People often say they climb a mountain “because it is there” … but in setting up a business the more useful adage is “because it is not there”.

Girls on Hills directors, Keri Wallace and Nancy Kennedy, noticed that there was something missing in the growing outdoors market. 
The two friends, who ran together and met through the Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team, realised that while there were plenty of women participating in road running and hill walking, few were combining the two and taking up fell running as a sport. And no one was offering guided runs, walks and skill acquisition days solely for women. 

So the pair established a limited company to do just that ... and in so doing found an untapped seam of women desperate to build their confidence in the outdoors, taking things at their own pace. 
“There is a much bigger proportion of men in the races and clubs than there is in road running and we were aiming to increase the accessibility of the sport and address that gender gap in participation … which is worldwide,” explains Wallace.

“There is a reluctance from some women to run alongside men, and many see barriers where there really are none.”
Women, who have a 10-15% physiological competitive disadvantage, report that they feel concerned about holding mixed groups back or being pushed too far beyond their comfort zone.
Fell running involves a significant amount of navigation, and some women, says Wallace, can find this intimidating – the fear of asking a stupid question, or of men peering over a shoulder as they look at the map, often putting them off learning at all.

“I did a survey when we first set up the company asking what puts women off solo running in remote places,” explains Wallace. “One reason was that people were worried they’d get lost because they don’t know how to navigate –which is fixable.”


Founders Nancy Kennedy (left) and Keri Wallace (right) post inspiring hill-top shots on social media 

Motherhood can be another barrier, and from the outset Wallace and Kennedy, both mothers themselves, consciously made this a part of their brand image.

“Recently we have had quite a lot of mums coming back to sport after having had a break. Some of our guides are mums, and I have two toddlers, and that is part of our social media message … we can cater for average runners, we are approachable and relatable. 

“You don’t have to be really young and fit and extreme to go trail running or to take it up. Nancy is 62 and she has a huge following on social media; people love to see a woman in her position just cracking on and trying new things. It’s quite inspiring.”

In its first year the businesses has already attracted a following of about 5,000 people on social media channels, has run numerous courses on everything from My First Munro, an over-50s trail running day and technique workshops to advanced fell running training. One course sold out in 24 hours, with an extra date then selling out soon after. 

The young company has been invited to host runs at various outdoors festivals, has commercial partnerships with key brands Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, Inov-8 and Harvey Maps, and tie-ins with the Fort William Mountain Festival and Skyline Scotland
The start-up process was reasonably straightforward. Glencoe is in an area in which most businesses are dependent on tourism, so it was easy to find a squad of friends and neighbours willing to guide them over the legal hurdles of setting up a limited company.


Building primal survival skills can boost confidence that spills over into other areas of life, believes Wallace 

“Everybody’s industry here is heavily dependent on tourism and so I think when we are marketing ourselves as a company we are also marketing the area of Glencoe. We try to promote the National Trust for Scotland and local accommodation providers – everybody helps everybody else because we are all trying to bring people to the area,” says Wallace. 

With no premises required the costs were minimal and they sought advice to ensure the firm was fully insured for its portfolio of activities. As the two founders are both qualified guides, Girls on Hills was immediately able to offer a range of guided experiences such as fell running, trail running and skyrunning … running on rugged marked courses in which there is no need of navigation but the challenges of the terrain require a greater mastery of technique.

It is a comparatively new sport, begun in Europe but rapidly growing in an international arena. Glencoe is hosting the upcoming Salomon Glen Coe Skyline® race, for which Girls on Hills are running recce days for entrants as well as spectator walks – leading people to remote spots in the glens to cheer on family and friends.
The company also taps into the growing market for bespoke experiences, tailoring each day to the requirements and skill level of participants. 

Typically a day out will involve a detailed preparation, kit check and the chance to get out in the wild for a walk or a run in safety – covering everything from when to put on an extra layer and how to run through bogs (“sometimes you’re up to your knees in mud, but that’s part of the fun”) to not using a phone for navigation in case it is needed to call help. They also teach more in-depth survival skills on river crossings and using group shelters – everything to instill greater confidence while in the outdoors.

As well as the well-documented benefits of immersing oneself in nature, of experiencing the wilderness, of increasing heart rates and breathing fresh air, there are other benefits to the courses that can go beyond wellbeing, leisure and lifestyle and spill over into women’s daily lives  

“Even people who have really hectic lifesfyles and shift patterns can really benefit from making time to get away from it all to run. And that way it helps release the pressures of working life,” says Wallace.


Pages of positive reviews on the Facebook page describe being transformed by the “magical” experiences, the increased confidence and expertise. 

While the intention in setting up the company was to address gender imbalance in outdoor sport, Girls on Hills has created ripples which have spread beyond fell running. 

The Scottish Women’s Walking Group approached the firm to run navigation courses for women which has developed into a monthly day course, and, more recently, the domestic abuse charity Lochaber Women’s Aid invited Wallace and Kennedy to be guest speakers at one of its events. But this unexpected path is a gratifying one for Wallace.

“Many of our women are going through a difficult stage in life – divorce, in recovery from a major illness, or suffering from anxiety. And they are amazed by what they have done and what they can achieve.

“What I’ve learned as an outdoor enthusiast for a long time is that if you don’t stretch your comfort zone it just gets smaller and smaller until you are fearful of doing even things that you used to, and with that comes self-doubt.

“Going out trail running with nothing but the bag on your back gives you a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. You are going back to something rudimentary, like a kind of animal survival instinct. You know you are strong and capable.  

“And I believe that as you do more of that, you also see a physical strength, and an improvement, and that makes you feel like a stronger person. You can see that you are not a weakling, you are not inferior and you can do things and make executive decisions, and be responsible.”