What inspires you to get off the sofa and out into the great outdoors? Is it conquering your fears, going new places or feeling the sun on your face? Or is it the thrill of the chase? Or finding new and better places to stomp?
For Fiona Russell, a journalist and blogger who is better known as Fiona Outdoors, it’s all about planning, beauty, breathtaking views, freedom and completing challenges. She does this from her base that is wonderful Scotland, where she lives just north of Glasgow, with partner Gordie and her teenage daughter Havana.
It’s camping, hiking, biking and exploring paradise! And, of course, Fiona writes it so well that you could almost be there with her…
“Even before I set off from my home, I love the planning of an outdoor adventure. It’s the anticipation of seeing new places and reaching somewhere new that excites me.
I like poring over the maps, checking the weather, assessing the avalanche risk, discussing the routes and ideas with my partner or friends and working out how to make it just that bit more challenging, or rewarding or, in some cases, simpler and, in fact, possible.
Then, when I am immersed in the adventure, perhaps running a hill, hiking in the mountains, riding a remote road, mountain biking deep into a forest, paddling a kayak on the open sea, canoeing a meandering river or swimming in a loch, I am rarely disappointed.
Whatever the activity and regardless of the weather, the rewards are so wide-ranging, especially in Scotland.
To start with, there’s the amazing sense of freedom that comes from being surrounded only by a natural environment. I could be miles from another person or a settlement, or just 100 metres from the edge of a forest, but in Scotland I am so often touched by the sense of peace and beauty.
If the weather is good, I enjoy the frequently breath-taking views of Scotland’s fabulous landscape. It is impossible to choose just a few of these magical scenes, but among them are:
- The drama of Glencoe with its deep, winding valley and moody grey rocky mountains rising sharply to numerous precipitous peaks.
- A vast west coast sea loch, sparkling silver in mid-day sunshine and turning a tranquil shade of orangey-pink in a sunset.
- The bright white sands of the many beaches of western Harris, in the string of islands known as the Outer Hebrides.
- The high-rise dinosaur-jaggy-back ridge of the spectacular Cuillin on the Isle of Skye.
If the weather is poor, I like the challenge of finding my way, sometimes by map and compass alone, and relishing those occasional moments when the sun breaks through the clouds to reveal a vista so amazingly stunning that you simply have to stop to stare, mouth open.
Occasionally I have even popped up above the cloud level and found myself walking in a surreal landscape of indescribable beauty. On one recent occasion, I was on my own, walking on the upper slopes of the mountain, Carn Mor Dearg, near Fort William, and could not stop myself turning around and around taking in the 360-degree view of the pointy tops of dozens of dark mountain peaks spread out in a blanket of dense white fluffy clouds.
The neighbouring mountain, Ben Nevis (the UK’s tallest) loomed close by, with the upper flanks of the forebodingly steep north face cliffs sticking up above a halo of white. Because the narrow adjoining ridge was obscured below it looked as if the huge rocky summit was floating.
When immersed in my outdoors adventures I like being able to switch off from thoughts of normal life. I don’t need to think about anything other than my at-that-moment activity. This recharges my mind and relaxes me after a stressful week of work. The fresh air invigorates me and the feeling at the end of the adventure is one of immeasurable contentment.
I like the self-satisfaction of knowing that I achieved whatever I set out to do, or got as far as the terrain, weather or my fitness would allow on that occasion. I like that I always learn from the experience and that it inspires me to do more.
And then there’s the post-adventure chat over a meal and a glass of wine. Writing an article or blog, looking through photographs and re-living the outing gives a great meaning to my life.
When I fell in love with the great outdoors
As a child I was sporty. I took every opportunity to run or cycle and to learn to canoe and play tennis. In my teenage years, I discovered I had a talent for judo and I trained hard to become a national champion. In my early 20s, I ran and cycled to keep fit and joined the rowing club at university.
