Common Ground: Kirsty Pallas

In our Common Ground series, we hear from the some of the incredible variety of people who enjoy Scotland’s great outdoors.

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

I’m a mountaineering instructor based near Oban, and I work part time for Mountaineering Scotland as a Mountain Safety Advisor, and the rest of the time freelance. This means I do a whole range of work from navigation courses, guiding on the Cuillin Ridge, teaching rock climbing, training up new Mountain Leaders, and delivering winter skills courses. We moved here as a family over 20 years ago, and my parents always had us out walking on the weekends, something that they’ve enjoyed together for a long time. I’m mixed heritage with an Indian mum, so I’ve been brought up with two cultures in the house, and it’s always been interesting to see how differently both sides of my family interact with the outdoors.

Photo: Ed Smith

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

It was definitely my parents getting me out, but I remember doing Ben Cruachan as a first munro at 9 years old, and my sister was only 7. That was quite different from the hills in the Yorkshire Dales, where we’d moved from! Through high school, I did rebel a bit and didn’t want to go out walking every weekend, but I also had the opportunity to take part in Duke of Edinburgh awards, which allowed me to see other parts of the country, and even head out to Morocco! As I was leaving school, I knew that I wanted at least a break before uni, so I got an outdoor education apprenticeship, and just stuck with the outdoor industry ever since!

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

I love those May days when it’s clear and sunny, no midges, and long days. I’m definitely drawn to the North West, I look for long scrambles or mountain multipitch climbing, so places like the Cuillin, Torridon, and Assynt would be high up for an ideal day out. I’d also like a pal or two along with me, as I enjoy sharing experiences and having a blether! 

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 means different things at different times for me, but a big part of it is the social aspect. I’m not very good at motivating myself to go out alone! I think sharing experiences brings you closer to friends. I also value the space when there’s lots of little things going on in life, it can give you clarity or just some time away, and usually makes any problems seem smaller than before. If I’m out mountain biking, then challenge comes into it a bit, but when I’m walking I usually go for an easier time!

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

Massively so, in that I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t working outdoors! I think spending time outside, and particularly when working which means you don’t always get to choose the days, has given me resilience and strength that would be harder to pick up from other aspects of life. I think it’s given me quite a holistic outlook on things too, I don’t often get too stressed or bogged down in details, because a lot of that king of stuff seems insignificant when you’re wandering around the Cairngorm Plateau at night!

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? 

We’re very fortunate that overall the culture is very welcoming and supportive, but I’d love if there was more understanding around the barriers to access. It’s not as simple as just rocking up to a car park and stepping onto the path, there’s representation, cost of equipment, cultural and societal expectations, actually having a lifestyle that affords you time off, accessibility, all to be considered. Just because you personally haven’t experienced any or many barriers, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that people are making them up. A little more listening and open mindedness would make the outdoor community feel more welcoming to whole groups of people that feel like outsiders.

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You should always carry a backup means of navigation and not rely on a single phone, app or map. Walking can be dangerous and is done entirely at your own risk. Information is provided free of charge; it is every walker's responsibility to check it and to navigate safely.