A nice walk with a rock star: Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall takes us on a romp around the Western Isles
Nowadays, KT Tunstall spends a lot of time in hotel rooms, touring every continent on Earth. She’s one of the UK’s biggest pop exports, with Brit Awards, Grammy nominations and record sales of six million. But she had never set foot inside a hotel until she was well into her 20s. ‘When I was a kid, every family holiday was a camping holiday,’ she says. ‘Mum and Dad were nature freaks, like something out of Nuts In May. Camping and walking. Walking and camping. It must have been hell for them as they embarked on these epic, four-hour hikes around the Scottish countryside with three obnoxious children, screaming, “Why! Why! Why are we doing this?” But I love it now.’
Tunstall had an unconventional childhood on the east coast of Fife. Her adoptive parents (mum a teacher, dad a physics lecturer at St Andrew’s University) were keen mountaineers who met at Bangor University.
She and her brother even went on a rock-climbing course. ‘I was loving it until the teacher told us that if you lost your carabiners – you know, those hooks that you insert into the rock – then you can just push your fist into the hole and work your way up. I was in my early 20s and had already embarked on a career in music, and thought, no flipping way, man! My hands will get wrecked and I’ll never play guitar again!’
After her marriage in 2008 – to her drummer and musical director Luke Bullen – Tunstall took a long honeymoon, trekking in New Zealand, llama-riding in Peru and jamming with folk musicians in Rajasthan. But she’s still drawn to the Scottish landscape, particularly the Western Isles. She even warmed up for an American arena tour by playing tiny venues in Uist, Lewis, Mull and Orkney.
‘It’s sometimes difficult to believe that you’re in Britain when you’re in scenery like that,’ she says. ‘You could be in New Zealand, or Canada, or Alaska. ’
Tunstall’s favourite walk is a 13-mile hike on the Isle of Skye. ‘You start off in Elgol, where they’ve taken all those most amazing pictures for postcards and shortbread tins. You get this unbelievable view of Loch Coruisk, an elevated loch on the edge of the sea. I’ve never seen scenery like that. It’s like being Frodo Baggins!
‘There’s a slightly tricky ridgy coastal walk before you end up in a village called Sligachan. On one side you’ve got the Red Cuillin, these bare, smooth, reddish mountains. And on the other side you’ve got the Black Cuillin, which are pointy and quite frightening. European mountaineers train on them before they go to the Himalayas. It’s very extreme.’
Tunstall and her other half keep a flat in London, but spend most of their time in an 18th-century house near Hungerford, Berkshire. KT enjoys stomping around the Berkshire countryside.‘I love being overwhelmed. I love being in places of isolation, places that are utterly uninhabitable. It’s like mankind looking at nature and saying, OK, you’ve won! We can’t conquer you!’