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Walk On Scotland

Kaitlin Dryburgh- 5th July 2023

Sport should mean lots of different things to different people, a hobby, something to help keep you sane at the end of a long working day, perhaps something competitive, something you can cheer on in person or on the TV , but more often than not it’s something you enjoy and it keeps you healthy.

The magnificent thing about living in Scotland is you can take advantage of it’s natural resources. It’s sprawling emerald hills, high peaks and rugged coastlines allows for many to imagine sport in a way that doesn’t include a gym or a hall. Weather dependant of course, Scotland offers some of the most marvelled at walking trails in the world, and the popularity of hill walking, rambling and hiking is reaching new hights. With the likes of Ben Nevis officially being crowned the most popular walking route in the UK.

Looking at the numbers Scotland has been blessed with a total of 282 Munros, 1,600 miles of coastline, 1,900 miles of official well maintained paths, comprised of 29 routes to explore Scotland from the Boarders to the Highlands. Scotland is the most mountainous country in the UK and you only have to conduct a quick Google search and it’s clear from all the walking guides and hiking websites that Scotland should definitely be on your bucket list. With world-class rights when it comes to access to the Scottish countryside, the numbers of those taking advantage of it are booming.

There was big news in the world of hill-walking this month. Australian born, Scottish resident ultra-runner Jamie Aarons set a new record for bagging all the Munros, in a mind-boggling 31 days 10 hours and 27 minutes. To add that impressive feat Aarons ran, cycled and kayaked from Munro to Munro, beating the previous record by 13 hours, she also more than halved the record for the fastest women which formally sat at 76 days and 10 hours. To top it all off she raised over £14,000 for the World Bicycle Relief charity.

An amazing achievement, yet for the majority of those who enjoy rambling along the Scottish countryside climbing all the Munros in record time may be out of reach. That’s why walking around a local loch, forest or costal walk may be more accessible. The Parliament sits in the shadow of Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat, a nice nod to the fact that we are all in some way surrounded by hills and nature.

Covid and the restriction of travel made everyone adapt their approach to holidays and the long-term effects of this has carried on to this day. Staycations and exploring the areas around where you live still has a hold on the nation. The North Coast 500 wasn’t a term that most of us were used to but now it seems like a viable option for many to spend their holidays, especially in the face of rising flight costs. With all the space that Scotland has to offer, the rurality of a Scottish walking path can allow anyone to escape from some of the stresses of normal life.

Scotland’s stunning scenery and outdoors is legendary and happens to be the birthplace of one of the most renowned nature writers in the world, Nan Shepard. The Living Mountain is Shepard’s literary masterpiece, even though it was subsequently published over thirty years after it was written. Inspired by her time in the 30s and 40s solo hill-walking in the Cairngorms Shepard delicately and passionately illustrates the beauty of her environment, which has gone on to inspire many writers, poets and artists all over the world. Most recently her work has been the inspiration for Merryn Glover’s new book, in which she follows in Nan Shepard’s footsteps, although perhaps not barefoot in the heather as Shepard preferred it. Glover’s work has lead her to put on workshops in the Cairngorms for all individuals who work, live, or visit the area. The writing from the participants was shared within the park and on their website.

In modern times the accessibility and inclusivity of outdoor walking in Scotland is on the rise, social media and new innovations in walking apps have played a large part in this. From age to ethnicity there has been a big push from organisations and individuals to see more people get excited about taking to the great outdoors of Scotland. We need look no further than the new President of Ramblers Scotland, Zahrah Mahmood, who goes by the name “Hillwalking Hijabi” online.

Only a few years ago Zahrah states she had never exercised intentionally, never-mind found the idea of bouncing up a hill enjoyable. Yet when her friends dragged her up Ben Lomand for her birthday. Her outlook began to change, not instantly but it wasn’t long after that Zahrah started to spend her weekends exploring rural Scotland, until it was something that became a foundation of her life. It became a pastime essential for her mental health and spirituality. Although Zahrah’s story is an inspirational one in the sense that she’s managed to find something she loves and challenge herself to continuously improve upon it, she’s also had to consider her race and religion. Unfortunately, Zahrah can count on two hands the amount of ethnic minority people she’s met out hillwalking. It is not wholly unusual that Zahrah is the only brown person or hijabi and quite often she says this can lead to stares, questions and a feeling of representing not just herself but possibly her whole community.

With her fifteen thousand Instagram followers The “Hillwalking Hijabi” looks to encourage those who may not feel represented in walking to give it a go, as well as recently becoming a mother her Instagram shows the realities of taking a toddler up a Munro. In her new role as the president of Ramblers Scotland, this will be one of her main goals.

The Hillwalking Hijabi isn’t the only individual who’s trying to make the Scottish outdoors a much more equal place. The Glasgow-based Asian hill-walking group Boots and Beards is on a mission to get those from ethnic minorities up and about in the great outdoors. Established in 2015 by two cousins they’ve now expanded to more than hillwalking to promote physical and mental health among their ever-growing community, but still at the core of Boots and Beards is their weekly hillwalking events taking you all across Scotland.

Ethnicity is perhaps one barrier to people taking advantage of the great Scottish outdoors, but age, household income and inexperience can also play a big part. Unfortunately, it’s been found that people are three times more likely to hill-walk if you live in Scotland’s most affluent areas. Yet surprisingly a survey from Ramblers Scotland also determined that it’s the younger generation, under 35s, who feel less confident in planning a route, bringing the right equipment and having a partner to walk with. So to help with this dilemma Ramblers Scotland is helping young people aged 18-26 to get exploring by setting up their Out-Their Award, giving hundreds of Scottish young people the chance to feel confident in the out-doors.

This year with the expectations of the summer walking season to be more popular than ever before an extra boost has been provided by the Scottish Government in the form of £900,000. Resulting in a total 62 additional staff over the summer to help with visitor management, and safeguarding the natural environment that we get to enjoy. More rangers looking after some of the most popular destinations in Scotland has become quite a pressing issue. Being able to explore the most spectacular hills, woods, lochs and beaches in the world must come with some responsibility to look after our natural environment, and as the numbers increase for those visiting these areas unfortunately so does the risk to our natural biodiversity. However, this doesn’t have to mean the end of our explorations, but it does require further education so we can respect our breath-taking ecosystem.

So this summer if you’re inspired by Jamie Aarons to finally bag a Munro, or even start hill-walking for the very first time, remember you couldn’t be living in a better country to do it in. And you’ve got options, so maybe join a walking group, download an app, or get your map at the ready, look online, ask a friend, hire equipment if you don’t want to buy, pack a sandwich but always pack waterproofs, because you just never know!

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