But it wasn’t until my early 30s that I really became an outdoors adventure junkie. Because I was physically fit I was able to join several new outdoorsy friends on long hill runs, mountain hikes, and multi-day cycling holidays.
Suddenly, I realised what was on my doorstep in Scotland and I wanted to see more. I wanted to explore remote places, photograph spectacular views and spot wildlife that I had only ever seen in books or on TV.
I also wanted to take on new challenges. I felt a need to go further, go higher and try different activities. And so I entered multi-sport races, I ran off-road events, I learned to sea kayak, I discovered backcountry skiing and I bought a mountain bike.
As a journalist, I started writing about other people’s adventures and endeavours in the outdoors and I also took ideas from these, storing them up and adapting them for my own planned adventures.
One of the outdoors hobbies that has become a favourite in more recent years is Munro bagging. In Scotland, there are 282 mountains with a summit of more than 3,000ft (914m). Munro baggers endeavour to walk to all 282 to compleat (correct spelling) a round.
The start of my Munro bagging bug
We started early, on a chilly but clear summer’s morning. From almost sea level the mountain ridge, known as the Five Sisters of Kintail, was impressively high and the narrow path, higher up, seemed impossibly steep.
At first, our small group of friends and friends-of-friends walked briskly together, talking a little too noisily and congratulating ourselves on the weather. Twenty minutes later, the pace had slowed, the chat had quietened and the group became a single file snaking upwards.
As the gradient steepened, we each found our own speed and pushed uphill as fast as our legs and lungs could manage. Every so often I stopped for a breather and took in the increasingly “on-high” scenery that spread out in front of me and far into the distance.
This area of the north-west Scottish Highlands features long ranges of lofty peaks, deep glens, rugged moorland and so many lochs that you quickly lose count. Directly across the valley, where I could see the main road fading to a pencil line far below, the ridge known as South Glen Shiel. Little did I know that this would one day become my favourite walks of all time.
But back to my first big Munro bagging challenge on the Five Sisters. Still walking solo, I continued hiking up the narrow zig-zagging path, lined on either side by a deep blanket of rough brown-purple heather.
Lost in thought about nothing in particular and trying to keep my breathing even I suddenly felt the brightening sunshine warming my face. It was a simple sensation but somehow it was immensely uplifting and gave me a small burst of energy.
A few minutes later I finally reached the first bealach (a deep dip between two mountain summits) and I could see the rollercoaster route of the day’s ridge walk, including the five summits, stretching out magnificently in front of me.
Of the five summits on the Five Sisters route, three are listed as Munros, and the path drew me on like an excited kid visiting a sweet shop for the first time. I wanted to see more of the promised views, tick off each of the summits, bask in the warm sun, swap stories with the other walkers, enjoy the somehow improved taste of simple sandwiches and bars of chocolate during a mountain top picnic – and find out more about Scotland’s great walking routes.
That was the day I became hooked on bagging the Munros. Despite being exhausted by the time I reached the end of the ridge walk – and having experienced the thigh bashing descent from more than 3,000ft back to sea level – I was completely thrilled by the total sense of personal satisfaction.
I also made a new friend on that Five Sisters hike and who, today, is my partner of six years. I am almost at the 200 Munros bagged mark and my desire to walk Scotland’s highest peaks continues to inspire me.
I have no idea if I will ever walk a full round but while I am still ticking off the Munros I continue to make great plans, to see new places, to photograph fabulous views, to glimpse amazing wildlife, including my favourites, red deer, pine marten, ptarmigan and birds of prey, and to discover ever more new outdoors activities to try.”
Feeling inspired? We are! What could be better than catching a glimpse of the UK’s most elusive wildlife or stretching the legs on the highest peaks? Fiona’s lovely words prove also that a walk in the hills can bring you more than just a great view. Thank you Fiona for sharing your love of Scotland with us.
If you have an interesting ‘What Inspired Me’ story then please get in touch with us here at Campsited. We want to know what gets you out of your sleeping bag in the morning!
Until next time,
The Campsited Team