Walk and Talk with Lucy Wallace

Lucy Wallace is the first woman president of Ramblers Scotland. A qualified mountain leader and wildlife guide, Lucy is passionate about inspiring more people to enjoy adventures on foot – no matter how close to home.

By Natalie Hoare

Tell us a bit about yourself

My parents involved me in outdoor activities from the word go. I grew up in East Anglia but we used to go and stay in a remote cottage in Wales. My mum took me cycle touring; my dad took me hillwalking in Yorkshire. I didn’t always enjoy it – that came later – but it’s always been a part of who I am. I was a proper bird geek as a kid – my schoolmates thought I was a bit odd. I originally trained and worked as an archaeologist and when we moved up to Arran about 15 years ago, I worked for the RSPB on their hen harrier project and did my Mountain Leader assessment. Now, my work is fantastically varied. A big chunk involves working with schools on their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions [as an accredited assessor], which is really great fun and keeps me on my toes. I’m also involved with the delivery of the Mountain Leader Award, for mountain training in the Lake District, for a private company. Plus, at home on Arran, I have my own business guiding people in the hills or wildlife watching. Getting out walking and exploring is a big part of my life – and it keeps me sane.

How did it feel to be invited to be president of Ramblers Scotland?

It was a huge surprise – very out of the blue, actually. The phone rang when I was decorating the Christmas tree – I nearly dropped all the baubles. I had a few sleepless nights and needed to consider it really carefully, as it felt huge. But I realised that it would be a big opportunity to get involved with things that I really care about, and that I actually very much align with Ramblers’ values. Ben Dolphin, my predecessor, has done an absolutely smashing job. He’s a real hero of mine – big shoes to fill. I’m on a steep learning curve. 

What’s the welcome been like?

I managed to get out with Glasgow Young Walkers for my first Ramblers walk [just before the government restrictions]. They were brilliant and seem to be really proactive and a lot of fun – they’ve doubled their membership over the past year. It was great to meet people, discover what gets them out and learn a bit more about the social aspect of the Ramblers. A lot of the people I spoke to had joined the group because they had moved to Glasgow and didn’t know anyone, didn’t have anyone to walk with or didn’t have transport. The ability to connect with other people and get out into the countryside in an organised way is really valuable. I’d not considered that before. Now, I can’t wait to get out with more groups. I’m feeling a bit cooped up. 

How was it being led for a change? 

I deliberately chose a smaller bag, knowing I wouldn’t be leader. I turned up with a tiny rucksack bursting at the seams with emergency equipment that I really didn’t need. It was lovely not to be leading the walk, though. Scott [the walk leader] did a great job. Our original plan had been to head up Ben Vane, but because of the weather and snow on the ground, he changed the itinerary and we walked up Kirkland Glen, which was perfect. 

What’s the toughest aspect of leading walks?

That’s a hard question. Every walk is different. Every day is different. Sometimes the weather’s bad. Sometimes the clients are awkward. But I actually really enjoy all of that. The toughest bit is the back-office admin, but every business needs to attend to it. Leading walks is really good fun and it’s a huge privilege. I am blessed that I get to do it for a living. I’m sure that our volunteers wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t enjoyable and rewarding – even though it can sometimes be pretty challenging, too.

You’re keen to get more women involved in the outdoors, is that right?

More and more women are enjoying the outdoors, which is fantastic, but we’re still not necessarily seeing as many women in senior roles, perhaps as instructors or in leadership roles. I think it’s really important that we achieve some kind of balance, so that women can feel at home in the outdoors, because we belong here as much as anyone else. If in my role I can help to encourage more girls and women to get out and explore the great outdoors, then that’s great, because we can only benefit from it. 

How are you coping with staying local?

My life is normally very active and involves a lot of travelling. Life in the time of coronavirus is certainly challenging me. As a society, I think it’s really good that we have this chance to get out and go walking – even during the global pandemic. It really is a time to celebrate our home patches, to get to know them and discover their hidden depths. Walking the same routes every day has brought the finer details of my neighbourhood to my attention. One of the things I’ve noticed is that I am walking past the same pieces of litter over and over again. I’ve always made a point of picking up rubbish that I find in the mountains and wider countryside, but not really thought about it in my village before. Now, the village is my wild place, where I find comfort in nature, the litter is even more jarring and out of place. So I’ve started taking a bag and gloves with me when I head out on my walks. I’m learning to love my local patch, and giving it a helping hand by picking up litter on my regular walks. 

What do you hope to achieve as Ramblers Scotland’s president?

I’m really excited about some of the initiatives that Ramblers Scotland are working on – and absolutely love the Out There Award. I’m really keen to add my voice to ways that help and encourage people to access the outdoors. I know that a lot of Ramblers Scotland activities are having to be put on hold at the moment, but the Introductory Walks programme [of shorter, gentler walks] will help to make the outdoors more accessible to people who perhaps don’t feel that it’s there for them at the moment. In spite of everything that’s going on, I am really looking forward to the future. People are definitely starting to recognise and understand the benefits of outdoors walking. We’re in a very strong position to come through this coronavirus situation and look to the future. I think the future is bright. 

What’s your favourite

Country walk?

A stroll up Glen Rosa, at home on Arran. It’s a wonderful place.

Town walk?

Possibly cheating here, but Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is magnificent! 

View?

Cir Mhor from the summit of Caisteal Abhail, on Arran.

Kit?

My wee tent. It’s a DuoMid tarp shelter from Mountain Laurel Designs, and makes me smile every time I put it up.

Post-walk tipple?

A nice cup of tea. Not very rock ’n’ roll!

Read Lucy’s Lockdown Diaries: ramblers.org.uk/blogs