Black Scottish Adventurers (BSA) is a fast-growing community of adventurers dedicated to breaking down the barriers ethnic minorities face in accessing and enjoying Scotland’s great outdoors. From the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh, Glasgow to Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms, BSA’s mandate is to show people the beautiful Scottish outdoors, to improve physical and mental wellbeing, to provide environmental education and awareness, and to provide folks with a networking platform. The best part? It’s all done ‘in the spirit of fun and good vibes’!
Since launching BSA after the second lockdown in April 2022, they have led 15 adventures, not only introducing more than a thousand people to the beauties of Scotland’s landscapes, but also to the joys of hiking, swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking. Over 100 members gathered at Ben A’an, in the Trossachs, to celebrate BSA’s one year anniversary. And, most recently, 120 adventurers explored the Pentland Hills together.
BSA’s team – pathfinders – comprises Joshua Adeyemi (Lord of the Trails), Enoch Adeyemi (Lord of the Good Vibes), Ophelie Adeyemi (Lady Behind the Lens), Sade Adeyemi (Lady Behind the Chat), Minekhia Irune (Environmental Sustainability Ambassador), Josephine ‘Phina’ Amahoro (Occupational Health Advisor) and over 7000 community members.
I sat down with BSA’s co-founder, Joshua, to talk about his experiences in the Scottish hills as a first-generation immigrant from Nigeria, and the responsibilities – and rewards – he feels as a spokesperson and leader for the Black Scottish Adventurers Community. I first discovered Joshua through his incredible landscape photographs and short films, so we explored the various ways in which sharing content on social media can help build community and inspire others to get outside.
If one thing is certain, Joshua’s enthusiasm for Scotland’s outdoors is contagious. He is the winner of two Scottish Walking Awards, presented by MSP Maree Todd – Media Walking Champion & 2023 Overall Champion. He has a keen desire to share his knowledge and to provide people with a support network where they can meet new people and give back to the country’s wild spaces.
– Alexandre Marceau, Creatives Editor
Alex: When did you start exploring Scotland’s wild spaces?
Josh: I’ve been visiting Scotland since 2007 and was familiar with some of the landscapes, but I didn’t hike until moving here in 2011, after reading about the Land Reform Act. I was like, ‘What is this? This is bonkers . . . how can you be able to move anywhere?’ So I went hillwalking to see what this was all about, and I fell in love with the outdoors. When I realised I had the ability to move and go to these places, I knew this was a privilege to take advantage of because I didn’t have that back in Nigeria.
Alex: How did BSA, as an organisation, come to be?
Josh: Well, I’ve been hillwalking for years now and my friends, after chatting about my adventures, have always been like, ‘Yeah, this is cool. I want to go with you next time!’ I like to share experiences, so over the past few years I’ve taken many people walking, mainly just to have a good time.
There are loads of ethnic minorities coming to Scotland, but since the lockdown, we’ve gotten an influx of interest in hiking from the African and Caribbean communities. So in April 2022, it was time to officially brand Black Scottish Adventurers . . . and you know, although the name supports black people, we in fact support everyone – black, white, asian, female, male, transgender, bisexual, gay – whatever you are, whoever you are, wherever you are. Some people still ask us, ‘Why “Black Scottish Adventurers”?’ and the reality is, if we didn’t name it BSA, lots of black people would still think the outdoors isn’t for them.
Alex: I suppose it would just become another outdoor club?
Josh: Exactly, which is a shame because people might think, ‘Oh, it’s run by these black people, what can they tell me that I don’t already know?’ And people from the black community will also say, ‘Hey, what’s that club again? I don’t understand what they are doing.’ So it’s a lose lose . . . unless you just name something for what it is – a spade a spade. This way you can target the minority you want – just like Girls on Hills, easy. The more people see black people at BSA enjoying the outdoors, it will prompt anyone who is not from here to enjoy it, too. Directly or indirectly, we need to do that.
Alex: You’ve previously mentioned that speaking on behalf of the BSA community comes with a big sense of responsibility. Did you feel this before having a popular Instagram account?
