The founder of Black Girls Hike on creating a walking community for black women to explore the countryside – sometimes for the first time.
By Natalie Hoare
Rhiane at Dovestone Reservoir on Saddleworth Moor
How did you first get into hiking?
I live in Bolton, Greater Manchester and until recently worked for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). I’ve always been passionate about community and advocating for change. At the DWP, I was a trade union rep and, outside of work, an active volunteer with local grassroots organisations. I was also studying part-time hoping to enter the community development field. A few years ago, I was on a traffic island in the middle of a busy road, when one of two cars that were racing each other smashed right into the barrier inches from me. Shrapnel and broken glass showered all over me. A bus driver told me he thought I was going to be killed. The newspaper headline read ‘Pedestrian cheats death’. It was only when I saw the dashcam footage that I realised how close it was. Soon after, I started getting anxious about my time and how I was using it; was I being productive, how long was it going to take me to find my ‘lane’? I started to feel unfulfilled with my routine. I decided to take up hiking as something worthwhile to do with my time, but also as an outlet and break from the office.
What made you decide to set up Black Girls Hike (BGH)?
Like most sectors, the outdoors is very white and middle class, and there’s a lack of representation. BGH is about creating a safe space for black women who have lacked exposure or the opportunity to positively engage with the outdoors to reconnect and explore. It’s also about challenging the lack of inclusion in the outdoors and changing the narrative of who can enjoy it and how. People talk a lot about the race side of it, but it’s a class thing more than anything. It’s not just black people who are underrepresented in the outdoors, it’s working class white people as well. It’s about access to resources and access to outdoor education. Things like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or residentials depend on where you grow up and what your resources are.
BGH in Tintern, near Chepstow, Monmouthshire
Tell us about the first BGH walk
Our first walk was near Manchester on a rainy Sunday in March 2019. I didn’t plan or check the route before and I’d never been a leader. I just went on the Manchester Evening News website,
looked up five walks in Greater Manchester and picked one. After posting the walk details on Instagram, I genuinely didn’t know how many people were going to turn up. I was late and a bit flustered. But I just couldn’t believe there were 14 people waiting when I got there. It went really well, and then it all just started picking up momentum very quickly. We were getting messages from people all over the country. Then people started travelling to our Peak District walks from the Midlands and London.
How has it grown since then?
So we’ve got 6,000 people in our Facebook group, 13,000 followers on Instagram and most walks have about 20-30 people. We’ve also got people in the Facebook group planning their own walks – they’re out every weekend all over the UK. I would say that every weekend we’ve got more than 100 people out walking across the country. It is really nice to see people bringing something to the community, and it’s very free-flowing. Everybody’s input is welcome and it’s a great way to see the country. It’s a great way to see the UK as well, when most people tend to go abroad. We have women who drive all over the country to attend our hikes, visiting most places for the first time. It makes me feel really proud. But I know we will have to start thinking about being more structured in our approach.
How has it changed your life?
So, at the beginning of last year, I reduced my hours working at the DWP, so that I could focus on BGH. The group started getting more and more media attention, and everything gathered momentum. I even went on Clare Balding’s Ramblings on BBC Radio 4. But I think the pandemic actually helped the group’s development – it put walking on a lot of people’s radars because it was the only thing that people could do. It also gave me the time that I needed to put the work in on developing BGH, without having to actually be out and actively organising walks. So I quit my job in October 2020 and registered us a non-profit organisation in December. I felt so liberated. It really was a big moment because for years I felt as if I wasn’t following the right path; I was stalling and not quite getting where I wanted to be. I always knew that I wanted to work in community development and do something for the black community. Now I get to do that full-time and I love it! Nothing really feels like work.
Taking on the 10in10 challenge – 10 peaks in 10 hours – in the Lake District
What do you hope to achieve next?
At the moment, we have 20 leaders and are working with Mountain Training to run skills courses. We want to diversify all aspects of the outdoors. Instructing and outdoor leadership are other areas where there’s a total lack of diversity. I think I’ve come across maybe three black outdoor instructors in the past two years. We’re going to be supporting our leaders and members to develop and gain qualifications in outdoor activities. We currently have Lowland Leader and Outdoors First Aid training weekends coming up for our new leaders, as well as introductory navigation, paddle sports, climbing and mountain-biking sessions for our members – so not just walking. We’re also considering working more closely with the Ramblers – we loved your guidance during Covid. Essentially, the idea behind BGH is to promote visibility because representation matters. It’s important for people to see other people like them.
Read more about Black Girls Hike
bghuk.com (opens in a new window)
What’s your favourite
I don’t really have one yet. I rarely do the same walk twice.
The 22½km/14-mile Kingfisher Trail from Jumbles Reservoir in Bolton to Philips Park in Prestwich, which takes you through the industrial heritage of Bolton and Salford. I discovered it during lockdown as it’s right behind my house.
Hope Cement Works in the Peak District (right). You can often see this unlikely icon on the horizon and it makes me feel as if I know where I am.
My foam sitting mat. Every time I get it out, everyone wishes they had one. Or my head torch, as I can use the flashing mode as a disco light!
A can of Gordon’s fruity G&T or a fruit cider in the pub.