On many occasions I have mentioned how fantastic Scotland is, how diverse, how surprising and unusual. I have also mentioned many times that Scotland is home to many wonderful people, full of passion, commitment and that little bit of magic that makes them incredibly motivated to take action and overcome their own personal limitations.
Today I have a great honour and pleasure to introduce you to an interview with an extraordinary woman.
A woman who calls herself The Wee Wanderess and is full of curiosity and travel spirit. A woman who is not afraid to experience solo hiking throughout the whole beautiful Scotland. I am sure she will enchant you as much as she enchanted me.
First of all, I love the name The Wee Wanderess. When did you start blogging and when did you come up with the name?
I first began blogging in November 2016. I was preparing to hike the West Highland Way for the third time and had decided to do it in December the following month, purely for the added challenge of it being winter and I’d have to hike a lot of it in the dark.
I decided I wanted to raise money for the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund since I was at the time in the Royal Artillery. Whilst I was at the barracks, I created my Facebook page solely for my sponsors to follow my progress and see that their sponsors were going to good use.
My original name was The Wee Wanderer, which just kind of popped into my mind as I wanted something that sounded Scottish – and I had been called Wee Yin by my friends most of my life and occasionally called a wanderer. So my alias was created.
The plan was to delete the page after I crossed the finish line but within just a few very short weeks I had gathered the sweetest followers from all over the world who adored my writing and wanders over Scotland, I had successfully raised £1500 – coming in the top 5% of fundraisers for that month, and managed to complete the 96 miles in just 3.5 days.
Something I most definitely will not be repeating again. However, the good part was that I had decided to keep the page and continue to blog through 2017 onwards as I began to thoroughly enjoy writing and chatting to my followers. They really didn’t want me to delete it either so it stayed and became something I never anticipated but loved so much.
Over time my name was changed to The Wee Wanderess for two reasons: the first is that it brings a more feminine touch to the page and content which I’d hoped would inspire other women to begin hill walking or hiking, something I was absolutely correct about as I’ve had numerous messages telling me that I have encouraged them to do so. The second reason is that I noticed more and more that others were trying to copy my name and they were all men. It amused me more than anything but I wanted my name to be quite unique and for me alone.
When did you decide to try solo hiking? Are you more of a Munro bagger or occasional Highland hiker?
My first real solo hike was that December over the WHW but I have been hill walking, etc., alone for as long as I can remember.
I was raised beside a lot of brothers and all of their friends so I have always been an outdoor person. It was my dad who motivated me to begin solo hiking & hill walking seriously as he was so passionate about his younger days being a Munro bagger, so naturally, I had to follow his example.
I have never once truly wanted to have the goal of bagging every Munro. I am not willing to spend an entire day walking a hill just to get another number.The Wee Wanderess
I already know that there are some Munro’s that don’t spark my interest so I am not willing to spend an entire day walking a hill just to get another number – I’d rather spend my day and energy doing something that truly interests me. I would never rule it out though, it could absolutely be another goal in the near future.
I completely agree with you that there is no point in doing something you don’t want to do, it’s not worth wasting our time, but tell me what excites you most about solo hiking?
Without a doubt, it has to be having the hills or the wilderness of Scotland all to myself to fully absorb & appreciate my own experiences and growth.
When you are out there – whether it is for a week, two weeks or even just a few days alone, nothing else exists. There is no looking back on the day before, no thoughts of the next day… you are completely in that moment and enjoying the day and the discoveries that come with it.
The sense of achievement and freedom that comes with it is completely unrivaled, not to mention the phenomenal memories I have given myselfThe Wee Wanderess
It is a very tough thing to explain but I guess when I am out there doing my thing, it is the only time I feel as though I am exactly where I need to be. It’s just who I am, and now that I have discovered that, there is no way I can give that up.
What you’re saying is extremely inspiring! People so often lose themselves in the contemporary world and so badly desire to find their own way in the hustle and bustle of today’s world. You have managed to do it! So, tell me what places did you discover by yourself?
There is quite a list here but I will try to name as much as I can:
● Ben Nevis 16 times
● The West Highland Way 5 times (soon to be six).
