Wander Women

As International Women's Day approaches on 8 March, meet a wonderful range of female trailblazers to inspire your next adventure.

Words: Elyssa Campbell-Barr 

Composite image of five hikers from history

L to r: Isobel Wylie Hutchison (courtesy RSGS), Gertrude Benham (courtesy The Box), Emma Gatewood (courtesy Lucy Gatewood Seeds)


Hikers from history 

Gertrude 'Truda' Benham (1867-1938) is one of the most travelled Brits ever. A mountain climber and explorer, she's said to have walked seven times around the world and was the first recorded woman to climb Kilimanjaro. See her Tibetan walking boots at The Box museum, Plymouth. 

Emma Gatewood (aka Grandma Gatewood, 1887-1973) was a mother of 11 who escaped poverty and abuse to become the first woman to hike the 3,540km/2,200-mile Appalachian Trail solo (in baseball boots) in 1955, aged 67. Read about her life in Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery (£13.99, Chicago Review Press). 

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), celebrated writer and member of the Bloomsbury Group, found long walks on the South Downs helped with her mental health. 'I am extremely happy walking on the downs....I like to have space to spread my mind out in’ she wrote in her diary in September 1926. 

Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) was an Arctic adventurer and botanist, writer, artist and film-maker. An avid walker from childhood, she trekked solo across Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, recording the last trip in her 1934 book, North To The Rime Ringed Sun (£26.63, Hassell Street Press). isobelwyliehutchison.com 

Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt (1774-1843) travelled to Scotland from gentile Georgian England to obtain a divorce and took to walking to help deal with the turmoil, roaming widely in the Southern Highlands and between Edinburgh and Stirling. Her Journal of My Trip to Scotland was published posthumously in 1893. sarahstoddarthazlitt.wixsite.com/theproject 

Composite image of five brilliant barrier-breakers

Clockwise from top left: Amira Patel, Valerie Clark, Sophie Brown, Steph Wetherell, Sarah Williams


Brilliant barrier-breakers 

Sophie Brown fell in love with countryside walks in adolescence, enjoying the connection with nature and benefits to her physical and mental health. The Bristol Ramblers member founded Bristol Steppin Sistas in 2021, training as a walk leader so she could organise supportive group walks for women of colour. Follow her on Twitter @BrisStepSista

Amira Patel relocated from Bolton to the Lake District to set up The Wanderlust Women, a hiking and adventure collective for Muslim women. Her group helps to build skills and confidence, and offers opportunities to explore, with the aim of encouraging Muslim women to spend time in the great outdoors. thewanderlustwomen.co.uk 

Steph Wetherell is a size-20 hiker who loves solo and long-distance walking - and hates not being able to find outdoor clothing that fits. She co-founded Every Body Outdoors to demand better gear and champion representation of plus-sized people throughout the outdoor sector. everybodyoutdoors.co.uk 

Valerie Clark, the sighted partner of a blind husband, is joint walks organiser for London Blind Ramblers. She's been connecting with nearby Ramblers groups to provide safe, stimulating walks for visually impaired walkers for 23 years and was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2020. londonblindramblers.org.uk 

Sarah Williams quit a job in finance to set up the Tough Girl Challenges website, podcast and biog. A hiker, cyclist and ultra-marathon runner, her mission is to boost representation of female role models in the media, especially around adventure, physical challenges and exploration. toughgirlchallenges.com/sarah-williams 

Composite image of five amazing adventurers

Clockwise from top left: Belinda Kirk, Harpreet Chandi, Anna Blackwell, Lise Wortley, Rebecca Stephens


Amazing adventurers 

Harpreet Chandi, aka 'Polar Preet', is a British Army captain who in 2021 became the first woman of colour to trek unaccompanied to the South Pole. This year she made the longest-ever solo polar expedition by a woman, covering l,397km/868 miles in 75 days. polarpreet.com 

Anna Blackwell is an adventurer, photographer, film-maker, writer and companion of @bilbotheadventurepooch. Her awe-inspiring solo expeditions include trekking l,000km/620 miles through northern Scandinavia and 1,600km/1,000 miles through France and Spain. annablackwell.co.uk 

Belinda Kirk has spent 26 years leading groups into the wilderness and is a fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and British Exploring Society. She wrote Adventure Revolution (£11.99, Piatkus) and hosts the Adventure Mind conference series. belindakirk.com 

Rebecca Stephens was the first British woman to climb Everest, in 1993, swiftly going on to scale the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each continent. The former journalist now shares her insights as a speaker, writer, coach and trek leader. rebeccastephens.com 