Josh: No. I’ve been an ‘influencer’ before as a director of Black Professionals Scotland, but I wasn’t telling others to enjoy the outdoors. Now, however, things are different. I created BSA and people follow it, so I need to be more careful. I’ve always been careful, but it wasn’t always at the back of my mind not to ruin it for everyone else.
Alex: What do you mean by ruining it for everyone else?
Josh: Before BSA, I didn’t think I was ruining anything for anyone because I wasn’t leading anyone under any umbrella, but now it’s different. Imagine if I was hiking alone and had to call Mountain Rescue, this would surely make it into the local newspaper and in hiking forums, and someone from the black community will read this and think, ‘Why is this boy on the mountain in the first place?’ And when kids in the future want to go up the mountain, someone will say, ‘Well, you want to be like that boy?’ So I take more safety measures than an average hiker.
I can’t speak for others, but when I speak to the BSA community I always advise them to hike with someone because there is safety in numbers. You can prepare all you want, but if something is going to go wrong, it’ll go wrong. Similarly, when taking people up the mountain, I’m super careful. I’m not a qualified guide, but I’m a qualified outdoor first aider, and I bring groups to places I know they can go to and we go through numerous safety checks, always making decisions as a team.
Alex: What do you bring to individuals who might be on their first hike?
Josh: I think it’s a journey they have to experience themselves. You know, everyone likes to take photos to share with their loved ones later – and we encourage that, of course, because the more people see folk like us doing this then the more of us will come – but I always tell people, ‘When you’re going up, take a second to chill. Photos won’t really bring the meaning of the moment compared to when you’re there – don’t let it fly past you.’
For BSA’s first hike we went up Ben A’an, only around 450 metres but with an incredible view. A lot of the folks had never hiked nor been at that elevation in their life before. ‘Could I even do it?’ many wondered. Well, when we hiked up and I saw how joyous they were, it was like giving people happy drugs – they were happy and free, and it reminded me of my first time in the hills living my own moment. Hiking allows us to kick back and take stock, too. I’ll think, ‘Ten years ago I may have done this, certainly not 15 years ago, but look at me now.’
So I want individuals to realise these places are in their reach. Many people come to the UK looking for a better life, but once they arrive, a better life just becomes financial prosperity and it’s easy to neglect mental and physical wellbeing. For a lot of us, since we didn’t have the right to roam where we came from, you assume it doesn’t exist here, but in reality, it does. At BSA, we want to show people how they can benefit from and enjoy this privilege, so that something you once thought you could never do, now here you are doing it. And this translates to other things in life – so never say never, you know?
Alex: What are you trying to give to the community?
Josh: Ah, man. Well, since moving to Scotland and always seeing people wearing headphones on the bus, I think to myself, ‘You’re not allowing magic to happen, because for magic to happen, things have to unclick.’ You might accidentally drop something and then start a conversation with someone . . . instead of going this way, things can go the other way.
People were complaining they couldn’t find connections and would struggle on social media and dating sites. Where I’m from, if you want to talk to someone – to be a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever – you go and talk to them. There’s a lot of communication involved. So you can imagine, for BSA members who have just relocated here, it’s difficult because they don’t have family members or friends – they are by themselves. But when you bring a community together, you create opportunities for magic to happen.
I made a post recently about hiking alone, saying people should be more environmentally friendly about it, too. For example, if you’re my friend and we both stay in Edinburgh, and you’re heading to Glencoe by yourself because you want to be alone, you go by yourself . . . and I go by myself, and we are all going by ourselves, driving our cars and carbon emissions are just getting higher and higher. Whereas if we go together, we can have a moment in the car and, if we want, our own on the hill. For BSA’s trips, the social aspect of carpooling is very important because when you’re in a car with someone, you get to know them. By the time you get to the hill, you already have friends.
