Common Ground: Glenn Campbell

In this new series of short interviews, we aim to find out what makes our fellow outdoor enthusiasts tick, the experiences they share and their hopes for the future.

Glenn Campbell will be a familiar face to many from his role as Political Editor at BBC Scotland. Following his diagnosis last year, he is currently raising funds for Brain Tumour Research; you can support via his Brain Power JustGiving page.

Glenn at North Berwick | Photograph: Mark Sutherland

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

I was born and brought up on the beautiful whisky-making island of Islay where my parents ran a village shop. I attended Bowmore primary and Islay High School. I went on to study in Glasgow which was a great place to team up with others who love the outdoors to organise walking and camping expeditions.

I started my career as a journalist in commercial radio (Clyde, Scot FM) and moved to Edinburgh shortly before the referendum that created the Scottish Parliament. That’s been my base ever since and although I have covered all kinds of stories at home and abroad over the years, I have never lost my interest in Scottish and UK politics. I now live in East Lothian with my family, including Ruadh, our fox red Labrador. In 2023, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and find that hillwalking is helping me through my treatment.

With Ruadh, two days after brain surgery in August 2023 | Photograph: Claire Gardner 

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

I have strong memories of family trips to Islay’s many beaches when I was a child and sea fishing adventures on Lochindaal with my uncle Stuart. These were among my earliest outdoor experiences.

My love of hillwalking came later, when I was a teenager. Islay High School recruited a brilliant outdoor education teacher called Allan Glen. One of the most memorable trips I was involved in was led by him. With school friends we hiked across the northern end of Jura and stayed overnight in the bothy at Glengarrisdale. It was so remote and beautiful and the success of the adventure required real team effort. I loved all of that. I think that, for me, was where it really started.

Can you describe your ideal day out (or longer excursion) in Scotland?

While I still enjoy camping or staying in a bothy overnight, as I have got older I have come to appreciate combining a day in the hills with an evening in a comfortable hotel or B&B. I love the contrast between the effort and exposure to the elements on the hills in the day and the relaxation and shelter of the overnight accommodation. A hot shower, a drink by a roaring fire, a bar meal all seem much more luxurious and rewarding to me when I feel I have earned them by climbing a hill or two first. This kind of day out is even better if it is in the company of good friends.

Near the summit of Mount Keen

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 think it is a combination of all those things. I think getting outdoors, breathing fresh air and taking in beautiful scenery and wildlife is also enormously life affirming. I find walking in wild places a great way of finding perspective too – not just on the landscape around you but on life more generally. It is somehow easier to see what really matters and what doesn’t when you are a few thousand feet up a mountain.

I often come off the hills with new ideas, greater clarity of thought and a renewed sense of purpose — as well as rosy cheeks, tired legs and a healthy appetite for dinner.

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

In summer 2023, I had a cycling accident, broke ten ribs and spent a week in hospital. I had a lot of time to think. During my recovery, I came to realise that the hills were more important to me than perhaps I had appreciated. I decided that I wanted to climb all the Munros. I got a book about it and started to plan.

When I was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour a few weeks later I thought this dream was over before it had begun. Of all the things I had to worry about, for some reason I found that particularly upsetting.

Fortunately, I was wrong about the impact my condition would have on my hillwalking. With treatment and luck it should be possible to keep my particular type of tumour in check. Following brain surgery, I got my boots back on. Hillwalking with friends helped me through radiotherapy, including hikes up Ben Chonzie, Mount Keen and Schiehallion. Three down, 279 to go! So, my Munro challenge is back on and will resume after chemotherapy. I am giving myself to the end of 2028 to complete them all and raising money along the way for the Brain Power fund I have set up to help Brain Tumour Research establish their 5th UK research centre in Scotland. That’s an added incentive for me to keep climbing.

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?

I try really hard to leave nothing behind but footprints and I think most hill walkers apply a similar code. But when I come home carrying other people’s rubbish I have picked up on route, I realise not everyone is taking as much care. That is something I’d like to see change so that our wild places remain litter free for those that follow in our footsteps to enjoy.


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