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Why do you love hiking or love the outdoors?
And when did you develop this relationship / this need / this obsession?
I’m going to be contrary and answer the second question first! I’ve always loved the outdoors – the ‘countryside’ – for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to grow up on a small mixed farm and was expected to help with the work on the farm. We all had our jobs to do around the farm: feeding the hens and gathering the eggs; looking after our own pigs; helping bottle-feed orphaned lambs; and working all day long during hay-time. But when I was finished my jobs, I spent my early childhood exploring the fields around the village (with other children or alone). We’d build dens from any scrap wood we could find; we’d pack picnics and disappear off for the whole day, only returning for the evening meal; we’d go to our favourite swimming hole in the local river; and we cycled along quiet hedge-lined roads and through neighbouring villages to the beach. All the time we were ‘in touch’ with the natural world.
As a family we never went walking just for the sake of it, but mum would often take us on long walks along lanes to collect blackberries and rosehips to use for preserves. She taught us the names of the birds we saw and of the different wild flowers we passed and sometimes picked. We’d collect field mushrooms with my dad in our own fields. I remember gathering these in the early morning while bringing the cows in for the first morning milking and taking them home and mum adding them to the fried breakfast.
The family left the farm and moved to another small village in another part of the country, but I continued to explore the local countryside on foot or by bike. I’d sometimes go with a friend, but I’d often go off on my bike by myself, covering miles of single-track roads on my old 3-speed bike, with a picnic and map in the saddlebag.
My chance to experience hiking/hillwalking and organised outdoors activity came in my final year at secondary school when a friend invited me to go along with her on a week-long trip to a Christian Outdoor Centre. This centre was on Tanera Beag, the larger of the Summer Isles and I LOVED it there. I loved the island and I loved the activities we did. We learnt to kayak, canoe and sail in the sea around the island, and we came across to the mainland to rock climb and abseil and a day-long ascent of Stac Pollaidh. Oh my, I really struggled with the effort involved on the climb up Stac Pollaidh, but once we got to the ridge with the interesting wee scrambly bits, I was in my element. We returned to the Outdoor Centre the following year, but by this time they had left Tanera and were running the centre in Glencoe. We did more of the same activities, but this time we walked up the hidden valley and climbed Stob Coire nan Lochan. This climb was so tough I thought I was going to die and if it wasn’t for the fact that my friend had to stop to use her inhaler a few times, I think I would have passed out at some stage!
I returned from that week of activity totally bitten by the hillwalking bug and started planning short hill walking trips on my own. I attended a couple of weekend navigation courses at Glenmore Lodge, then felt more confident and looked to the bigger hills. I recall walking the Aonach Eagach ridge on my own in June 1977 on a day off work for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. A superb day it was too! 🙂
At about this time I got my first tent – a single skin nylon unbranded thing bought second-hand from a friend for a few pounds. This did me for a few trips (carried in a bright orange external-framed rucksack), when I travelled with a friend using public transport and a little walking, and a mixture of wild camping and campsite camping. This friend recently shared one of her photos of these trips and you lucky readers can see me when I was a mere slip of a lass age about 17!
When a group of work colleagues started a hillwalking club I joined and I’d go out fairly regularly tackling hills around the Highlands. Through that club I met one particular rather cute fellow hillwalking guy who became my favourite walking partner 😉 and he still is 30+ years later! But that is a different type of love story – and best kept for another post!
Back to my love of the outdoors. Why do I go hiking?
I enjoy the total sensory experience of being out in the elements. Curiosity makes me want to see what is around the next corner or up the next hill. It doesn’t matter how many times I do the same hike, every time it is different. I’ll hear birds, see animals tracks, spot a tree in bud, or seeds on a flower that I didn’t see before. I admit I like to name all these things and will pull out a field guide to help identify unknown organisms or photograph them to ID later, but I also appreciate them simply for their beauty too.
I hillwalk for the views. Views that sometimes take your breath away; such as eating lunch on the side of the mountain, looking at distant ranges of hills or islands up to 50 miles away as the crow flies. I’ve often sat there tucking into a simple lunch of chunks of bread and cheese, and thought “this dining room is better than any that can be experienced in any of the poshest restaurants around”. Views can often be literally awe-inspiring and breath-takingly spectacular.
I also enjoy the feeling of mental and physical well being that comes from walking. Maybe not the uphill struggle, but the huge sense of achievement once I reach the summit, or that night’s camping spot. The more remote the better; the stronger the feeling of ‘Yay, I got here, miles from anywhere, entirely under my own steam!’
I love outdoors adventures of all sorts, whether it be day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, white water rafting, kayaking, bird watching, cross-country skiing. Although I’ve mentioned often going out on my own, I also enjoy sharing the outdoors activities with others – family and friends. I loved sharing all of this with our children when they were young and they’ve all kept up one or other activity.
Why do I love hiking? For all of the above and more.
What about you?
I leave you with a few words from Norman McCaig’s poem, A Man in Assynt
Who owns this landscape?
has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. —
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or a loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.