● The Great Glen Way
● Dun Deardail
● Aonach Eagach Ridge
● The Pap of Glencoe
● Buachaille Etive Mor
● The Lost Valley of Glencoe
● Bidean nam Bian
● Beinn Fhada
● Gearr Aonach
● Aonach Dubh
● Aonach Mor
● Aonach Beag
● Steall Falls
● The glens of The Cairngorms
● The Devil’s Point
● Angel’s Peak
● Carn a’Mhaim
● Ben Macdui
● The Campsies
● The Ochils
● The Pentlands
● Rannoch Moor
● Glen Etive
● The Great Bernera Trail on the Isle of Lewis
● Isle of Skye
● Eilean Donan Castle & Kyle of Lochalsh
Oh, the list is indeed very long! Do you consider yourself a brave person or don’t you think of solo hiking as something dangerous?
I have never thought of myself as a brave person at all. I am just a little adventurous I guess and would like to try and make the most of my life – being able to wander into the wild places of Scotland is just my way of doing that, especially when I get a good scramble over Aonach Eagach, etc.
I seem to get asked this question quite a lot but the truth is, there’s actually no safer place than the wild. We don’t get bears here or venomous snakes, etc., or big cats so it’s a playground for hikers. I very seldom come across people and when I do, they are the most humble people I’ve met as we are all out there for the same reasons; for some peace and quiet and enjoyable time on the hills.
The places that are the real danger are city centres where people tend to get drunk, etc. That’s where 99.9% of incidents happen and the places I tend to avoid a lot unless I fancy a night out with friends.
I’m very glad you’ve mentioned that. It is true that it is much safer in the wilderness because there are not so many people there who are the main cause for concern these days. However, what was the most horrific experience you had when hiking in the Highlands?
Bad experience with Midges
There is instantaneously one significant memory that comes to mind here as it is my only horrific experience I have had out there – and one I am VERY careful not to experience a second time.
It was during my first wander over the West Highland Way and back then, I was very new to it. I hadn’t studied it at all, I just had a map and decided to go. It was during the month of August and it was going so well, I had amazing weather – only getting caught in a morning storm once – and I was collecting the most amazing memories, along with getting a real eye-opener to something I knew would become a huge part of me.
However, by the time I got to Kinlochleven, my feet were agony and I knew I had to stay there that night so I was looking forward to getting to the small town and having access to food stores and a pub.
The one thing that has always instantly put me in a very foul mood within a split second is midges and during that week or so of August, Kinlochleven is swarming with them. I had no idea it was the breeding ground for midges and they always seem to run straight for me – this time being absolutely no exception.
There were millions of them on me, biting me constantly and even in the tent, I couldn’t escape. I got perhaps an hour sleep and decided I had to run from the tent into the near-by hotel’s drying room – where I stayed for hours until it was time to escape over the final 14 miles to Fort William.
The next day I was literally covered head to foot in bites and had a raging fever for weeks, some of the remains of the bites took several months to leave and some have left scars which I still carry to this day.
When I visited the doctor I’ve had since I was very young he was completely astounded and sympathetic at the sight of me, telling me it was the worst case of bites he’d ever seen or read about – which didn’t surprise me.
Now, if I see even one midge near me, I rapidly get far away from that area. And I haven’t been back to Kinlochleven in that month since. Now, when I hike the WHW, I tear through the area almost running – just in case.
Surreal experience on Ben Macdui
The only other one I can think of is a very surreal experience at the top of Ben Macdui.
I had wandered up from Carn a’Mhaim having left my tent, had come across some magnificent wildlife and made my way to the summit of our second highest Munro where I took a bearing and marked my descent route.
I had so much fun exploring the hill and the ruins, etc., up there and decided to make my way down but within seconds, a real sense of fear had come over me which I couldn’t explain.
I never get scared on the hills as I’m always so at home out there, and I was still at the trig point so I was in no way lost or in danger. There was only me on the hill but I felt like I was being closely watched and had the strangest feeling of being very young again.
It was the most unnerving experience as I cannot explain it to this day.The Wee Wanderess
I decided to descend and get the hell out of dodge and back to the safety of my tent at the bottom of Carn a’Mhaim, so I grabbed my map and compass and started to make tracks. Only within 5-10 mins, I knew something was very wrong as the clouds were coming down and I didn’t recognise my surroundings at all.
