Interview Series

Finding Love In the Hills

Forget cards, chocolates and flowers; there's nothing more romantic than a good hill walk. For a lucky few couples, mountains are a passion shared equally, the bedrock of a relationship. For a bit of Valentine's Day fun, we meet three avid hillgoing couples whose stories started on the mountains.   

Fi Russell and Gordon Lacey

UKHillwalking contributor and outdoor journalist Fi, aka Fiona Outdoors, and her partner Gordon have been together seven years, having first met on the Five Sisters of Kintail.

"My poem was entitled: 'When love gets in the way of a first Munro round'…”

UKH: Can you tell us about how you met?

Fi: Our first actual meeting was on one of the Five Sisters of Kintail Munros. It all sounds rather romantic doesn’t it? Except, the truth is, we were both just happened to be part of a group doing a charity walk the length of the Five Sisters. We found ourselves walking besides each other and struck up a friendship. It wasn’t a sudden romance although it was obvious we both shared a passion for the great outdoors. Eventually this was part of what brought us together.

Before you got together, were you both already into hills?

Gordon: I had about 70 Munros left to walk in my first round when we met. I loved the challenge of the Munros and I was out most weekends walking them. In fact, I had walked three Munros already that day further along the ridge before I met the charity group on the Five Sisters. I was really focused on the Munros back then. Strangely, meeting Fi both helped and hindered my end goal!

F: That Five Sisters hike was a defining moment for me. I had walked a dozen or so Munros before that but I had not enjoyed a day of high level walking so much as I did in Kintail. I loved the physical challenge, the superb views and the chance to walk with likeminded people. I suddenly decided I would like to walk more Munros, although I had no idea what that really entailed.

G Yeh, Fi was keen to walk Munros and after we met we walked quite a few as part of a smaller group of friends. But she also had all her other outdoors sports and activities, such as cycling, running, triathlon, snowboarding and kayaking. She started to invite me on some of these and that side-tracked me from my goal of my first Munro round. It sounds bad to say but that was a little frustrating for me, although, looking back, it turned out to be a great thing because we then become a couple.

F: Ha, ha! Do you remember the poem I wrote for you when you did finish your round? My poem was entitled: “When love gets in the way of a first Munro round…” Of course Gordie finished his round but he did it a little slower than he had thought he might while also getting to try lots of other sports and starting a new relationship. I don’t think that sounds too bad at all!

G: I know! It did work out very well in the end…Fi always knows best!

How important is a shared love for the hills to your life together now?

F: We still enjoy walking hills together, especially Munros. It's one of the outdoors sports that we still do together, as well as skiing. Since finishing his first round Gordie has become more of a climbing addict and I still enjoy all my many other activities.

Now I only have about 60 Munros to go to finish in my first round and Gordie has been with me during many of these hikes. He even helped me to reach the top of the In Pinn on Skye, which is something I never imagined I would be able to do due to my huge fear of heights.

I have a lot of respect for Gordie’s experience in the hills and I’ve benefitted a lot from this because he has taught me mountain confidence and navigation. I still love seeing him in his element when he has to navigate us through, for example, a white-out, by a map and compass bearing alone. I completely trust him in these circumstances. We have faced some tough challenges together in the mountains and I think that has brought us closer together than normal life might have done.

G: We have definitely experienced some of our most amazing times together and also some of our most challenging while walking Scottish mountains. It has created a strong bond between us and fantastic memories.

I really like spending time with Fi, she’s my best friend, and so we try to make sure we get together to do the Munros as much as possible, although it is always  around our other interests. We are definitely not tied at the hip but Fi is the person I most like to hang out with. We are great friends as well as partners.

It’s getting harder to find Munros that Fi hasn't walked and so we repeat hikes of Munros closer to our home. We keep it varied by walking at night, snow shoeing Munros, or doing different routes. I am also closing in on my second round so if we are not doing a new Munro for Fi, we’ll walk a Munro that gives me another bag in my second round.

Fi: I hope we don't sound too obsessive! We’re not really. We just both enjoy spending time outdoors and time together outdoors when we can.

Has this shared passion influenced life decisions you’ve taken?

F: If you count buying a campervan, then yes! I bought a campervan (VW T5) a few years ago partly because it would help us to enjoy weekends away to walk Munros. It means we can head off for a few days further afield and not worry about booking accommodation or pitching a tent in a storm.

