Wanting to stride out into the countryside with like-minded people, this Guardian writer established Black Girls Hike in 2019 and has never looked back.
I became a walking group leader by chance. In 2019, I was on a train going through the Peak District, and I watched all these hikers getting on and off. I wanted to do something new for my well-being, so I set up a Black Girls Hike Instagram page a few days later. I didn’t want to go by myself and I wanted to feel safe and supported so I set up a group for black women.
It absolutely took off – for our first walk we had 14 people. A group is good for making connections. Manchester’s quite a transient city. People move here for work, or stay on after uni, and their friends are elsewhere. It’s a good way to make new friends. Everyone’s on the same page – you’re a group of strangers looking to meet people and do something you all enjoy. If it were a speed dating event, you’d have ticked loads of boxes already.
When I started BGH I couldn’t read a map or use a compass. I’ve been lost – I’ve got the group lost, too, out on Saddleworth Moor in low visibility and horizontal rain. But through adventures you learn so much about yourself. It changes your mindset. I used to have loads of reservations about going out into the countryside, but when you actually go there and realise it’s overwhelmingly positive and
friendly, then you start thinking about all the other barriers you’ve created in your mind to trying things. It opens doors.
You do get people with old-fashioned values and set ideas about what a traditional walker is and sometimes you just have to forget about bringing them into 2022. But a lot of people are just happy to see you in the countryside.
They enjoy it, so why would they not want you to enjoy it?
A lot of people are put off by the language of hiking and the outdoors – endurance, challenging, etc – it makes it sound like you’ve got to go up Everest, but it’s just walking. If you’re looking for some places to start, then coastal walks are pretty decent. You get great views and they’re all signposted and only go one way, so you can’t get lost. Or check out local reservoirs, they’re usually flat terrains and have benches to rest on. I really love the Peak District because it’s so accessible. There’s a train that goes from Manchester to Sheffield that stops at all the cute little villages along the way. There’s a range of hikes you can do.
Social media’s a really great place to find like-minded people. Look for applicable hashtags – for me, that’s things like diversifytheoutdoors. If you find a community, that takes the pressure off you. They’ll tell you when to turn up and what to do. Do get the right equipment, make sure you’ve got a decent waterproof coat, because English weather doesn’t love us, and some decent walking boots. Take loads of snacks and water. And enjoy it. Don’t overthink it.
If you want to lead a group, check the route beforehand. I also use mapping apps like OS Maps, Komoot and AllTrails. They tell you when you go off track. Though if you’re using apps, make sure you have a power bank and be mindful that you won’t always have signal. If you want to set up a more official group, look for help from voluntary sector organisations. With BGH, I did everything back to front. We’re only now going through our governance. If you just want to set up a meeting, just create a social media profile and engage with people. They say your tribe will attract your tribe: people will find you.
(Story source: The Guardian)