I walked back up to the trig point and tried again, only this time I descended a completely different route than both the one I walked up and the one I thought was the right way.
Each time I tried to correct myself and stay sharp, I ended up in a different area and time seemed to become blurry. That’s the only way I can describe it and it began to really frustrate me.
I still had the same feeling of being young again, being watched and quickly went from feeling afraid of being really angry. I decided to put my map and compass in my bag and just pay attention to the landmarks and features, at last getting it right and running down the rocks instead of walking.
By the time I’d wandered another few hills and made my way back to the tent, I had shaken the bizarre sensations of Ben Macdui but not the memory.
I was still trying to make sense of it so when I got back to my car the following day, I decided to call the one person who would absolutely make sense of it for me – my dad.
He’d spent years walking Scotland and knows more about our hills, history and legends better than anyone I know. He didn’t help however as his first reaction was to giggle at my story – knowing I never ever make silly mistakes on the hills – before going on to tell me how haunted that Munro is along with the tragedies that have happened up there.
I have never been unsure on the hills and have never once become lost or unsure of my surroundings, which makes this as confusing as ever as I knew where I was and where I was to descend.
I will never be able to rationally explain what happened and I guess only I will know that it wasn’t a case of being reckless with my compassThe Wee Wanderess
It’s still a story I love writing about and trying to make sense of on that dark, gloomy day. I’ve never been back.
Your story was very interesting and terrifying at the same time! I don’t know how I would act in such situation. Midges bites don’t sound particularly nice but the story that happened to you at the top of Ben Macdui curdled my blood. However, I want to ask you which trails or Munros can you highly recommend for other solo hikers?
Without a shadow of a doubt, I think every walker should try the West Highland Way and The Great Glen Way. The Munros of Glencoe (wild camping in The Lost Valley) are all in my top 3 as I never tire of them and also the Cairngorms.
Ben Nevis, Steall Falls, Nevis Gorge, Isle of Skye, The Outer Hebrides… there sincerely is too many to list as I am sure a lot of people would understand but my highest recommendation is to just find your own area that sparks your curiosity and go there.
I love Glencoe, so I might try to hike there and do you have any goals you would like to achieve in the nearest future?
I am currently preparing to make my biggest hike yet from Glasgow to Great Bernera. I would like to include Ben Nevis and maybe Ben Lomond into that too but have yet to decide on whether to walk through Skye or wander up some the Cape Wrath Trail until I get east of Ullapool.
All-in-all it will be 300+ miles and my very own custom hike which will be a colossal part of the book I finally write in the future.
Oh, a very long journey from Glasgow to Great Bernera? It sounds fantastic, but can you tell what is your motivation?
My motivation is me.
I have looked back at my hikes, etc., and all of my accomplishments and randomly decided a couple of years ago to give myself the experience of a lifetime by making my own hike and walking The West Highland Way again but adding a lot more ground to it.
The second I’d thought of it, I knew it was something I had to do – it just makes sense. I would like to look back on my life when I am older and know that I had the courage to follow my own path (literally) and be unapologetically me, whilst inspiring other women to do the same.
I really think you’re an inspiration to a lot of people, but were you scared before such long lonely trips?
I think if anyone considers solo hiking as lonely then they aren’t truly a solo hiker and should perhaps take the company.
I have never felt lonely out there and have absolutely loved the experiences and unique memories I have given myself. I never feel afraid, whenever it comes to the build-up to my hikes I become restless and excited.
When it comes to the night before and the moment I set of, I’m like a little kid on the old blue smarties – I am sincerely bouncing around with energy & excitement.
Is there anything else that drives you as much as wandering?
I guess education is a big one for me. I am always trying to educate myself, mainly on history as I absolutely love learning history and will sit for hours at my desk with my books or history magazines and study them.
I think I know every step of Mary, Queen of Scots now along with so many other areas of history. Philosophy is a big one for me too but besides this, I would say my all-time favourite area to study in Scottish folklore. It is an all-time favourite hobby of mine, I absolutely adore getting lost in our myths and legends along with chatting to the Islanders on the Outer Hebrides as they have several stories of their own. To me studying our Scottish folklore is just storytime for adults and I’ll never tire of it.