Lise Wortley read Alexandra David-Neel's My Journey to Lhasa (£9.99, HarpPeren) aged 16 and became obsessed with the stories of female explorers from a bygone age. Now she recreates these expeditions, using only the clothing and kit they had at the time. Find her on Instagram @womanwithaltitude

Composite image of five inspirational influencers

Left: Lisa Wells; right: Carys Rees; centre from top: Kate Appleby, Stephanie Boon, Phoebe Smith


Inspirational influencers 

Phoebe Smith is an adventurer, writer (including for Walk magazine), photographer and co-founder of the #WeTwo Foundation, which takes underprivileged youngsters on life-changing, carbon-negative expeditions. Her Wander Woman podcast includes behind-the-scenes tales from her adventures. phoebe-smith.com 

Carys Rees lives in South Wales and is a member of Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team. She documents her adventures (often solo) via her website, newsletter and Instagram feed, offering fabulous photos, videos, routes and walking advice. Follow her on Instagram @this.girlwalks

Stephanie Boon - follow Cornwall-based Stephie's progress as she attempts to walk all the UK's long-distance national trails, blogging and interviewing other inspirational women walkers along the way. 10milehike.com 

Lisa Wells is a Ramblers ambassador and mountain leader who runs women-only walks in Snowdonia. Her passion is getting everyone - including her grandchildren - out into nature. Find her on Instagram @lisawellsOO

Kate Appleby, aka The Adaptive Adventurer, is a hiker, climber and wild swimmer who doesn't let lupus, Hashimoto's disease or PTSD get in the way of her adventures. Follow her story on Instagram @kate.s.appleby

Composite image of five remarkable ramblers

Clockwise from top left: Kay Davies, Victoria Thornton, Kate Ashbrook, Louise Harker, Judith Hible


Remarkable Ramblers 

Kate Ashbrook was a Ramblers trustee for 36 years and president for four years. She remains an area footpath secretary, as well as being general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and involved in the Campaign for National Parks, Dartmoor Preservation Association, Walkers Are Welcome and more. campaignerkate.wordpress.com 

Judith Hible has held pretty much every Ramblers voluntary role, including walk leader, footpath secretary, webmaster, treasurer and working party leader. She spent lockdown recording the status of every right of way in Corsham, Wiltshire, and helps organise the town's walking festival.  Follow her on Twitter @JudyHible

Victoria Thornton is chair of Shropshire Young Ramblers, leading walks, designing publicity materials, and overseeing everything from litter-picks to Christmas jumper walks. She recently set up a badge recognition scheme for SYR's walk leaders. Find out more at syr.org.uk 

Louise Harker leads walks and helps with social media for Inverness Young Walkers. She's joined Ramblers Scotland's Out There Award Ambassador Scheme to boost her outdoor skills. Follow her on Instagram @theplayfulrambler

Kay Davies, chair of Lampeter Ramblers, has been a Ramblers volunteer for more than 30 years. She's a walk leader, area footpath secretary and on the path maintenance teams of Lampeter group and Ceredigion County Council. Find out more at facebook.com/LampeterRamblers/ 

We have thousands of incredible female volunteers. Why not join their ranks? Find out more here 


Awesome authors 

Take an armchair adventure with these women walkers...

  • Wanderers: A History of Women Walking by Kerri Andrews (£9.99, Reaktion Books). This book explores the legacy of ten remarkable path finding women, from Dorothy Wordsworth to Nan Shepherd. 
  • Windswept by Annabel Abbs (£10.99, Two Roads). An inspirational memoir following in the footsteps of bygone women walkers, including Simone de Beauvoir and Daphne du Maurier. 
  • I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi (£10.99, Bloomsbury Wildlife). A powerful account of walking the Pennine Way as a response to a race hate crime, exploring notions of identity, place, belonging and nature along the way. 
  • The Salt Path, The Wild Silence and Landlines by Raynor Winn (£7.99, £9.99 and £10, Penguin). Bestselling, life-affirming autobiographies that convey the restorative power of long-distance walking in the face of terminal illness, bankruptcy and homelessness. 
  • Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed (£6.99, Atlantic Books). Multimillion seller (and Hollywood movie) about escaping from divorce, bereavement, abuse and drug-use in a 1,770km/1,100-mile trek along the PacificCrest Trail. 


Over to you 

Which women inspire you to hit the trail? Tell us using the hashtag #wanderwomen on social media. 



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