To some, walking in nature may seem an enjoyable pastime. Pretty, pleasant and good for our wellbeing, but routine, normalised and unexceptional. When a group of people of colour take to the outdoors, however, our significance is something we carry, proud and strong like the rucksacks on our backs. We may be venturing out on what appears to be an afternoon’s ramble, yet our existence in these landscapes is a statement.
It’s a statement against land injustice, against the colonisation of the outdoors and for the right to roam. It’s in defiance of productivity culture and activist burn out, and a reclamation of our ancestral healing. It’s a middle finger to rural racism and hostile landscapes, and a fight for the safe accessibility of our green spaces. It’s in resistance to systemic oppression and stands for community mobilisation, liberation and solidarity.
“Our existence in these landscapes is a statement”
Every rockface we climb, each body of water we swim in, every tree we shelter beneath and each footpath that kisses our walking boots represents a protest. And we, the ramblers, are the defiant procession of demonstrators. Our squeals as we plunge into an icy river, our giggles after submerging a trainer into a muddy puddle, our euphoric sighs that escape after panting up a hill are our protest chants, songs and battle cries, boldly asserting that “we belong here, and we deserve healing”.
I knew this to be viscerally true during the Kinder in Colour mass trespass, which saw people of colour in our hundreds take to the Peak District’s Kinder Scout in April 2022. This bright day marked the 90th anniversary of the Kinder trespass, when working-class people protested the lack of land access in 1932. This trespass is commended for influencing the 1949 National Parks Legislation and the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) which enshrined the public right to access the countryside.
“For people of colour, these landscapes are fertile with a racial hostility that sprouts numerous barriers of access”
The Kinder in Colour mass trespass however, coordinated by organisers of colour and supported by the Right to Roam campaign, drew attention to the fact that these laws only permit 8% of land in England to be legally accessible, and that for people of colour, these landscapes are fertile with a racial hostility that sprouts numerous barriers of access.
As the founder of a walking club for people of colour, I carry the fight to make land accessible on every hike; a responsibility I assume proudly. I’m not the only one. The UK currently boasts countless outdoor collectives that are by and for people of colour only. The fact there are so many of us is a statement in and of itself – while a white-led outdoors sector grapples with ‘diversity and inclusion’, we create our own safe spaces, and there’s room for all of us. Together, we form a movement of comrades taking up space in the outdoors. Below, I share with you but a few in this non-exhaustive list of walking clubs by and for people of colour.
A little self-indulgence on my part as I firstly introduce Peaks of Colour – a Peak District-based walking-for-healing club, by and for people of colour only, which I founded in 2021. We host monthly walks across classic Peak District locations, offering space to roam for people of colour of all genders, abilities and needs. Our walks vary in difficulty and length and include regular wheelchair and pushchair accessible routes. We also host regular walkshops for self-identifying women and gender diverse people of colour – creative and holistic workshops set in nature, such as yoga, sound bathing and nature writing. Founded on the Black and abolitionist feminist ethos, we’re interested in exploring alternative routes to healing and justice within nature, and experimenting with nature-based models of community building.
One walking group that provides ongoing inspiration is Black Girls Hike. Offering nationwide hikes, outdoor activity days and training events to Black women, Black Girls Hike challenge the status quo by reconnecting with nature. Recently, Black Girls Hike has gone global, in what promises to be an exciting series of international adventures. “Black Girls Hike has grown beyond an idea to create a safe space to being a nationwide movement that’s inspired women of the global majority throughout the UK,” says founder Rhianne Fatinikun. “There is still a lot of work to do to achieve equity in the outdoors, but it’s been great to see more of our community taking up space.”
Another group Peaks of Colour proudly follows in the footsteps of are our friends at fellow Sheffield-based collective Walk4Health. Previously known as 100 Black Men for Health, which inspired Eclipse Theatre play Black Men Walking, the organisation has since evolved into a diverse group open to all genders and all ages. On the ways that land represents a human rights and social justice issue, Walk4Health community leader Maxwell Ayamba explains: “Land is an embodiment of food security, health inequalities and environmental justice. Whether in the Global South or North, the issue of land will forever remain contested and it’s Black and people of colour who are often the victims.” He continues, “Though we walk for health and wellbeing, our walks are also an act of political protest and we also want to be visible in the spaces deemed ‘white spaces’, due to our unwritten history in the land.”
Due East is a hiking group aiming to create a safe space for people of East and Southeast Asian heritage to reclaim, reconnect and experience the outdoors. They strive to do this through group walks, outdoor activities and trips. Their inaugural walk saw the group adventuring along the Seven Sisters Cliffs on a sunny day in August this year. Due East insist that no matter your previous experience – whether you’re a hardcore mountain climber, a weekend trail runner or just have a fleeting interest in the outdoors – all are welcome on their walks.
Muslim Hikers is a community group which aims to encourage Muslims across the country to get outdoors. Their walks, which often include some of Britain’s most challenging hikes, see hundreds of people from their community taking up space in the outdoors. In 2021, following their Christmas day hike in the Peak District, Muslim Hikers faced a deluge of racist attacks in online outdoors community groups and forums – something we at Peaks of Colour and many others have also experienced. Not only did this incident expose the prejudice people of colour navigate while in the outdoors that’s often hidden in plain sight, but it also reaffirmed the ongoing need for safe spaces like Muslim Hikers.
Wanderers of Colour is another collective committed to improving access to travel and the outdoors. Although, primarily UK based, they have members across the world and collaborate with other Black and people of colour-led initiatives to host a variety of events. These range from day hikes to weekend trips and wildlife expeditions to activity days, such as bouldering, climbing and paddleboarding. Fun is always embedded in Wanderers of Colour’s approach to the outdoors, and many of their outdoors activities are followed by a social event, such as a community meal, games night or party.
The Wanderlust Women is a hiking and adventure group for Muslim women. Driven by a spiritual connection with nature, The Wanderlust Women believe that the outdoors is for everyone, and that we should all feel welcome and represented. Their aims include normalising Muslim women and women from ethnic minorities in the outdoors, increasing confidence within their community, breaking barriers to access and challenging misconceptions about Muslim women. A walking group and so much more, they achieve these goals in many ways, including facilitating rock climbing, ghyll scrambling, wild swimming, paddle boarding, wild camping and mountain biking activity days. They also run courses on outdoor skills, embark on international expeditions and organise retreats.
Steppers is a Coventry-based outdoor organisation committed to diversifying the outdoors and supporting Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority communities to build positive relationships with nature. Currently focused on hiking and cycling, Steppers is also undertaking their #AONBChallenge, a mission which will see them visiting all 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (land protected by the CRoW Act 2000) across England, Ireland and Wales. In a previous interview, Steppers’ founder Cherelle told gal-dem: “The outdoors was where I found solace, but I’d rarely see people who looked like me when I was out and about, and I wanted to create a space where Black and brown people could feel comfortable to explore the outdoors without any pre-judgement.”
Last but certainly not least, is All the Elements, an organisation who has been a constant source of support for Peaks of Colour and community groups like us. All the Elements is working to increase diversity in the outdoors and has built a network of by and for groups in which to share resources, funding and opportunities. If you’re wondering how to find walks and activities in your local area their directory offers an extensive list of UK-based by and for organisations. The directory not only includes groups working towards racial justice, but also those fighting for gender and disability justice, LGBTQI+ rights and mental health support in the outdoors, too. So, no matter where you’re based, you can find a by and for community group local to you.
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