Common Ground: Caitlin McCollum-Martinez

Our latest Common Ground interviewee is Caitlin McCollum Martinez, who moved to the UK last year. She was a participant in Ramblers Scotland’s ‘Out There Award’, and is now one of the scheme’s ambassadors. This year, Ramblers Scotland will run more than 30 Out There Award weekends at ten locations across Scotland. It’s a unique chance for 18 to 26-year-olds to kick-start their journeys into the outdoors. Participants learn entry-level skills, meet new friends and enjoy fun walks together. Details and registration at www.ramblers.org.uk/outthereaward

Photo: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group

Can you begin by telling us a bit about yourself and your background?

I’m originally from Southern California and officially moved to Scotland one year ago. I’ve previously lived in several countries around the world including the US, Spain, Czech Republic, Vietnam, and South Korea. I’ve had many different hats, but I currently work in education in Edinburgh. After participating in the Out There Award Ambassador Scheme I became a qualified Lowland Leader and Camping leader. I hope to do more work in the outdoors in the future! 

How did you first get started? Can you remember your first outdoors trip?

I can’t remember how I became interested in the outdoors or when my first trip was, as I was very young. I’ve seen pictures of me as a child enjoying nature before I could form memories. Where I grew up there were many different environments on my doorstep to explore. When I was young we went on camping trips to the high desert, mountains, and coast. Because of that my family definitely helped me to form a love for the outdoors. I was also a member of the scouts which helped me develop more of a connection with the outdoors. 

As I got older and had more on my plate, exploring the outdoors became less of a priority. In the past few years, I’ve been able to rekindle my love for nature and have made an effort to get back to my roots. Now that I spend more time outdoors again, I realize just how much I missed it and how much it benefited me in all areas of my life. 

Caitlin with her award | Photo: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group

Can you describe your ideal day out in Scotland?

I spend most of my time outdoors in the lowlands – My ideal day out in Scotland would usually be a causal woodland walk. Ideally near a river or body of water with an abundance of flora and fauna. Unfortunately, these environments aren’t that common in Scotland, with only 4% of Scotland covered by native woodlands. 

My style of walking is very relaxed and more focused on being present in the outdoors rather than setting a goal or challenge for myself. I respect people who strive for the peak or want to bag all the Scottish Munros, but I am not that person at all. I’m also very keen on foraging, so if I’m able to gather some goodies to take home and cook with I’ll be happy. 

Photo: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group

What does getting outdoors mean to you? Is it about challenging yourself, finding out about the world, getting closer to nature, something to enjoy socially, or just a great way to escape the everyday?

I’ve always found being out in nature helps to quiet my mind and help me feel more present in the moment. As someone with anxiety and a history of depression, it can be really easy to be stuck inside my own head. It also makes it difficult to have the motivation to do things even if I know they will make me feel better, like spending time outdoors. 

I wouldn’t say nature is an escape from the everyday, but a place to have a welcome pause from it all. 

Being outdoors helps me gain perspective and slow down a bit. In a way, it’s a space to replenish my reserves and recharge. 

As much as I enjoy spending time alone in the outdoors, I also like how walking in Scotland has encouraged me to be more social. I’ve met a lot of people in the time I’ve lived here who help encourage me to get out there more often. Though I’m an introvert, I try to challenge myself to go on social walks with others as well as to lead walks for local groups. I’ve found a nice community of like-minded people through my participation in the Out There Award offered by Ramblers Scotland. 

Have your outdoors’ experiences changed you in any way, perhaps affecting other areas of your life?

Apart from the physical and mental benefits of being outdoors, my experiences have affected several other areas of my life. I’ve strengthened my confidence, interpersonal skills, and my leadership abilities through the work I’ve done as an Ambassador of the Out There Award. One of the requirements of the Scheme was to lead walks for my local Ramblers walking group. I don’t think I would have become a walk leader without that push. Leading others in nature was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve learned so much from these experiences and hope to continue learning more and more about the Scottish Outdoors.

Photo: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group

Looking forward, if there was one thing you could change about Scotland’s outdoors – whether that be in something in the environment itself, or in the culture around walking and mountains, what would it be?

As an American when I first learned about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code I almost couldn’t believe it. The idea of accessing private land was so foreign to me. I was so excited to explore knowing so much land was available to the people. One thing I’ve discovered is the land in Scotland isn’t all that accessible. 

We may have the right to access but it doesn’t mean it’s actually easy to access the outdoors in Scotland. I would love to see Scotland’s outdoors be more accessible to people of all backgrounds. A huge issue I’ve seen that can be a barrier to getting outdoors is the availability and affordability of public transportation. I don’t have a car and rely on public transport to go anywhere in the country and I know many people are in a similar situation. People who experience difficulty accessing nature are usually young people or those with more difficult socio-economic backgrounds. Obviously, there are a lot of factors that have caused this situation, but reopening disused railways and having more frequent buses to remote areas of Scotland would definitely open up more of the environment to all people. 

I think as well there is a lack of knowledge about who nature is really for. I know for me and for other people of non-white cultures, it can feel like the outdoors is meant for well-to-do people of certain backgrounds. I feel like a lot of people feel they can’t access nature without certain specialist equipment and skills. For most walks you don’t actually need a whole lot of kit to have a safe and enjoyable time in nature. 

Without the knowledge of where to go, what equipment you need, or how to safely plan a trip outside people can be easily intimidated and put off spending time outdoors. I would love to see more young people and people of ethnic backgrounds given the knowledge needed to feel like they can enjoy nature too. 

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