We also provide meals during our adventure because it provides another opportunity to connect and try something new. So that’s why people jell on our hikes. Most of them don’t know each other, they are just meeting that day, but then soon they are dancing, eating and enjoying the outdoors together. They’ve also surprised themselves by doing things they thought they’d never do and inspire others in the group. Before they might have looked at hikers and said, ‘Why are they doing that?’ But now, as they share their experiences with their families and friends, the others are asking themselves, ‘Why am I not getting involved?’
We’ve also recently had two rangers join BSA on a hike in the Trossachs, which was in part a result of Enoch’s (one of BSA’s leaders) conversation with a journalist that went viral. They spoke about an article he’d written about the discrimination the black community faces in the Scottish outdoors. The directors at Loch Lomond National Park caught wind of this article and reached out to us. They reassured us that the outdoors are for everyone, so we said, ‘Okay, well, can you tell us more about this place and educate us?’ So two volunteers, Jamie and Gareth, joined 50 BSA members on our hike up Ben Gullipen and educated us on the history, geology and wildlife of the area. It really changed our experience.
As a community, then, we’re exercising our right to roam so this privilege can continue, and BSA’s activities are also translating into more community-led volunteering activities where we give back to the spaces we enjoy – whether with charities, in national parks, planting trees and restoring paths. So these folks are coming to understand, ‘Ok, this place belongs to me as much as it is anyone else’s.’
Alex: The photos and videos from that up Ben Gullipen day are inspiring.
Josh: You know, I want to do more of that with BSA – taking shots of people simply enjoying themselves. My wife, Ophelie, is BSA’s photographer, but she wasn’t there on the Ben Gullipen hike and, since the rangers were leading, for the first time in a while I got to handle the camera – and it brought back so much joy! I was running ahead of people or they were walking past me, and I was doing all sorts of crazy things, capturing lovely moments. But it’s easier to do when you’re not supporting people, and 99% of the time, that’s what I do.
Alex: When did you get into film and photography?
Josh: My father used to say, ‘No knowledge is waste.’ In Nigeria, I worked as a Creative Director and was exposed to film and photography. It wasn’t directly relevant to my job, but I thought it looked fun. Then, when I started hiking, I figured I’d grab my camera to capture the moment, though not necessarily to share it. However, gradually, it’s changed the way I see the landscape and share content.
Alex: How so?
Josh: Let’s say I’m flying a drone near the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. If you get too close you won’t see it in a way, and if you’re too far, you also won’t see it in a way. So imagine the first time I’m flying. The perception I get hits me so profoundly that when I come back home, I call Ophelie and say, ‘Come over here, look at this – this is mad!’ and we watch it . . . and watch it some more. I just want to keep looking at it because photography gives the landscape a different light.
Alex: Which medium do you prefer, film or photography?
Josh: Film. You’re able to tell the story in its entirety, whereas with photography, the viewer has to imagine beyond what you’ve shown them. It’s like the Mona Lisa – someone can look at it and say she’s sad, while another says she’s happy. But with film, you see it for what it is, which comes back to sharing our experiences. When I return from the mountains and tell someone who isn’t involved in the outdoors about my adventure, they can’t imagine it because they’ve never experienced it. With a short film, however, I can say, ‘Look, this is what you can see.’
Alex: How do you choose what content to share?
Josh: I want to share content that appeals to the average person who doesn’t climb mountains. Take mountaineering brands, for example, they want raw, daring photos with spindrift or heavy rain that a climber will look at and say, ‘Wow, that looks sick.’ But then a normal person, people from my community just getting into the mountains, will say, ‘This person doesn’t look like they’re having a good time. Why would I want to leave the comfort of my home to go through that?’
So in my photos, the day is beautiful, the light is nice and my clothes are clean – it looks like I’ve been flown in from a helicopter! But I do this because I’m trying to reach normal people who will think, ‘I can be this guy. It doesn’t look like he’s gone through hardship to get to this point.’ For someone you’re trying to entice, a life-threatening situation isn’t going to work. Of course, once you inspire them with these nice photos and educate them, they’ll then understand themselves that conditions are not always optimal, but they work through it without realising it.
