The Summit 2023

Reading time: 4 - 8 minutes
Photo credit: Veronica Melkonian / The Summit

The Summit returns to HF Holidays

Gathering Outdoor Leaders of Colour
By Mary-Ann Ochota, broadcaster and archaeologist

Under bright blue skies, our weekend of fun began with an easy hike from the doors of Larpool Hall in Whitby. We circled through the lush farmland and ancient woodland above the town, the conversation flowing easily as it so often does on a walk.  

This was the 2023 Summit, an annual event organised by the All the Elements network and The Outsiders Project and supported by HF Holidays and outdoor brand Patagonia. It gathers People of Colour who are outdoors leaders for a weekend to share experiences and expertise, and create a lasting, supportive network of like-minded individuals. From the leader of the Black Girls Swim Club to the mountain bikers of the Colour Collective, walking group Steppers UK from the Midlands, national hiking group Peaky Stompers, Muslim climbing community ClimbMuz, and a new outdoor group for and by East and South East Asians, ESEA Outdoors UK, the 2023 Summiteers brought a wide range of perspectives and passions to the table.  

My ‘thing’ is ancient history and hiking. The one thing that unites us all? A love of the outdoors and a desire to help more people of colour feel confident and welcome in the countryside and wild places we love. Led by Leon from Peaky Stompers and Cherelle from Steppers UK, that first walk had us learning about reggae, managing asthma and medieval ploughing, as well as learning about each other. Fresh air makes you think better, breathe easier, and feel more creative! The connections were already starting to develop.  

Back at Larpool Hall, managers Sue and John gave us a warm welcome, a briefing on facilities and shared the plans for dinners and packed lunches. My room was sumptuous – big, comfortable bed, spotless bathroom, fluffy towels, and a mouth-watering view towards Whitby through the large Georgian windows. A great night’s sleep plus delicious food seems to be the HF Holidays signature. And it set us up for a day packed with activities, conversation, ideas and laughter.  

Outsiders summit 2023
Photo credit: Veronica Melkonian / The Summit

Who put Everest in Yorkshire?

First thing on the programme was a hearty breakfast, then a trail run or birdwatching walk to loosen the limbs and get the conversations flowing. Then we piled into minibuses to reach the Yorkshire Cycle Hub at Great Fryup Dale in the heart of the North York Moors National Park to hire mountain bikes and head out for a ride. Some of us opted for electric mountain bikes (a game changer if you don’t have legs of steel and surprisingly easy to get the hang of!), others opted for the ‘regular’ bikes. We gathered for essential safety and route briefings from our leaders Jasmin and Waheed from Colour Collective, and a ‘101 mountain bike skills’ session for us beginners.  

Many of us pushed up the first hills, with grunting and muttered comments about how many miles a hill can go on for. But the views at the top and free-wheeling along bridleway tracks and quiet lanes were well worth the pull up. Throughout the weekend we each had a chance to talk about the work we’re involved with, the challenges and triumphs, our plans for the future, and opportunities where we might be able to work together and support one another.  

 The important thing – and one that came through loud and clear – is that the barriers to access in the outdoors for people of colour aren’t always physical. Certainly, people of colour in the UK are statistically more likely to live in urban areas rather than the countryside – this makes access to the outdoors more tricky (especially if you don’t have a car) and also more expensive. Historically, there might also be fewer people in your community who have a history of going outdoors to mountain bike, hike, swim or climb, so you might not have friends to go with, or informal experts in your social circles to answer your questions, calm your worries and help you on your way.  

Although not insurmountable, joining a group you don’t know and where you’re likely be the only person from a minority can be daunting. Most people in the group had experienced inappropriate comments or ‘microaggressions’, where something as little – and yet hugely significant – as a shift in eye contact means you can’t exchange the usual hearty hello with another walker. As Andrew Wang, our British Chinese trail run leader pointed out, ‘it can be pretty exhausting always being the person who stands out’.  

That’s why it’s important for role models to be championed, for funding that helps level the playing field and train leaders from within communities, for innovative kit libraries and lift-sharing to become the norm, and for national sports and outdoor organisations to ask, ‘who’s voices are missing from our decision making?’ That’s why every Summit also includes sessions where national sports and outdoor organisations are invited to get feedback on their work to improve diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. There’s no better way to find out what under-served communities think of your initiatives and plans than to hear it from them directly, with space for relaxed, collaborative discussion. 

Outsiders summit 2023
Photo credit: Veronica Melkonian / The Summit

Mountain Biking Icebergs

Gathered on the edge of the trail, munching sandwiches and listening to Jasmin and Waheed’s stories about how they discovered mountain biking, hiking, climbing and the outdoors, becoming ride leaders and now community champions, the passion and commitment of the Summiteers was clear.  

Siddrah, founder of ClimbMuz, revealed that she regularly spends 30 hours a week (on top of her day job) to make sure the group’s climbing events run smoothly, participants feel supported and social media is up-to-date. Marsha knows how few black women can swim – including her! – so she decided to do something about it, and create a supportive, joyful community of swimming beginners to help her on her own journey. Leaders don’t always need to be experts, but they do need passion and a vision.  

And for me? It was a realisation that for many people of colour, ‘heritage’ isn’t neutral territory – that it can feel irrelevant because of how it’s presented, or worse, that there’s both perceived and real gatekeeping – the sense that Norman castles or prehistoric stone circles don’t belong as much to British people of colour as they do to white Brits who can trace more local family ancestry. I’m a firm believer that we all have equal claim to history – I inherit the heritage, legacy and responsibility of our nation’s ancient places, simply by virtue of being here now.  

We make our mark on the land, tell its stories and try and make sense of it, just as the Ancients did. Few of us can trace literal ancestry to the time of King Alfred, or to 4th century Romano-British farmers, or to the builders of Stonehenge, or the hunter-gatherers before them, regardless of skin colour. But somehow that truth doesn’t translate into equal access or opportunity to get involved with heritage, either as a career or for fun. So I have work ahead of me, to puzzle out the keys that unlock that sense of belonging and care, and to start conversations with organisations about how they present our history, and what needs to change.   

The Summit was a gathering of group leaders – but we’re just the tip of the iceberg. In every community, people have a growing hunger to spend quality time in green and blue spaces. It’s good for our mental and physical health, it builds and supports friendships and families, and so it needs to be accessible to everyone. The Summit rides on the support of HF Holidays and their ethos – that time spent in beautiful places being active will improve your life. 

Just like the previous Summiteers, I’m now brimming with ideas about how to drive forward to make a difference - so that more people can find their place outdoors and reap the rewards, one step, wheel, swim or climbing hold at a time. 

Learn more about the work of All the Elements, The Outsiders Project and the Summit at 

Outsiders summit 2023
Photo credit: Veronica Melkonian / The Summit

Mary-Ann Ochota is a broadcaster, archaeologist and keen walker, committed to empowering people from all backgrounds to feel confident and welcome in the outdoors. For more information, visit