Guest Post: ‘Girls just wanna have fun’ by Fiona Russell

Girl Power! Fiona Outdoors

Fiona Russell, aka FionaOutdoors, is an outdoors journalist, professional blogger and web writer based in Scotland.

She works so that she can spend as much leisure time as possible outdoors, whether cycling, running, walking, swimming or kayaking.

Her favourite indoors hobby is writing her blog, www.FionaOutdoors.co.uk

She’s also a single mum to a 12-year -old daughter and partner of a keen cyclist and Munro bagger, aka the G-Force.

I asked her thoughts on women and the great outdoors. Here’s what she has written for my blog….

A few years ago – it could have been up to 10 – a female friend, J, was walking the Munro Schiehallion in Perthshire, Scotland, on her own. J is a fairly experienced hill walker and a dab hand with a map and compass, and anyway, Schiehallion mostly features a path to the top, so she didn’t feel she was doing anything too mad or dangerous. But during her ascent a chap (walking alone, J noted) stopped her and asked her urgently: “Do you think you’ll be okay walking alone?” Taken aback, J simply replied in the affirmative, rolled her eyes a little and carried on walking. In retrospect she wishes she’d replied: “Why? Are you suggesting that I might not be safe because of men like you?”

Perhaps that last comment is a little unfair because a decade ago it was fairly unusual to see solo women hiking Scotland’s mountains. In recent years, however, things have been changing: ‘Hey girls, don’t you want to have fun in the outdoors?’

I spend as many days as I can making the most of Scotland’s great outdoors. I walk, cycle, run, swim lochs, kayak and take part in any adventure activity that comes my way. I can’t see how my gender has anything to do with my outdoors adventures and I am up for a challenge or an expedition as much as any guy I know. In many cases, more so!

In the last couple of years, I have also taken to keeping a wee tally of the number of fellow female outdoorsy types. My surveys – which I confess are totally free of scientific parameters and instead simply based on my own eyesight and random outdoors trips – have revealed a fast-growing band of women getting out and enjoying themselves in the outdoors.

Cycling (both road and mountain biking) has seen the quickest growth – and something of a, aherm, revolution. (This is also backed up by more official reports and statistics.) It is now not uncommon to see solo women cycling or groups of girls cycling in chatty groups, particularly on canal tow paths and cycle ways.

Female runners regularly seem to outnumber men, especially when you look around city and town streets and even country roads. Off-road and hill runners are still predominantly men but the women are starting to give the guys a challenge these days. Witness the likes of the awesome Scottish mountain runner Angela Mudge and the amazing female runners of the annual West Highland Way race, Kate Jenkins and Sharon Law, all of whom trounce so many of the men in their chosen race fields.

It’s undeniable that women walking in the hills and mountains of Scotland are still in the small minority when compared to their male counterparts but the numbers that I see are definitely on the increase. In most cases, the women are accompanied by men or part of a group that majors in blokes. However, I have been seeing a few more women-only groups and on a fairly regular basis a lone woman walker will pop up over the brow of a hill.

Indeed, a recent solo walk of my own on Schiehallion (that same Munro as J walked some years ago), revealed three solo female walkers as well as a number of family groups and a couple of single men. Not once was I asked if I was “safe” on my own, although I did fall into step and talk with a couple of guys en route with the topic of conversation more weather and summit-related than safety.

With the G-Force while on a cycle trip to the Pyrenees

Another increasingly popular outdoors pursuit is female-only navigation courses: ‘Fun and learning in Scotlands great outdoors’ These aren’t women who hate their men but rather females who prefer to learn the fine art of finding their way on the hills without having a man take over. (Oh, guys, you might want to deny that this ever happens but you know full well that it always does!)

I have enjoyed a couple of these female-only navigation courses for reason that I explain in my blog.

I have often wondered why there have been traditionally more men enjoying the outdoors than women. It strikes me that it is more likely the women who will be at home looking after the kids, while the guys head off for some leisure time fun. In the modern world this is much less likely to be the case and women are calling for their time away from the kids, too. Whether they then to choose to spend their me-time in the outdoors, the gym, with friends or shopping is their decision.

There are also increasing numbers of single young women, and those who do not have families, and so for whom a week or weekend spent walking in the hills is easily do-able. This sector of the population does appear, from my own “surveys” and while chatting to others, to be the fastest growing when it comes to being keen walkers, and especially Munro baggers.