We also hope to move closer to the mountains in due course and that would not have been on the cards if we didn't have a shared passion for the outdoors.

I think that it’s when we doing things together outdoors, such as walking, that we make our big plans for life. So doing things and planning things go hand-in-hand for us.

G: We both have our own goals in our everyday activities but we do share a dream of enjoying a different lifestyle, especially something that includes more time outdoors. We are working towards making that life decision and it’s something we are driven to do together.

Aside from both mad keen hillwalkers, do you also have separate outdoors interests, and is this a positive thing?

F: We have a lot of outdoors activities we do separately. I like hill running, road cycling, mountain biking, walking on my own or with other friends and triathlon. Gordie is a keen climber, both in summer and winter. We are both strong-minded individuals.

However, we do enjoy time together as well. We walk Munros, ski - both downhill and touring - and we enjoy sports such as sea kayaking when we get the chance.

I think that having both shared and separate interests keeps things fresh with us. We always have something to talk about and it’s important to us both that we have our own interests and friends as well as our shared passions.

I can’t imagine either of us sitting around with nothing to do and I don't think we are the sort of couple that has to do everything together. We like the way our lives have turned out together.

Jenny Hatfield and Rick Salter

In 2016 hill bagging power-duo Rick and Jenny became the first couple to complete all 1556 Marilyns, one of the UK's toughest hill lists, having already done the Munros and Corbetts. So how did it all start for them?

Jenny and Rick's final Marilyn top   © Rick Salter
Jenny and Rick's final Marilyn top
© Rick Salter

"Since we met we have done pretty much all our walking together"

When and where did you meet?

Jenny: We met at the Youth Hostel in Killin, in October 2005, quite by chance. I was there to plan for my final Munro celebration. I had just my final to climb at that stage, Meal nan Tarmachan, and was already making a start on the Corbetts. Rick was staying with his friend Mike and Neil, and we got chatting in the evening over a cup of tea, enjoying comparing stories of our Munro experiences. Rick had recently finished his Munros on An Teallach, so we had a lot in common from the start.

Would you say you both have equal love for the hills, or is there a greater motivation coming from one side of the partnership?

We both have an equal motivation to climb the hills, and both enjoy climbing new hills, hence the attraction of hill lists. I think that Rick is keener on the ticking than me though. I just love to be somewhere new, and all that the wild outdoor environment has to offer.

What significance does hillwalking play in your shared life – is there any other pursuit that you do as a couple that comes close?

We have devoted more and more time to hill walking in the UK over the last few years. We also enjoy long distance walking, and walking in Europe and further afield when we have the opportunity. Recently we had a great experience walking in Japan. We enjoy wildlife watching, running, and gardening, though these probably do not come close to walking.

How much walking do you manage to do together as a couple, rather than individually? You’d both already completed the Munros, or were soon to, so moving onto the Corbetts together seems a natural next step. Did you work through the Corbetts as a team, climbing them all together? Similarly you’re also the first Marilynist couple: did you climb all of them together too?

Since we met we have done pretty much all our walking together. With the Corbetts and Grahams we repeated hills that one or other of us had climbed before we met. So apart from Munros we have climbed nearly all the Marilyns together.

Do you have a shared project you’re working on at the moment?

We are close to finishing the Wainwright Outlying Fells. And working through our missing Donalds. The next bigger plan is the Irish Marilyns.

What is the attraction of walking together, and do either of you ever pine for a bit of solo time up hills?

It's good to have someone to share the experience with. We don't tend to talk much on our walks. I prefer to be quiet, and soak up the atmosphere. It's better for viewing wildlife too. It's nice to be able to talk about plans before a walk, and we encourage each other too. It would be more difficult to achieve so much if I was doing it on my own. Before we met l had climbed over 200 of the Munros on my own and l always enjoyed the solo trips. But since l met Rick it has been great doing so much together. I think we make a very good team.

Do your walking goals always perfectly match up?

We do have some different aspirations, but because we both enjoy walking usually we can easily come to some agreement.

Kate and Ross Worthington

Kate and Ross own North Wales mountain activity and course provider RAW Adventures. Snowdonia is in their blood, since they originally met here, and now call the Welsh mountains home.