Alex: Yep . . . the classic ‘suffer fest’ narrative. What are the challenges of leading big groups?
Josh: The first, organising everyone. Even though you have a group chat and tell people what to wear, many still come unprepared, though it’s not their fault – life happens or they don’t even understand what the equipment is that we’re telling them to get.
The next is looking after everyone. Imagine 80 hikers . . . my brain doesn’t relax! ‘What are they doing? Are they okay?’ Again, I’m not a qualified guide, but I carry that responsibility and do my best to ensure we’re always pulling from the front and pushing from the back so that when we leave the mountain, we leave as one big group. I have a group of over 10 experienced folks who support me on the day.
Alex: That’s a lot of responsibility to carry on your shoulders.
Josh: It is, but I’m happy about it because we’re supporting people. I’m sure many people have wanted to launch an organisation like BSA, but then realised the work involved. We’re almost doing the job of a tourism company, really. Before the hike we ensure the location is safe, that we have healthcare practitioners, and that a normal company’s boxes are ticked.
I often go back to hike the same Munros because I know they’re safe enough to take those looking to ‘bag’ their first. I could be trying to hike up all the Munros in Scotland, but I don’t care about that. I care more about the lives I’m impacting rather than these achievements because if we go together, we’re empowering more people and lifting ourselves up together.
You know, people come up from London and Cardiff to join our adventures. These people go back with their friends and, often, come back with their families. So when you see our adventures, it’s not just people living in Scotland.
Alex: Why do you think that is?
Josh: Well, the landscape might bring them here, but it’s not the first time they hear about these places. Two girls who live in London came for the December BSA walk, and now they’re coming back with their families. It’s the first time that children are seeing people like them in these landscapes, and that sends a big message. They say, ‘Wow, I can do this in Scotland’, and then want to go themselves. So it’s great to think of a day in the future where I’ll be hiking somewhere and see this representation.
Alex: How can organisations promote equality, inclusion and diversity in Scotland’s outdoors?
Josh: I think we’ve made the job easy for those who want to connect with ethnic minorities, but it’s not only about colour representation. It’s important to look at the folks just coming from, say, Africa or the Carribeans, because you have multiple barriers to break down. If you are a black girl born in Scotland, you can look up to another girl also born in Scotland. However, when people just move here you have to break down cultural, ethnic, race, linguistic barriers, and so on.
You can do all the research you want, but direct interaction with the communities is the best way forward – and that’s what we do since we share the same experiences and know how to address them at a grassroots level rather than top-down. We figured out how to break down these barriers within the community.
Also, as an ally, you are not the one forming an objective – you are just helping to champion the objective. So you are not saying, ‘Okay, I know what you need . . . you need a new jacket.’ Instead, you’re saying, ‘What do you need? Oh, you need a jacket? Okay, we’ll get that for you.’ You are facilitating the objective, rather than making it.
If you reach out to us and let us know what challenges you are facing, we’ll help you find a solution. We’ve been talking with a charity about doing a bespoke event for BSA, where folks come plant trees and pick up litter, but we’ll treat it like any other BSA event to make it more appealing. Otherwise, members will say, ‘Come plant a tree? I’ve done my job, paid my tax, why should I plant trees now?’ So in this sense, the outdoors will see more care as well as more volunteers from ethnic minorities.
Last thing – network. Personally, the outdoors strip me of everything – I always want to go out and explore, but I’ve come to understand balance. I need to nurture relationships with my non-hillwalking friends and still have my hillwalking experience. I’ve had this conversation with you today, and who knows who you are going to talk to about me or me about you. I know loads of people that get so into hillwalking and leave everything behind, but you’ve got to nurture all relationships – don’t pigeon-hole yourself.
Alex: So, what’s next for BSA?
Josh: All of our 2023 hikes are on the website, and we want to keep working on the community’s mutual objectives: mental health, physical wellbeing, as well as environmental. We’re also hoping to start travelling by bus soon so that we can take more people with less impact, and we’d like to localise BSA to have various walks happening around Scotland. This way, there’s less travel but more sustainable communities.