Another is spending time with my dad. We literally get lost for hours chatting about the legends and history of Scotland along with our traditions, Scottish clans and of course, enjoying a single malt together with many laughs of our memories together – whether it’s his younger days on the Scottish hills, Canada and America or my memories of my own wanders. The nights never seem long enough when we get chatting.
I also consider education as extremely important, and I have been enchanted many times by the Scottish myths and legends of the past. Now I’m gonna ask you about something a little different. You have a great artistic flare (I’ve noticed by your drawings posted on Instagram) tell me what inspired you to draw and what you like most in it.
Truthfully, I just decided to try something new one day that was different to studying, etc., as I have a back injury that occasionally flares up and prevents much movement.
The idea just sort of happened and I slowly taught myself how to get better until I found myself really beginning to enjoy it. I guess what I enjoy most in it is the fact I can get lost in my music with just an idea in my head of what I’d like to put onto paper.
However by the time I’m done, the time has rapidly gone by, my idea has resulted in something better than my original thought and with each piece comes more and more ideas. It’s therapy in a large sense as an expression is important for growth.
I noticed you are writing a very long blog posts on Facebook and they are definitely a nice read and hugely engaging. Have you thought about writing a book from your adventures?
I have been asked to write a book numerous times as a lot of followers would love to buy it, yet I have no idea where to begin.
I would like it to be a lot about Scotland but have been asked about adding parts about myself which would be an important addition too, yet writing about myself isn’t one of my strong points. I will put my efforts into it after my big wander.
I would be delighted to read your book. However, if I still have the opportunity, I will ask you what you love the most about Scotland?
Our folklore, our hills and wild glens, our history, the magnetic pull our Highlands seem to have on people from all over the world, the humble people I have met along my wanders, our wildlife and of course all of my own memories that all of this has provided me with.
Overall, it is the spirit of Scotland’s Highlands and wilderness that made me fall in love more than I have ever been. The truth is, there isn’t much I don’t love about Scotland… besides our midges.
It is true that there is something magical in Scotland, something unusual and something that makes this place unforgettable. I am also totally enchanted by the spirit of Scotland’s Highlands. Would you like to say something to all of our readers, to motivate them to do what they love in their lives?
I guess the only thing I can say is that regardless of any obstacles in your way or people’s opinions, have the courage to get out there and be completely, unapologetically who you are.
There have been more instances than I can remember when my friends told me I was “boring” or becoming elusive (jokingly) or that they missed me, etc., because I sacrificed almost all of my free time and social life to chase what I love most; being alone in the wild places of our Highlands.
Have the courage to get out there and be completely, unapologetically who you are.The Wee Wanderess
I never followed trends that others seemed to love or really cared much for socialising once I’d discovered my love for this life I have chosen.
The second I had the courage to just be unapologetically me, wander alone and take myself to the most dangerous and desolate places of Scotland and wild camp, etc., all of a sudden I became more popular than ever with more messages than I could ever respond to.
Anyone can be who they want to be and are capable of so much more than they could believe, all it takes is just some unique people like us to lead by example and help guide and inspire younger generations.
The Wee Wanderess was never supposed to be as it is now but by doing something so small, you can create a change that not even you can anticipate. Just be yourself.
I don’t see life as being about finding yourself, to me it’s more about creating yourself and having the bravery to become the person you want to be. That is truly exceptional and our world needs more of that.The Wee Wanderess
Thank you very much for those words. I agree with each and every sentence you said. And to conclude, would you like to say something about the upcoming events, projects or anything else you would like to promote?
As of yet, there is only the upcoming wander from Glasgow to Great Bernera before returning to full-time education after the summer – and planning more of my book.
I would also like to put together my own project to visit all of the significant places and historical sights of Mary, Queen of Scots and her tragic life whilst explaining her history as this is something I promised my followers a year ago, yet never got round to as I had to take some time out from social media.
Thank you so much The Wee Wanderess for the wonderful interview and for the opportunity to ask you so many questions and get to know you a little bit better.
If you wish to help The Wee Wanderess raise money for SAMH – Scottish Association for Mental Health and support her Way Of The Wanderess from Glasgow to Great Bernera you can do it here:
It was an amazing adventure for me to enter your world and I wish you the best of luck and success in the upcoming events.
All of you are invited to join me in the near future to meet the next incredible and extraordinary people who are the characters of The Series of Travel Stories.