"It was a great feature of us meeting that neither had to ‘introduce’ each other to the concept of adventuring in the hills – the fascination was already there, for both of us"

So when and where did you first meet?

Kate: Ross and I first met in the bar at Plas y Brenin on the evening preceding our Mountain Leader training course in March 2006. I thought he was a bit tall… and quite confident, and he said to the friend he was with, “I hope she’s on our course…” At the time, Ross was living in Kent and I was living in the Lake District. Cue some early logistical challenges of planning how we could meet up again.

How important is a shared love for the hills to your life together?

A love for the hills independently brought us to Plas y Brenin to learn more about being a Mountain Leader, so I would say it’s an intrinsic and defining aspect of our relationship… how could it not be? Between meeting in March 2006 and having our daughter, Libby, in July 2009 we squeezed in many trips to the Lake District, North and South Wales, Scotland’s far North West, Eastern and Western Highlands in summer and winter, Peak District grit, Kent sandstone, Chamonix in summer and winter, Peru, Patagonia and Borneo. It was a great feature of us meeting that neither had to ‘introduce’ each other to the concept of adventuring in the hills – the fascination was already there, for both of us.

Has this shared passion influenced life decisions you’ve taken?

Definitely! I was living in the Lake District when we first met and we shared a lot of romantic first adventures on the surrounding fells. I moved from the Lake District to Kent, so I could see Ross more and we could develop a relationship as he had an established career with Kent Police (there’s only so many Quality Mountain Day trips to the Lake District one man can make!) and then quite quickly we started scheming how we could move ourselves closer to some more mountains! I was enjoying working as an ‘Adventure Consultant’ and Mountain Leader for Adventure Café in Kent and in 2007, Ross and I married in Grasmere, Lake District (sigh, we became engaged in the Lakes, too – with the backdrop of a dramatic Levers Water and an engagement ring in an Exped Dry Bag!). After having our daughter, Libby, in 2009, 2010 saw a move to Nant Peris, North Wales to be closer a mountain environment that we both very much enjoyed, as well as looking for opportunities for Ross’ police career. Career plans for Ross took some unexpected turns and that’s when we decided to put all our efforts into both continuing to develop a small seed of an idea for a mountain activities set-up, RAW Adventures. This also suited my excitement of being able to work ‘in the hills’ and be back in time for tea with Libby… that was really important to me as a new mum. So, most decisions were influenced by mountains, mountains, mountains!

Work must take up a lot of time, and I don’t imagine you’re often on the hill together on this pretext - so how much time do you actually get to walk or climb these days as a couple, for enjoyment?

Nail on head… It’s not only working on our business that fills (mostly) every conscious hour but also being a mum and dad to Libby and making sure we’re not short-changing her in terms of time available as parents, as well as wanting to include her in any adventures we plan. So, that inevitably has meant we’ve renegotiated and redefined our time together as a couple and our objectives as people who love to enjoy the mountains together. Smaller, nearer, shorter, less expensive, basically… for now! Having said that, we really do try to protect ‘us’ time in the mountains and plan that in over certain times of the year – sometimes it’s work or work planning related, other times we plan to head out together in winter or check out a local area we’ve never been to before. To snatch an uninterrupted, quiet hand-hold while walking together is golden!

Being parents is also a massive time constraint of course: how important is it to you as a family to make the effort to go walking all together?

Very. Ross and I both have very happy, yet quite different experiences and memories of childhood mountain adventures: Ross in the French Alps and me in the Lake District, Scotland and North Wales. We are naturally very keen to want to keep exploring places with Libby and each year we’ll keep notching up experiences and adventures as we can fit them into a busy work/life/school schedule. Patience and planning is key.

Aside from both being into hills, do you also have separate interests?

I love to run - trail and mountains, ideally - whereas Ross’ 6ft 5in frame isn’t so inspired by jolting up and down on his knees! Ross really likes the process of cooking, and does it really well – whereas I’m happy to take as little time as possible to prepare food! We both enjoy watching films and make sure we take ourselves to the cinema for ‘date nights’ every so often. Ross neatly applies himself to lateral thinking puzzles and has a real love for books and reading, and he thinks I’m a tidying ninja and that I walk too fast… we sometimes have to agree to disagree!


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