AT the age of 26, Mollie Hughes became the youngest woman in the world to scale Mount Everest from both sides. Three years later she followed up the astonishing feat with another record, becoming the youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole after a 58-day trek in temperatures as low as -45C.

So it is with a raft of first-hand adventuring experience that she states: “Scotland can, and should, be a mecca of outdoor adventure within Europe.”

Now, the Edinburgh-based 32-year-old has focused her energies on highlighting the possibility for outdoor exploration offered by Scotland’s waters.

From paddleboarding and sea kayaking to wild swimming, her book Blue Scotland covers rivers, lochs, canals and beaches in every corner of the country.

“You need to be inspired to go anywhere,” says Hughes. “You have to have your eyes opened to what is there. A lot of people if they don’t know anyone that’s been, say, to the Outer Hebrides, it’s maybe not been advertised to them, it’s not something that’s been like on their radar.”

Just months after her solitary and gruelling journey to the southernmost part of the globe in January 2020, the explorer faced lockdown “away from big open spaces that I love so much”.

“I felt like I was craving something when I was stuck inside,” she says. “I realised that it was blue spaces.”

The book, which covers 65 different locations from rivers within cities to some of the remotest parts of Scotland, “came from a need to be in these spaces” when Hughes couldn’t leave the capital due to Covid-19 restrictions.

She adds: “As soon as we were allowed to travel, literally the week we were allowed to leave that five-mile radius that we had, we headed off and started.

“It has been shown across the outdoor industry that after lockdown, so many people went off and bought hiking boots, or paddleboards or just had this need to get out and be in nature.

“I think it is great, super refreshing that people are finally kind of properly realising that it’s something we need.”

While not just anyone would be able to recreate some of the expeditions conducted by Mollie Hughes, everyone in Scotland, both residents and visitors, can reap the benefits of being near water. Blue health, the idea that being near blue spaces boosts both mental health and physical wellbeing, is at the core of that concept.

“It all kind of clicked,” she says. “There are all sorts of studies going on into blue health these days that I didn’t really know about until I started writing the book. Whenever I’ve been stressed, or whenever I’ve needed a break, I’ve always been drawn to the beach and to the sea.

“It’s amazing that people are clocking onto this now because it’s out there, it’s free and it surrounds us – if we can use it for our mental health that’s great.”

It has also been a transition to activities which are fun in the moment rather than after the “suffering” was over.

Explaining the difference between her previous expeditions and the explorations of the country which has been her home for the past nine years, Hughes says: “The expeditions I’ve done, there’s a lot of suffering in them.

“When I was in Antarctica by myself for 58 days, it was just suffering day after day. It was great to be there. I am humbled that I’ve been able to see it and experience it, but it’s not enjoyment. What I do in Scotland, I do it for myself.”

From the buzz of catching a good wave while surfing to spotting a seal up close on a paddleboard, it is “all enjoyment”, she explains.

Hughes and photographer Rachel Keenan spent eight months fitting in adventures around other obligations, visiting locations ranging from St Kilda to the river Clyde in the very centre of Glasgow.

HeraldScotland: Swimming in St KildaSwimming in St Kilda (Image: Rachel Keenan)

However, the list first had to be brought down from an ambitious 150 to the final 65.

“I wanted a good mix between the ones that are quite accessible – the ones that people do when they’re just getting into swimming or paddleboarding. But I also wanted big bucket-list adventures. Some of them, like Loch A’an [in the Cairngorms], were huge – it was almost a mountaineering expedition to get to the loch.”

That is one of the reasons why it is important to be a “well-rounded adventurer” in Scotland, but it also helps take advantage of the “temperamental” weather.

“If you want to go to a particular beach, one day it might be flat, calm and might be great for paddleboarding, the next day there might be a bit more swell, some waves coming in so it’s good for surfing. I think incorporating all these different sports and an understanding and ability in all of them, gives you so many more options for adventure in Scotland.”

Nevertheless, over the eight months of travelling across Scotland almost “every time we got the camera out”, the duo saw sunshine and blue skies. The adventurer suggests that “Scotland gets a bad rep for its weather”, which “can be great”.

HeraldScotland: Loch A'anLoch A'an (Image: Rachel Keenan)

With such a span of activities readily available, a title of an adventuring mecca could be achieved with just a “push and investment from people coming on holiday here to do outdoor activities”, the author says.

The “best places” for this are led by “incredible” community initiatives who know what their local area needs to grow. She adds: “There’s a good place on Harris called Huisinis; it is a community-led centre that they’ve set up.

HeraldScotland: Paddle boarding on the ClydePaddle boarding on the Clyde (Image: Rachel Keenan)

“They raised the money, they built all this infrastructure, like toilet blocks, shower blocks, this big kind of viewing room that overlooks the whole beach.”

There are no major expeditions Ms Hughes’s agenda currently and her focus is “definitely turning to home a little bit more”.

“Since getting back from Antarctica, I feel a bit more settled here,” she says. “The book probably helped with that. I guess lockdown was that time when you do change your focus a little bit.

“I had been focusing on abroad so much, but actually [I am] realising that everything I wanted or could want for a time is here on the doorstep in this country.”