I am reminded that during a recent chat with, the film-maker and history programme presenter Paul Murton, who was interviewing me, the 21st Outdoors Girl, for his new TV series. He cheekily asked whether I would have survived in Victorian times. “Back then,” he said, “It was considered foolhardy – and often not even ‘allowed’ – for women to venture into the great outdoors, with or without men. This was the preserve of hardy guys, and not for faint-hearted women. I mean, can you imagine trying to go hiking or climbing in those shirts and petticoats?”

My answer was this: “Oh, I’d have simply picked up all those petticoats and pulled on a pair of waterproof trouser underneath. I think to have lived in such times, with such reins on women, would have made me even more determined to get out and enjoy Scotland’s fabulous outdoors playground.”

Indeed, even in those restricted days, there were a few women who broke the mould and I told Paul I would have been one of those women.

So many times I have felt thankful to be living in an era when women can do pretty much as they wish, and gender is no barrier to enjoying hill walking, cycling, running and all kinds of outdoors adventures. Through my FionaOutdoors blog I will go on (and on and on!) encouraging more people, and especially women, to get out into the great outdoors, whether it’s just for a quick stroll around a local loch or to complete a full round of Scotland’s lofty 282 Munros. I hope to see you all out there some day.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. swanscot says:

    >” I can’t see how my gender has anything to do with my outdoors adventures and I am up for a challenge or an expedition as much as any guy I know. In many cases, more so!”

    Hear, hear! I've often wondered why more women don't participate in outdoors activities. I've been hillwalking for 30 years – often as a solo female, often with my hubby (I was a keen walker before we met) and I know I am as capable as any guy. (Currently, just not as fit as some, but certainly fitter than many others). But it's not a competition and everyone should be able to take part at their own level.

    I can understand why some women prefer the women-only course, but equally, I was the only women in our group when I did the MLT course and I think most of the guys there did not see any gender difference.

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  2. terrybnd says:

    Well, from my point of view – admittedly I've noticed more and more ladies out on the hills in recent years and read more and more about them wanting to or participating in wild camping and so on.

    I for one, don't see women in the outdoors lesser or more on any level. Though I can very well understand why some women may feel differently. We're all human after all.

    Only a couple of weeks ago, I had my camera set up in a little visited spot in the Peaks and a solo female approached me for a friendly chat and minutes later off she went not before commenting on how she enjoys the peace, solitude and scenery.

    So, it's a 'Hear! Hear!' from me, too 🙂

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  3. My last visit to fleetwith a very fit female came up the side of fleetwith not out of breathe just out for her leasuirly stroll far fitter than me and was kind enough to ask if me and dave wanted our picture taken we did and after a bit of dinner she power walked off the mountain never to be seen again total respect shame she couldnt have carried me off lol

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  4. AD says:

    Wasn't it David Starkey who recently said….

    “The Women have become Men”?

    Or maybe I misheard? 😀

    Women have been out and about on the Moors and Hills for years,in my experience at least. It was a Woman who taught me map & compass back in the 80s when I was a Boy. Admittedly though, Women trekking or camping solo does seems fairly recent though. Usually it was always a husband & wife couple or groups. Nowadays I think we're ALL trying to get the hell away from the neurosis of modern Britain.

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  5. terrybnd says:

    @AD – Nice observation and I agree. Womens lib in the outdoors! 🙂

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  6. Yes, I agree it is nice to see more females going solo on the trails without fear. I have been a supporter of females for many years, and have always found it to be very sad that they don't feel safe most of the time. It is always a “touchy” subject to approach when you meet on the trail or in the woods somewhere.
    I want to let them know immediately that they have nothing to fear, but it is not always possible, in these cases I just give them thier space and let them go on believing whatever it is that they want to believe.
    In this way, hopefully they will remember the occasion and promote the activity to other females.

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  7. Claire says:

    I love going out alone and I know my own limitations as well as my abilities. The only thing I don't like is people coming up to me when I'm map checking and assuming that I'm lost!

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  8. I've just finished a solo walk along the whole Pennine Way and it never occurred to me for a moment that I was doing anything out of the ordinary. Many people did seem to be surprised that I was doing it alone – not a question that I heard them ask the solo guys that I met along the way. I met several solo ladies like me doing part or the whole of the walk and none of them had any kind of horror story to tell. Walking alone is incredibly liberating and I don't mean in a burn your bra kind of way. It's more about having complete responsibility for yourself and all of the hundreds of decisions you make every day from. A fantastic experience and highly recommended.

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