A SCOT is hoping is close a widening gap between people and the outdoors in the wake of the Covid crisis after leading a “powerful” fundraising horse ride from St Andrews to Iona along an ancient trail.

Louis Hall began long-distance horse rides in 2020 after his friend tragically died of cystic fibrosis.

The 27-year-old rode from John O’Groats to Lands End across 57 days while raising a mammoth £38,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

What he thought would be a tough, solitary journey against the elements on his Highland pony turned out to be an “extraordinary magnet for human connection” as people from all walks of life joined him for parts of his adventure.

In a similar vein, he was then inspired to ride across Europe from Sienna in Italy to Cape Finisterre in Spain while raising money for AMNA – a cause supporting the psychological wellbeing of refugees.

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His physical exploits on horseback eventually led to a new vision of starting up The Big Hoof – a charity that would promote adventure and wellbeing through the power of long-distance rides people could join and leave as they pleased.

Hall, based in Wigtown, said: “Our mission is to focus on the UK, local issues, connecting communities, the beautiful outdoors and to inspire people to go out and explore and take risks, but feel confident and feel a sense of belonging to the land beneath us and to each other.”

Over the last fortnight, Hall has led a 200-mile ride from St Andrews to Iona which involved four horses and attracted more than 40 people along the way.

Starting out as a group of three on the beach in St Andrews, dozens of people from aged 75 to six-years-old were inspired to join the adventure along the ancient St Columba’s Way.

The National: Louis Hall is aiming to better connect people with the outdoors through the power of horsesLouis Hall is aiming to better connect people with the outdoors through the power of horses (Image: The Big Hoof)

The trek has so far raised £6500 for Glasgow-based Venture Trust, which supports adults and young people struggling with involvement in Scotland’s criminal justice system, with long-term unemployment or mental health issues.

Many recovering addicts joined for some of the walk, while the trek also attracted musicians, poets, and even someone who was an excellent cocktail maker, with everyone able to ride the horses as much or as little as they wished.

What motivated them all was a desire to get headspace, connect with each other and the outdoors.

Hall described it as the most “powerful” experience he has had since venturing out with a horse himself.

He told The National: “During the trip across Europe, I felt there was a drive in me to show that this sense of adventure and going into the unknown and believing in the kindness of strangers is still alive.

“I felt that during and after lockdown one of the knock-on effects was that people just lost a sense of freedom and confidence in their own right to freedom.

The National: People from all walks of life joined for the journey between St Andrews and IonaPeople from all walks of life joined for the journey between St Andrews and Iona (Image: The Big Hoof)

“People have become isolated now more than ever before and disconnected to each other and to nature. Scotland seems to have this gap between the outdoors and the individual and if there’s one thing I want to do, it’s to try and ensure people to come outside more.

“In terms of a physical feat, Europe would be difficult to beat but in terms of what I want to achieve through the charity, I think this ride across Scotland has been the most successful because of its ability to connect and to be that amazing space that people benefitted from.

“Doing it for a Scottish cause and exploring the land in Scotland just ticked all the boxes for me and it was definitely the most powerful one I’ve ever done.

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“It was just so amazing the way people joined and left and felt part of a family. It just felt like a wonderful travelling circus by the end.”

The Big Hoof has now raised well over £70,000 for charities in the UK and Europe with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

It is planning to organise another fundraising journey in the autumn on another ancient trail in Scotland, while it is hoped and event can be arranged next summer from Lands End to John O’Groats.

Hall’s journey across Europe is also set to be made into a film which will be released in November at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival.

Hall said: “Going forward the goal would be to carry on raising money but also inspire others to get outdoors and travel.

“We have this right to roam and we are one of the most lucky countries in the world that we can just go wherever we want within reason.

“The land is all there and the freedom is there, I think just more of an education about it would help and I hope The Big Hoof can do that.”