Soaked to the skin, under siege from millions of midges and weary after another long day hiking and cycling, solo adventurer Lotti Brooks reflected on the gruelling outdoor challenge she’d set herself.

She was close to conquering Scotland’s Munros in a single, self-propelled round using just her bike for transport and all while travelling alone.

On the way she wrestled with burst bike tyres and erratic motorists; so frightening were some close calls on the busier roads, that she took to hitting the tarmac in the early hours before the motoring madness began.

And yet in between the harsher moments was the life-affirming beauty of Scotland’s wild landscape, the kindness of strangers who helped her on her way and the warm welcome at the hostels she bedded down in and the new friends she made there.

No stranger to the hills, Lotti’s ‘day job’ is among Scotland’s most unusual occupations, she is a reindeer herder with the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.

One of a rising number of women daring to head on epic adventures deep into Scotland’s wilderness, last summer’s achievement spanned 90 days and placed her among a growing group of women crushing stereotypes and barriers, to make the mountain landscape their playground.


The Herald: Lotti Brooks is among a rising number of women exploring Scotland's landscapeLotti Brooks is among a rising number of women exploring Scotland's landscape (Image: Lotti Brooks)

They include the likes of ultra-runner Jamie Aarons, who last June set a new time record for scaling all 282 of Scotland’s Munros, mountains higher than 3,000 feet (914m).

The 43-year-old ran, cycled and kayaked between each of the Munros and finished in 31 days 10 hours and 27 minutes, breaking the previous record held by former marine Donnie Campbell, from Skye by more than 12 hours.

More recently, Anna Wells from Inverness became only the fourth person to ever complete the gruelling 'Winter Munro Round'. The 34-year-old from Inverness took 83 days, battling injuries, a bout of ill-health and 87mph winds on the way.

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Soon experienced Munro bagger Lorraine McCall from Beauly will set off for her 60th birthday challenge, completing all of Scotland’s 231 Grahams, hills between 600 and 762 metres in height, under her own steam. All the more remarkable, she has undergone treatment for three different cancers in the past 12 years.

As Nan Shepherd’s love letter to the Cairngorm mountains, The Living Mountain, confirms, the hills have always drawn women to explore them.

But, it seems, now more than ever.

According to mountain runner Keri Wallace, co-founder of Girls on Hills which runs courses and groups aimed at empowering women with the skills and confidence to become self-reliant in the mountain environment, there is a clear upswing in the number of women seeking to explore and challenge themselves in the outdoors.

But, she adds, there remain outdated attitudes to conquer, a need for outdoor equipment and clothes manufacturers to provide better options and women’s own mindset to overcome.

“Women are now realising what is possible,” she says. “There’s an overall gradual shift towards better equality and equity in sport in general, whether it’s football, rugby or tennis.

“When successes are celebrated, we are seeing role models.


The Herald: Girls on Hills arranges courses, training and events for women Girls on Hills arranges courses, training and events for women (Image: Girls on Hills)

“And we are seeing more women achieving great things because there are more out there in general doing things. “

In recent years women have become increasingly visible in challenging outdoor environments: the number of women wild swimming groups have ballooned and there are new outdoor groups like the Adventure Syndicate – women cyclists and who embark on challenges and tours aimed at pushing boundaries around what can be achieved – and Dirt Divas, another cycling-based group which aims to boost the number of women riding bikes and enjoying the outdoors.

Women’s hillwalking groups, rock-climbing and mountaineering courses and clubs are flourishing. Mountaineering Scotland has appointed Jo Dytch as its new Chair, the first woman to hold the position, joining newly-elected President Anne Butler, who has two full rounds of Munros, Munro Tops, Corbetts, Grahams, Donalds and Furths – known as Full Houses.

Both have spoken of seeing rising numbers of women on the hills and of their hopes to encourage more.

While there’s huge progress, Keri says there can still be stereotypes to break down.

“A lot of female guides have mentioned how many times while walking with a group of women they get ‘mansplained’ on the hill.

“Things like ‘have you girls got a leader’, ‘did you know it’s narrow there, and you should think about turning back’. ‘Have you thought about whether you’re up to it or not?’

“Women talk of being told they shouldn’t be out there without their partner.”

That, she adds, leads women to question themselves and their ability.

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“The big barrier women have is them thinking they are not good enough, they’ll slow everyone down, they’re not fit enough or think they are terrible at navigating.

“But often they’ve never tried it, they don’t know how to, and it all becomes self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Then they come on a course, try it and find they can do it.”

For Lotti, 26, originally from Bristol, her role herding the famous Cairngorm herd inspired her to explore further.

She sold her car, relied on her bicycle and embarked on mini adventures before plotting her biggest yet: all Scotland’s Munros in a single round.

Still, until setting off, she had never spent more than a week at a time away on her bike.

“I spent the summer before pushing the limits of what I could do to work out if doing all 282 mountains in one summer was even possible for me,” she says.

“Even when I set off, I wasn't totally confident that I would be able to finish it, but I think that is one of the most wonderful things about an adventure.

“There are many uncertainties, and the very best adventures are those that push you and just might not be possible.”

She left in early May last year despite a foot injury a few weeks earlier. She finished at the top of Ben Hope just under three months later.

The Herald: Lotti Brooks bagged all Scotland's Munros in just under three months while travelling on her bikeLotti Brooks bagged all Scotland's Munros in just under three months while travelling on her bike (Image: Lotti Brooks)

Travelling alone was an opportunity to immerse herself in the experience without distractions, she says. And it’s one she’s keen to encourage other women to consider.

“There were a couple of tough times, but 99% of the trip was pure fun and I enjoyed it even more than I expected I would,” she says.

Although solo, she wasn’t entirely without company the whole time. One highlight was the traverse of the Cuillin ridge, achieved with two friends, one of them a guide.

In Glencoe she was joined by one of her sisters for an unforgettable day of swimming in rivers washed down with a pint at the Clachaig Inn before a round of the Aonach Eagach ridge in the morning and Bidean Nam Bian in the afternoon.

And a friend joined her to kayak across to Mull so she could take on Ben More.

The Herald: Lotti Brooks camped and stayed in Hostelling Scotland accommodationLotti Brooks camped and stayed in Hostelling Scotland accommodation (Image: Lotti Brooks)

Many nights were spent alone in her tent, but others spent in Hostelling Scotland’s accommodation dotted along her route provided a cosy bed, a chance to dry out her clothes, pick up fresh supplies of food and maps which she’d arranged to be delivered, and to share stories with other guests.

“Camping wasn’t sustainable for three months, and the hostels were a perfect chance to wash and just chat to people,” she adds.

There were difficult moments: mechanical issues with the bike, a couple of burst tyres and a scary incident cycling down a hill in heavy rain when the brakes failed and she landed in a ditch.

“The midges towards the end were incredibly bad, my feet were wet for a week, it was awful weather and I’d been walking over rough terrain.

“Before that, I thought I would be happy never to go home and sleep in the tent all the time. But that made me realise I missed home and was ready for it to end.”

She says she sees more women venturing into the hills and mountains mostly in groups. For those who dare to go solo, she says there are unexpected joys.

“When you’re with other people, it’s a wonderful experience, but when on your own it’s more intense, you notice everything around you, the birds, the plants, changes in the weather.

“I’m more cautious on my own and take fewer risks because I know it’s more dangerous if you’re alone.

“The more women we see doing endurance adventures has shown women can do it.”