Marines. Over 20 years ago I attended a unit expedition leaders course run by the army in Wales.  This was a fantastic week, following the Mountain Leader syllabus, but unfortunately not accredited in those days. Later, whilst commanding the Royal Marines band in Dartmouth, I took the band to northern Norway to undertake an arctic survival course, a great week of skiing in the mountains and building snow holes. Lastly, I was fortunate enough to find a 10 day slot when two colleagues and I walked the Coast to Coast path from St Bees Head to Robin Hoods Bay.

Why did you decide to do your Mountain Leader award?  I always liked the idea of holding the Mountain Leader award, and as we take our Ten Tors candidates to Snowdonia as part of the training, gaining the Mountain Leader award allows me to help facilitate this.

Did you enjoy the experience? Did you ever reconsider doing your Mountain Leader at any point?  Undertaking the award, through training and assessment has been a very rewarding experience.  I love to learn as much as possible about my hobbies, and the pleasure comes not only from learning technical skills, but also from meeting great people. I never thought about not doing it once I had embarked on the scheme.

What do you do with your award now?  I use my award to help promote our great outdoors, and to help introduce people (young and not so young) to the hill.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to something thinking about doing their Mountain Leader award?  I would give two pieces of advice: get as much experience as you can in a variety of locations, and get as fit as you can. I've recently started off-road running, and it certainly helped being fit during the assessment.

What keeps you going when the weather’s awful and there’s no visibility?  I'm afraid to say that I quite like those conditions!  I enjoy facing and dealing with the elements, although I must say that on a number of occasions the warm bath when I get home has been appealing.

Where’s your favourite place in the mountains?  I can't really choose a favourite place.  I love being high up in our traditional mountains looking back to where we've walked, but also love the bleakness of the Dartmoor north moors where the nearest road or house can be 3 hours walk away.

What’s your scariest moment in the mountains?  Looking back, I think it was on the Coast to Coast walk when my colleague was crossing a peat bog near the Seven Sisters on the Pennines when he sank up to his waist. In retrospect it could have been serious, but at the time the other two of us were rolling around in laughter!

What’s your favourite bit of kit?  I have a bit of a silly one here. One of my daughters bought me what looks like an old brown paper bag to put my snacks in, but it's actually a very strong, lightweight, waterproof and lightly insulated bag that is just fantastic for putting my lunch in. It's also very easy to find in my pack!

Find out 'everything you need to know' about the Summer Mountain Leader Award.

This article is part of a series of articles celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.



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Anonymous User
22/01/2014
Get your ML, Become an outdoor instructor, line the pockets of an assessor and be unemployed through the WHOLE winter and add to the growing supply of outdoor instructors whose number already massively outweighs the demand.
Anonymous User
23/01/2014
Hi, I have also done all 3 of my DofE & served in the Army for 7 years & undertaking the ML course in summer, any advice?
Sean
24/01/2014
Hi Sean, two suggestions to answer your question: try to get as much experience leading people on the hill, family and friends are a good start. Looking after others I think is the prime responsibility when out walking. This means that the hill skills such as navigation, camping skills and the host of other skills as described in the Mountain Leader Training Handbook should be well learnt and naturally performed. The second then is to do your homework and make sure you are comfortable with the syllabus. Best wishes for the course in summer.
Phil

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