In the first of a short series of interviews covering race in the outdoors, David Lintern speaks to Scottish hillgoer Nav Bakhsh, founder member of Boots and Beards hillwalking group.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Nav Bakhsh, I am a father of 4 boys from Glasgow and one of the founders of Boots & Beards.
What’s your favourite Scottish hill/place and why?
There are so many favourites ones to choose from, but would have to say Conic Hill, as that was my first ever hill walk and that’s when I fell in love with my new hobby.
How did you get into it first off? Was there a key moment where it all clicked?
It started off as a family project. I spoke to my cousin Kash and mentioned to him that since our kids are growing up, we don’t really get to see each other very often. It was either at Birthdays, Christmas or at funerals. That’s when I suggested doing a hill walk as an activity to get the kids more active, a reason to see each other more often away from computer games, and a great opportunity for me as a father to bond with them.
What does going out into nature mean to you? How does it make you feel, what benefits do you see in yourself, how does it challenge you?
For me, I find nature to be a source of healing. When I get out and see the outdoors in its truest form, I am gobsmacked with its beauty, and the creatures that live there. There are times when I walk through a forest and it’s like stumbling on some treasure – I am lost for words at such beauty. My weekday life is incredibly busy and pressed for time, so it’s a break from that. At the same time, I sometimes find the experience challenging. I also sometimes wish I could travel back in time and have found this much earlier in life, and ideally with my own dad.
The hills are seen as a refuge from the stresses of everyday life for many. Are they a refuge for you too, or is it a more complex mix of experiences? If the outdoors is (also) a racialised space for you, or has been in the past, how has that presented itself?
Since taking a love for the sport, I have subscribed to many magazines, read a few books and visited many websites. To generalise, I would say that the industry does come across with a predominantly white male stereotype. As a community, I don’t think we have ever challenged this image and really haven’t claimed the right of owning the hills of Scotland as our own hills, despite being born and brought up in Scotland.
Are there ‘blind spots’ in mainstream outdoors culture that discourage wider participation, and if so can you describe them or talk about how they might affect you, or wider communities of colour?
Boots and Beards was setup to tackle this very problem. We had a vision of getting people from different races to walk and trek out together. To see a big group of Asians out on the hills might seem quite intrusive to some people, but yet that is something which might become more normal in time.
How can white outdoor communities assist in changing or removing those blind spots? Is there anything specific that outdoors media or organisations could do?
I would like to see more experienced hill walkers come and assist us at Boots and Beards, of whatever colour! With planning, assisting with on the day, educating and sharing best practice with new members of the community. I think there is more for me to learn and am keen to learn from others who have been doing it for a lot longer than I have. Please do get in touch with us if you would like to help out.
Are there barriers within your own communities that make participation in the outdoors seem less ‘normal’ or more challenging for you or those you work with?
I have found that the Asian community is one of the least confident communities when it comes to the outdoors. It is a bit of a generalisation, but people can be risk averse and a little reluctant to step out their comfort zone. We also sometimes see a lack of awareness about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle.
In what ways are you addressing those for yourself, or helping others to do so?
As a group, we are trying to address the above problem by slowly encouraging members of the community on easy treks, and then build their confidence through steps to take on future challenging ones e.g. Munros. We also try to diversify by taking part in other outdoor activities e.g. outdoor and indoor climbing, camping, navigation courses and training.
It’s been said that colour or race shouldn’t come into the outdoors, that we’re all more than just our colour or race and that it’s not a political space. Is talking through some of these issues reductive – or does it help, or is it some of both?
Race should never be a card to be used when dealing with the outdoors. The hills and outdoor activities are open to everyone, however sadly it was one place the BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) community has been slow to take on. Through discussion, and group walks, Boots and Beards are now trying to educate our community of the benefits of this sport and demonstrate the practicalities, so it can be enjoyed safely.
I also believe that as a nation, there is some lessons that can be learnt and that resources should be made available within National parks, clubs and sporting groups to actively seek BME applicants within their organisations.
Where was your first trip to after lockdown eased, and how was it?
We visited Cashel Forest, Loch Lomond. It’s a trek we have done before, not too long and not too strenuous. It was a nice gentle trek to get slowly back into things.
Which place(s) in Scotland would you like to explore more, and why?
I would like to explore places that are more remote to get to. I just want to be able to experience the tranquillity of the area without being disturbed by other humans.
Many thanks to Nav for his time. You can learn more about the hillwalking group Boots and Beards at https://bootsandbeards.co.uk/