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Looking back on a year like no other with Active Outdoors


By John Davidson

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Beinn Liath Mhor from the path that climbs alongside the River Lair.
Beinn Liath Mhor from the path that climbs alongside the River Lair.

Like the rest of the country, I was hoping this new year would mark the start of a more positive 12 months as we looked forward to the effects of the coronavirus vaccination programme seeing life start to return to some semblance of normality.

While I hope that remains the case, this is not the start to 2021 that we all expected and hoped for just a couple of short weeks ago.

The year 2020 will be remembered like no other. Normally at this time of year, we like to look back on all the adventures we have enjoyed and shared through Active Outdoors over the past 12 months.

At the start of the year, we’d planned to cover all sorts of ground as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. While we did get a little taste of watery fun with some paddling and open-water swimming, there are still plenty of ideas on the list which we’ll hopefully be able to try in the coming months.

Despite the challenges, we have managed to squeeze in some interesting outings in between travel restrictions and ongoing uncertainty. But there have been some difficult times as well.

The biggest shock came when long-time Active Outdoors correspondent Peter Evans suffered a heart attack just five days after we’d climbed Gael Charn in the Monadhliath. All had seemed normal as we enjoyed a great day out on the hill, with Peter marching ahead and tackling some rough terrain with his usual gusto!

Peter marches ahead on the way up Geal Charn in the Monadhliath.
Peter marches ahead on the way up Geal Charn in the Monadhliath.

So, the message I got the following weekend came somewhat out of the blue. Peter is recovering well now, and we’ve even enjoyed a few more days out since then – though on some much lower hills, it must be said.

Many people have had to endure some tough times this year and what with coping with the first lockdown, juggling home schooling and work pressures, concerns over Covid and family near and far, I am certainly no different – though in truth I am among the lucky ones.

An ongoing foot injury, however, has limited the amount of running and hill days I’ve been able to appreciate this year, which has meant I’ve struggled to get my much-needed fix of freedom even when restrictions have allowed.

Early on in the first lockdown, I managed to fit in a bit more running, and the season put a spring in my step despite the very strict measures that changed all of our lives.

There were real benefits to all this extra outdoor time, and being forced to stay close to home for our daily dose of exercise meant I was discovering more and more local trails. On my runs, I would divert onto an unknown path to see where it went, enjoying the sense of exploration while prolonging the time spent in the outdoors as much as possible.

Primroses on a walk close to home during the first lockdown.
Primroses on a walk close to home during the first lockdown.

I also had some great evening walks with my daughters, plodding around the local woods and just talking and sharing our different experiences of lockdown life. The time it gave us together was definitely something to treasure, even if it became quite intense at other times!

The weekend after the five-mile rule was lifted was a blessed relief. Travelling in separate cars, I met Peter at Achnashellach for a gentle, low-level walk into Coire Lair and past the Teahouse bothy.

The weather, you might remember, was atrocious that weekend. I sat in the boot of my car donning waterproofs from head to toe before emerging ready to walk. It was something special to see the mountains again, as the cloud lifted sporadically between heavy bursts of rain.

John kayaking on Loch Ness with his daughter Clara on a trip with local activity provider Explore Highland.
John kayaking on Loch Ness with his daughter Clara on a trip with local activity provider Explore Highland.

For those of us who escape to the outdoors for our own pleasure, this all helped – but there are still problems to overcome in the outdoor sector, even once things do manage to return to some normality.

Of particular concern is giving children access to these experiences through activity centres and accommodation providers, many of which have been devastated by the last nine months and whose bookings for 2021 have been cancelled as well.

It is vital that we give young people that introduction to the outdoors to inspire the next generation, who will not only benefit from all it offers in terms of mental and physical health but also go on to help protect it for the future.

Let’s hope 2021 has better things in store for us as we navigate our way through whatever is thrown our way over the next 12 months. Whatever that is, getting out into nature can certainly offer us a chance to look at the bigger picture and appreciate the good that is still out there.

John swimming in Loch Ness with Meall Fuar-mhonaidh as the backdrop.
John swimming in Loch Ness with Meall Fuar-mhonaidh as the backdrop.


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