Lockdown Diaries: Getting fit for the hills

As part of our #RoamSweetHome campaign, Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace has been sharing outdoor experiences, tips and hopes for the future.

In her final Lockdown Diary, Arran-based Lucy helps ensure that we're ready for a cautious, phased return to walking, by sharing top tips on getting fit for the hills without going far from home. 

Using small local hills to regain fitness

Like most of the outdoor community, I was delighted to hear the Scottish Government’s announcement that - all being well - the tourism industry should prepare for a partial re-opening in the month ahead.

For me, this means that I will finally be able to get working in the mountains again. 

Yet I’m also experiencing some trepidation. 

Normally at this time of year, I’d be at my fittest, with several overnight expeditions already under my belt. I should be feeling like a coiled spring, ready for action.

The lockdown effect
Instead, thanks to lockdown and my normal outdoor work being put on hold for several months, I’ve lost fitness, and weirdly, old injuries have returned that I thought I’d kicked into touch. 

However, I have worked hard to keep active and having time to appreciate nature on foot has been incredibly beneficial for my mental health. 

Slowing down my routine and swapping the car for my bike has been very satisfying.  

I’ve enjoyed shrinking my carbon footprint, and it’s increased my connection with the other villages nearby, where I shop for delicious locally-produced milk and eggs. 

The Ramblers’ #RoamSweetHome hashtag has perfectly summed this feeling up for me. 

However, when it comes to physical fitness, strolling the woods and coastline around my village is no substitute for lugging an expedition sack around the mountains and I’ve noticed a marked decline in my strength and aerobic capacity.

Lamlash Bay from the hill behind Lucy's Arran home

Keeping moving
However, the slower pace of life has meant that for the first time in my life, I’ve paused for long enough to listen to my body, and I’ve learned just how important movement is for my health. 

Recognising that sitting still for too long has an immediate, negative effect has been a very powerful lesson for me. 

To keep myself moving, I’ve started a morning yoga habit. 

I also make sure that I get some time outside every day, even when the weather is bad or the midges are out.

Planning for adventures
Right now, I’m very excited and plotting how I’m going to get myself back there with a smooth transition to full fitness.  

I like a challenge and I’m always hungry for an adventure, but I know that I should be sensible and build up slowly. 

I’m combining walks with bike rides, and gently increasing the amount of time I spend on my yoga mat.   

On calm days when the wind drops, the sea has been inviting me to take a dip.  

I’m not much of a water-baby, but the feeling of cool seawater on my skin is sumptuous, and wakes me up for the day ahead.  

On recent walks, I’ve forsaken the coast for hillier rambles.  I’m lucky to have some wild moorland behind my house, and although my local hills are relatively small, they are steep and rough. 

I’m able to build up a good head of steam and get my heart rate thumping. 

Leaving the well-trodden paths and striking out for a heather-bash on familiar ground near my home is also giving me a chance to do some simple map and compass exercises. 

Swimming at Lamlash

Skills check
I’m an experienced navigator, but skill-fade is a reality for anyone after several months out of the game. 

Putting leather walking boots on for the first time in months has felt like a major milestone. 

I’ve even started carrying all sorts of extra items in my rucksack that I probably don’t need, to get used to the additional weight of a mountain leader’s rucksack.  

The easing of outdoor exercise restrictions means that I can be out for longer, and the best bit is, that I can now meet my friend Kirstie and her dogs, for socially-distanced hikes. 

To walk on the moors while chatting and laughing with a mate, is an absolute joy. How I have missed the sociable aspect of being outdoors! 

Building anticipation
My mind is constantly turning to bigger adventures, such as rocky mountains, bike tours and overnight camps.

I long to be back among peaks, seeing the expanse of the glens drop away beneath my feet.

I keep imagining that feeling of freedom, of undiscovered valleys and a night out under the stars. 

To fall asleep listening to the sound of water seems an impossible dream. It’s going to be very emotional when I get back out there. 

Staying realistic

I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm, with a little hard-nosed reason. The truth hurts.  

Even a shorter day will probably feel quite taxing to my unconditioned legs. 

Scrambling skills will be rusty, so I shouldn’t be attempting any long days or serious terrain straight away, especially if the weather forecast is bad. 

I’m mentally preparing for it to feel as difficult as it feels wonderful, to be back in the mountains. 

What’s more, it’s not just me that has changed during lockdown; the situation in the hills is also different, as Covid-19 forces us to change our behavior in order to protect ourselves.

Lucy and her husband Wally on a local bike ride

Extra care
With limitations on mountain rescue services, I’m aware that self-rescue is more than ever, the default option.  

This means that I will be even more cautious with route choice than usual, and ensure that I’m carrying plenty of gear to take care of myself, in case I’m forced to spend a night out. 

I’m also keen to avoid popular areas, even though initially, I’ll be building my fitness on mountains I know well. 

If necessary I’ll plan walks at unsociable hours to ease pressure on busy places, and I’m looking forward to some glorious early morning summits. 

One thing that lockdown has taught me, is that it is possible to find rewards in surprising places. 

By thinking outside the box, and exploring every nook and cranny, I’ve been on an unexpected journey, right from my doorstep.  

It will be tempting to head straight back to much loved places, to the old routine, but how thrilling instead to apply this sense of discovery to places that I have never been before!  

After treading the same paths for so many months, I am looking forward to getting off the beaten track. 

Lucy has joined her friend Kirstie on local rough ground

My top tips for preparing for the mountains:

  • Check out the latest guidelines at ramblers.org.uk/coronavirus
  • Build up endurance with longer walks in your local area. Cycling to the start of walks provides bonus effort. 
  • If you are lucky to have some small hills nearby, even if that’s a local park or pavement, seek them out for aerobic training.
  • Take a heavier rucksack than normal on your regular walks to build up strength and conditioning. 
  • Get those leather hiking boots on and wear them on local paths to wake your feet up. 
  • A stretching routine such as beginners yoga is excellent for improving flexibility. 
  • Brush up on your route planning skills. Now is a good time to practice them locally. See the Ramblers’ website 
  • If you have recently discovered the joy of walking during lockdown, and are looking forward to exploring further, head to our advice pages for info on safety, equipment, and navigation.

When the time comes and we are able to safely hit the hills, prepare well, check the weather, be considerate to others, and have a great day out!
All photos by Lucy Wallace.