Heather Mackins in on a mission to share the magic of ‘thru-hiking’ with others who seek solitude and solace on long-distance walking trails in the UK and further afield.

Heather is a 36-year-old lawyer based in Yorkshire. But you can often find her ‘thru-hiking’ in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, pack on, escaping the humdrum of normal life – or blogging about her experiences. Having grown up in the Peak District, she is drawn to long-distance treks time and again to test her physical and emotional strength – as well as her gear! Here, Heather shares her passion for adventure with The Great Outdoors.

Main image: Heather thru-hiking on the West Highland Way. | Credit: Heather Mackins @hiker_heather

Can you tell us what long-distance trails you’ve completed?

The long-distance trails that I have completed to date are the West Highland Way (twice), the Cumbria Way, the South Downs Way, the Great Glen Way, the Cotswold Way, the Cape Wrath Trail, Tour Du Mont Blanc and I’ve thru-hiked to Everest Base Camp.

Thru-hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.

Thru-hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.
Credit: Heather Mackins

All of the trails have been completed as thru-hikes – not as day hikes or section hikes. I did end up splitting the Cape Wrath Trail into two sections in the end, however, due to having eight days and nights of biblical rain. I came off the trail at around the halfway point for a few weeks until the weather improved before heading back up to Scotland to complete the remainder of the trail.

All of the trails have been solo apart from West Highland Way which I did with my sister and Great Glen Way which I did with two friends, Rob & Jon, who I had met separately earlier in that year whilst I was on South Downs Way. Everest Base Camp was with a guided group. I had intended the Cape Wrath Trail to be solo but I spent the first half of the trail with a chap called Jim who I had met on the first day of the trail! I completed the second half of the trail from Strathcarron to the Cape solo.

When did you discover the outdoors and what was it about being outside that kept you coming back?

I was lucky enough to have been brought up in the Peak District for the majority of my childhood, where most of my time was spent outdoors, either playing with friends or hiking with my dad and sister. During that time, I became so acquainted with nature and comfortable with spending time outdoors.

Col de la Seigne thru-hiking on Tour du Mont Blanc_credit Heather Mackins copy

Col de la Seigne on Tour du Mont Blanc.
Credit: Heather Mackins

The outdoors is where I feel the most genuine happiness and pure joy. It is where I can truly be myself. There is no pressure or judgment. It is where I feel most accepted. I love the freedom, peace and solitude of being out in nature and I am a huge advocate for getting outdoors for the sake of your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Why thru-hiking?

Thru-hiking is magic! I’m drawn to the simplicity of life on the trail, to spending prolonged periods in nature, living simply and self-sufficiently out of my backpack. Thru-hiking often allows you to disconnect completely from society, to turn your back on modern conveniences, to escape the humdrum of ‘normal life’, to find solitude in the most beautiful of places. Thru-hiking allows you to enjoy a much slower pace of life and more simple way of being.

Making Swiss friends thru-hiking on Tour du Mont Blanc _credit Heather Mackins

Making Swiss friends on Tour du Mont Blanc.
Credit: Heather Mackins

Don’t get me wrong, thru-hiking can also be hugely unpredictable, requiring you to adapt and overcome, time after time. It can be painful and challenging – it can hurt both physically and mentally, but at the same time can be extremely cathartic and healing in the process. Thru-hiking will test your gear, your mental and physical resilience and maybe even your sanity, but it will also allow space for a huge amount of introspection and personal growth along the way. There is nothing quite like thru-hiking.

Of all the long-distance treks you’ve done, which has been the most memorable – good or bad?!

My most memorable long-distance trail has to be the Cape Wrath Trail! I had held it in such high esteem and had wanted to hike it for many years, before eventually plucking up the courage to do so earlier this year. The trail is just incredible, an adventure of a lifetime often referred to as the toughest long-distance hike in the UK. You pass through the most beautiful and remote areas of the Highlands, including Knoydart, Fisherfield, Torridon and Assynt.

Camping at Am Bealach, Assynt on the Cape Wrath Trail_credit Heather Mackins

Camping at Am Bealach, Assynt on the Cape Wrath Trail.
Credit: Heather Mackins

The trail gave me so much confidence in my ability and served to strengthen my ever-growing bond and love for the Scottish Highlands. I hope to hike the trail again in the future, taking in some of the different route variants.

What advice do you have for other women who are struggling with barriers to getting outdoors on their own terms?

Confidence is key! For those looking to build confidence in the outdoors, I would highly recommend looking at group or guided hikes as a starting point. I would also recommend looking at the wide range of courses offered by outdoor centres such as Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms or Plas y Brenin in Eryri (Snowdonia).

Lastly, I would recommend YouTube vlogs or outdoor blogs, which is where I tend to source a lot of my information, whether that be about a specific gear item or to aid the planning of a thru-hike. I launched my own blog earlier this year as I wanted to help and encourage others to get outdoors and to try thru-hiking for themselves by providing a candid journal of my journey on the trail, as a solo female, whilst also providing some of the information that I had been looking for and sometimes struggled to find such as wild camping spots, detailed itineraries and gear information.

Read more at hikerheather.com.