THERE’S something very Scottish about reaching a certain age and then starting “bouncing up hills” all of a sudden.

It shouldn’t really be that big a surprise when we live in such a mountainous country with hills found everywhere – even our capital city has the “seven hills of Edinburgh” and some of the Pentland Hills within its boundary.

The Parliament’s extremely close proximity to Arthur’s Seat has even inspired some MSPs to lace up their hiking boots and see things from a different perspective – Nicola Sturgeon, Kevin Stewart and Maree Todd have all posted about it to their social media recently.

But it was particularly good to see a politician tackle my favourite hill in bonnie Fife earlier this year. East Lomond Hill is a beautiful viewpoint but it also has historical significance as a former hillfort to Pictish royalty.

And just days before the vacancy at Bute House was announced, standing in the same spot as many Pictish kings would have in the past overlooking their kingdom, stood Humza Yousaf.

Like the leadership race, the hill’s steep slopes can be hard going and unrelenting at times, but – just like that day at Murrayfield when the winner was announced – Yousaf made it to the top, and probably felt quite relieved when he finally got there!

Hillwalking is a hobby that means so much to me and brings me a lot of happiness. So I always love seeing new people taking it up for the first time.

It is absolutely no exaggeration to say if it wasn’t for the hills, I might not be here writing this article.

It was something a friend of mine somehow convinced me to do one day when I was in the midst of the deep darkness of depression where I was crying every day and all I wanted to do was stay in bed.

Walking up a mountain didn’t work immediately but over time, it acted as a sort of release valve for my thoughts, which were so despairing, they made me feel like I was emotionally drowning.

The National: Sgurr MorSgurr Mor (Image: Ross Cunningham)

Standing at the top of a hill, where I seemed so small surrounded by such a grand landscape, helped me to see life from a different perspective.

This is my individual experience but I know it is representative of many hillwalkers across Scotland who got into the activity for their mental health.

As well as running a website called Mountains Mend Minds, I now lead a free monthly walking group in Fife to get people out in the hills and the healthy numbers each time tells me people do want to get into the activity if there is encouragement to do so.

But, with a new government at Holyrood, what can politicians do to get more people hillwalking in Scotland?

That day when the First Minister climbed East Lomond he would have likely parked at either Craigmead or the Mast Car Park, both of which were built and are maintained by the Fife Coast & Countryside Trust.

It is parking facilities like those, where public transport access is scarce, which encourages people – like Mr Yousaf himself did that day – to access these areas of natural beauty.

They also work to relieve the burden of traffic and parking on local communities, such as Falkland in this case.

In 2018, the Scottish Government sought to have more facilities like these East Lomond access car parks by launching the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

It’s a scheme administered by VisitScotland and is applied for by local authorities and national parks with the aim of enabling people to enjoy beautiful areas whilst – crucially – ensuring the sustainability of these walks without impacting the environment and to prevent disturbing local communities.

It has so far provided £18m to 74 projects across the country, including improving access to the Old Man of Storr on Skye, Steall Waterfalls in Glen Nevis, Loch Leven heritage trail by Kinross, and Criffel hill near Dumfries.

The SNP’s 2021 manifesto committed to maintaining investment in the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund at £6.2m per year.

I think it would be beneficial for the Government to go beyond this commitment and increase funding to allow as many councils as possible to apply for future rounds, with priority given to bids which commit to improving active travel and public transport links to reach them.

I would also like to see a new separate fund created specifically for repairing and creating hillwalking paths – there are apparently 250 miles of paths requiring repairs across Scotland, although a detailed audit into the condition of key paths would be required. An advisory group including local authorities and outdoor charities could lead on this work and the allocation of funds.

One further action policymakers could take would be to put together a new national campaign to promote the activity of hillwalking, with a working title “Hills for the Heid!”, with key messaging on how to do it safely and responsibly and how it can play a role in improving mental wellbeing.

The campaign could highlight the many walking groups available across Scotland, particularly those affiliated with respected outdoor charities such as Ramblers and Mountaineering Scotland.

Many people who want to take up hillwalking are often put off by the idea of going by themselves or not being able to ask advice of someone more experienced.

Walking groups are a solution to both and I know from experience the many lifelong friends that can be made along the way too.

Listening to and taking forward ideas from black and ethnic minority individuals and groups on how to get more minorities enjoying the great outdoors could be a key aim of this campaign.

Mountaineering Scotland and Ramblers Scotland are already working to improve access and promote diversity, so would be good partners for policymakers to make significant change.

The same engagement applies to the likes of Venture Trust, who are doing incredible work using the outdoors as a means to support young people from challenging backgrounds, former servicemen and women finding it difficult to adjust to civilian life, and as part of someone’s rehabilitation.

It has been said the First Minister and his government have a “mountain” of an in-tray to deal with, but I do hope that somewhere in there is a plan to get more Scots “bouncing up hills” in the years to come. It is something that would receive genuine cross-party support.

The more barriers we remove to hillwalking, the healthier and happier our nation will be.