Rurai shail

So, one month in…

Since starting as DMBinS Highland development co-ordinator on the 10th February, time has flown by and I’ve met lots of good people, learned more about a place I should have known better already, put lots of bits of the puzzle together and worked hard but had fun. Day 3 in the job got me up to speed as I had to open our Highland Cluster meet with a presentation, which was hastily put together, but I seemed to get through ok without too many nerves!

The priority so far has been organising BikePlan Switzerland’s visit to start our Highland wide project to assess the current and future potential of the Highlands as a mountain bike destination. The following couple of weeks were spent finding venues, meeting key people in the area, getting hold of relevant information and trying to get things set up for BikePlan could work efficiently. 

Graeme and I met with Jan and Remy from BikePlan on Monday morning to plan for the week. Two hours later our partners meet got going. The meeting was useful in learning the background to the Badenoch and Strathspey area of the Cairngorm National Park. From then we had meetings with interested businesses and organisations which helped get a good feel for the area and how mountain biking fits into and around other land use, environmental constraints, business needs and existing infrastructure. 

Tuesday evening we held a riders consultation at the Winking Owl in Aviemore. There was a really great turnout and heaps of enthusiasm in the room. Riders were asked to consider what their values and principles were as a mountain biker and to work in groups to use these to design a great, sustainable mountain bike destination.

 Jan And Remy 2

Everyone rose to the challenge and showed that mountain bikers are very aware of their place within the landscape, our relationship with land managers, environmental constraints, communities, developing and supporting the economy and responsible access. We wanted to keep the evening quite open and positive, and the discussions were really useful in learning about the aspirations of the riding community whilst demonstrating mountain biker’s responsibility to the land they ride through.

Thursday I worked with Jan and Remy and a small group of mountain bikers who know the area very well, understanding what locals and visitors need from the trails. BikePlan have developed a ‘trail hunters’ phone app that will allow the group to map and assess the trails around the area. Neil from the Badenoch and Strathspey Trail association, Sally and Calum from Mike’s Bikes (thanks for sorting Jan and Remy out with bike!) and Chris from Highlands and Islands Adventures have so much collective knowledge and experience to share. David from Bothy Bikes will also get involved to share his huge knowledge of the trails but couldn’t make the training day. After a few weeks of inactivity, it was great to get out for a social ride too! As a bonus to end the week, we visited Cairngorm Mountain Limited, where Mikey treated us to a fun trip across the hill in his wee buggy.

 Jan And Remy 1

Whilst I don’t want to pre-empt the BikePlan report, Remy and Jan had a great time, loved meeting the locals and sampling some highland trails in winter conditions.  The theme running through the week was that the family market is hugely important to the whole area, from Grantown in the North to Laggan in the South, and there is so much potential to make more of the trails locally to cater for this market and give locals great riding on their doorstep.

Next step is for BikePlan to produce an initial report by 16th March on the Cairngorm area, its current situation and impacts.
Now we move onto planning a future visit the week after the Fort William World cup in June, where we will look at the other areas in the Highland Cluster Plan – Lochaber, Sutherland and Torridon and Skye. 

I’m also currently supporting Badenoch and Strathspey Trail association (to be honest they don’t need much help – they have done a great job already!) to formalise with a constitution, landowner permissions, trail inspection and maintenance training and funding to help them become financially sustainable. I will be looking at supporting the set up of similar trail associations in the other areas. Trail associations are a great way to help protect the trails we ride, building positive relationships with landowners to legitimise trails, create more sustainable trails with improved ride experience. We can also demonstrate to landowners and other user groups that mountain bikers are a responsible group, willing to put work into improving the trails for all. 

Again, at a local level I will be helping build on the great work already done by community groups towards new pump tracks in Fort William and Boat of Garten.

Coming soon will be Innovation Workshops aimed at businesses or individuals with ideas for innovative products related to mountain biking. These will run in Aviemore in April, Fort William in May and Golspie in August. Later we will host mountain biking and cycling supply chain workshops that will help businesses like accommodation providers better understand the needs of mountain bikers so they can provide a better service and attract new potentially high spending customers. 

At this point I need to thank Scott and Helena at Ravenscraig guest house in Aviemore who so made things so much easier by providing a comfortable venue and workspace for our BikePlan consultations – they have developed MTB friendly accommodation so was good to see their secure storage, bike and kit wash facilities, easy clean floors… Something that we will be supporting accommodation providers across the Highlands with support to develop themselves – details coming in the next few months!

The last month has been super busy and I’m aware that I’ve not been able to do much outside the Aviemore, Badenoch and Strathspey area. The coming months I will have a better opportunity to get more involved across the Highlands and help support and advise on any mountain bike projects – I’m looking forwards to meeting more good people doing good things! 

Free free to get in touch at ruari.watt@scottishcycling.org.uk

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