REFLECTIONS: RHIANE FATINIKUN
After a train journey through the Peak District compelled her to take up hiking and "get out there more", Rhiane Fatinikun has been on an incredible journey. Walking far and wide, with both one friend and more than one hundred, the Black Girls Hike group she started has gained huge momentum and featured on everything from the BBC to the World Economic Forum. She talks about diversifying the countryside, chasing waterfalls, and why the outdoors' healing power is more important than ever.
I don’t appreciate the elements all the time. It can be ecstasy; a really sunny day, yes! Or there’s a strong wind, sideways rain and the feeling is…nope. Sometimes you just realise how powerful the elements are and it’s humbling. You realise you’re still insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
I live in Bolton, in Greater Manchester. There’s a big country park behind the house and one at the bottom of my road, so I’m really lucky that I’m so close to nature. Yesterday, I walked to the bottom of my street and thought “Oh no, who’s dog is that?” Then I realised it was two deer just running past me. I’d walked five minutes from my house. As I’m getting older, I think I’m appreciating things like that a lot more.
I pretty much go out into nature every single day. Even if I’m just walking somewhere I’ll walk a longer way, or if I walk to the same place every day, I’ll walk a different way, just so I feel like I’m exploring something different.
I only started hiking last year. I was on the train coming through the Peak District and was watching all these people getting on and off. I looked at the Peak District and thought, you know, I should get out a bit more and then I thought I am going to get out more. When I was younger I used to do cross country and athletics, and rounders and netball. I was always outdoors somewhere in the summer but not hiking, because things like that are more what you do with your family and my family just weren’t into that.
On that journey through the Peak District, that’s when I decided I wanted to set up Black Girls Hike. I literally just took a video on my phone and put it on my WhatsApp and Instagram status. I said, "I’m taking up hiking this year" and tagged it #BGH. A few days later I set up the Instagram. I didn’t even know how to read a map, but decided to follow one of the Manchester Evening News walks with detailed instructions.
I advertised the first walk on Instagram and 14 people turned up. I was an hour late; I can’t believe anyone came back! I didn’t exactly know where I was going, but I don’t really think I let on. The walk went really well, and we had a reporter from The Voice, the Black newspaper, come on the walk too. To be honest, I was surprised at how many people turned up. I thought it would just be some of my friends.
Some people come because they just want to give hiking a go – maybe they've never thought about it before, or maybe thought that’s not really something black people do, because you don’t really see them doing it in the media. Others have already been walking, but have always been the only black person, and they just want to do it with other black people. Then you get others who come because they’re not used to being around so many black women; they might live in an area that’s really white, and maybe they’re struggling with their identity and want to be part of the community.
I can’t believe how much it’s actually taken off. We started in Manchester at first, and then we got a Midlands leader, then a London leader. On our first London walk, we had over 100 people turn up: it was insane. My hands were shaking when I saw them.
One of the things that I’m really proud of is when people message me to say “Oh, you’ve inspired me to do this”, and then they have started going out walking. Or when people are asking me questions about what kit should they get, and where should they go. We’ve just done some skills weekends, on navigation, so now our walkers can confidently map read and lead walks, and then they can share that skill with other people, encouraging more people out. It’s great how it’s all grown.
Over 350 people have taken part in our events and walks now. We’ve done caving, some gorge walking and some climbing. We’ve got quite a lot of regulars and we get all different age groups. People have said it’s given them more confidence and encouraged them to explore the outdoors more.
It must be good for people’s mental health as well. There have been a lot of friendships that have been formed in the group. A lot of the girls are really close friends now. So, I think it’s helped people to establish networks.
At the moment we’re raising money for our healing retreats. These are all about focusing a bit more on the mental health aspect of it. As a community, black people are constantly dealing with a lot; we live in a society that’s systematically racist. During the pandemic, black people have been disproportionately affected, we’re more likely to die and that’s because of racism. I think in general it has been a really stressful time and we haven’t been able to get outside as much – I just want people to be able to get outside a bit more, and experience different aspects of it. We’re going to have counsellors and outdoor activities, like yoga and painting. It’s going to be a place where we can reset really.
When I’m out alone in nature, sometimes I feel like it gives me too much time to think. I like to have company. If I wanted to explore, I might not feel comfortable doing it on my own. It’s good to bounce ideas of people. I love learning things from people. One of my hiking friends is an archaeologist, and he’s just finished his PhD. He’s always talking about rocks, and I just love it. I go hiking with my friend Sarah too, who lives close to me. We’ve been out camping, to watch a meteor shower. It’s nice just getting out with one other person. When you’re with the group you’re responsible for everybody and there’s that level of it feeling like work sometimes.
My top place to go is probably somewhere in the Lake District, because I just think there are loads of places to explore, like waterfalls that I want to find. Finding water when I’m on a hike is my favourite thing because I find water so calming. Last year, I went on holiday to Brazil and every day I went waterfall chasing.