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Interview with Maude Tiso / Women in adventure / Tiso blog

For our Women in Adventure series, we sit down with Maude Tiso (the mother of Tiso, quite literally!) She talks about her life adventures, favourite Scottish walks and the importance of protecting the planet.


First of all, sum yourself up in a few sentences.

I’m Maude and although I was born in the island of Eigg, I now live in Leith, Edinburgh. I’ve always had a passion for life and a curiosity about the whole world, so that’s informed the whole of my life – both work and past times.

How and when did you discover your love of the great outdoors?

I was born in a remote area so I loved poking around in nature and discovering creatures, flowers, bark, buds opening… I was also lucky enough to have access to National Geographic magazines. I read about all these fabulous places all over the world, and I wanted to see and experiences these places. I had to wait quite a long time to get to some of them!

How did mountaineering become a life’s ambition for you?

I wanted to go up the mountains after seeing them in those magazines. Although men always seemed to be the focus, I had an adventurous spirit. Everything I wanted to do, I was told ‘that’s for boys!’ But I still wanted to do it! So the first holiday I had with some girlfriends, I decided we were all going up Goat Fell. I loved it as much as I hoped I would. After that, I tried to find a mountaineering club to join as nearly nobody had a car in the late fifties. Joining a club was the way to get to the mountains.

You moved to Norway at 24 at a time when there were very few female climbers. What was that like?

I studied to be a biochemist and did science deliberately because I couldn’t afford to travel otherwise. Science is a universal subject so I could work in any country… and get to the mountains. Norway was where a job first came up. I’ve always liked men and women equally – I still do! If somebody was passionate about the same things I was, then we got on really well. I didn’t date anybody deliberately in the first few years, as I wanted to be taken seriously (and I was!)

You set up Tiso with your husband Graham in 1962. How did you both meet?

We met at a friend’s house. The climbing circle was quite small; all the climbers in Edinburgh knew of each other. There were very few people climbing – you were almost an oddball if you did it at that time! It wasn’t as accepted and encouraged as it is now.

Talk us through how the Tiso story began.

Graham had a business background; he’d been working with Cadbury. I was surprised that he was still working for them, because he was such an independent spirit. I asked him if he had any other plans. He said, ‘I want to have my own business in retailing’. My heart sank at the idea of it being sugar or something! He said, ‘well you know how you can’t get boots, or ice axes…’ Nothing was really available here in Scotland, so there was a gap in the market. So we decided to get married, start a business and a year later have a child as well! We thought that there were enough people going away and needing outdoor gear for us to make a living, but we didn’t anticipate that Tiso would grow in the way it has. The encouragement of leisure pursuits in the eighties and nineties has really opened that up. That was really where the explosion came from.

Interview with Maude Tiso / Women in adventure / Tiso blog

Your life has been full of adventure. Tell us briefly about the trips you’ve been on.

I’d always wanted to visit South America and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that, mostly in later life! I went there as a student leader (mainly to get girls on the trip). We saw rainforest at first hand, explored Venezuela and Peru and later I explored Chile and Patagonia with my son Donald. He was a great explorer and loved to get to remote corners… But then he left me behind as I got older! The other passion of my life has been spending time in the Arctic. I visited Greenland three times, once where we sailed there with Graham and Chris. We did mountaineering from the boat and that was just fantastic. Graham and Chris were the intrepid sailors… I really just loved where boats took me to!

What was the most challenging thing you’ve overcome in adventure?

The biggest challenge today is airlines! I hate going through airports. I’m much more prepared to ‘rough it’ and feel comfortable. I love people, being involved, visiting remote communities… but I don’t like the congestion of places like airports. You’re with a lot of people you don’t know and can’t get any connection with.

One of your passions is conservation. How can normal people take steps to helping the planet?

I wrote a little article for the John Muir Trust entitled ‘A Pebble in the Pool’. I really believe that if everybody throws their little pebble, we can make an almighty splash. Just doing very small things by not wasting energy, helping bird life and not abusing the rights we have in our wonderful country for example. Simple steps added together is what really makes a difference. There’s been some phenomenal changes over the years. Once I remember coming back in a bus in bad fog. We were on a road with no cats’ eyes and the driver was going at a snail’s pace – you could walk faster than he was driving! Now we don’t have that pollution at all, and that’s just by stopping burning coal. And another one – you can now walk in public parks without there being dog poo everywhere! How we’ve managed to get everybody carrying little plastic bags and do the good thing is just wonderful. It’s made a huge difference.

Do you think an adventurous spirit is something you can nurture, or something ingrained in the soul?

I’ve thought about that! And I don’t know the answer. I’ve had two brothers and two sisters, and my youngest brother shares my enthusiasm and curiosity for the outdoors. But he’s really the only other one other than myself. So there’s the same parents, the same DNA… So I think there must be a little bit of something in your genetic makeup that responds to outside stimuli. My father was a great outdoors person, a lover of nature and adventure, and although he didn’t take us outside I remember always asking him for stories. I was eager to hear him speak – but why was I the one who was asking rather than others? I don’t know the answer to that.

Interview with Maude Tiso / Women in adventure / Tiso blog

What’s the next adventure you’re planning?

There are still one or two places I’d like to visit, but I am going back to the Faroe Islands in July for a walking trip. When I was last there the children were still at school and Graham, myself and the 3 boys sailed there. The hills are rugged and come straight from the sea, so it’s a delightful landscape. The people are lovely too. I’m quite curious about going back thirty years later.

Who inspires you in the outdoor community?

I love finding out about what early women climbers did. I used to read a lot in the local library – all the mountaineering books – but there was no mention (or books written by) women. I’ve since discovered books by Victorian women about the mountains. That’s been interesting, and I find that inspiring because if it was hard for me getting away it must have been doubly hard for them.

What advice would you give to women – and budding adventurers in general – who want to pursue mountaineering?

It’s a cliché to say believe in yourself… so I’d say hold on to your dreams. At the very first opportunity, make it happen. Just do it. Don’t wait until you’ve got enough money or the children have grown up or whatever! If there’s an opportunity, do it. The places I’ve got to and the times I’ve got away haven’t all been ideal, but at least I’ve had the chance to do it.

If you had to spend a day in the Scottish outdoors, where would you go and why?

Anywhere wild! Just for a day… I’m trying to think which hill would have the least people on it! Maybe somewhere like Ben A’an in the Trossachs, where the approach can be quite wild… Rather than one where you can park at the bottom!

Along with founding Tiso with husband Graham in 1962, Maude is also a founding member of the John Muir Trust. Find out how they're protecting Scotland's wild places by clicking here.

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