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My Outdoors Q&A: Cameron McNeish

By John Davidson

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Cameron McNeish.
Cameron McNeish.

Name: Cameron McNeish

Age: 70

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you normally do.

I climb hills, ride a bike, paddle a packraft and drive a wee red campervan around Scotland. I was formerly editor of Climber Magazine then editor of The Great Outdoors for 20 years. I also made a number of television programmes for the BBC including The Edge: 100 Years of Scottish Mountaineering, two series of Wilderness Walks, The Adventure Show and Roads Less Travelled. I now write a monthly column in The Scots Magazine.

Where are you based/where do you live?

I live in Newtonmore in Badenoch, in the shadow of the Cairngorms and the Monadh Liath.

How did you fill the void of the great outdoors during lockdown and what was the biggest change for you?

I've made a pretty solid transition between being a hill walker to a cyclist. I ride a bike most days, varying in distance between 20 and 40 miles. I also ride a mountain bike and a year ago I bought an e-mountain bike which allows me to go further, faster and, importantly in these lockdown days, higher. After years of railing against bulldozed tracks in the Scottish mountain areas, I now find myself using them to get high in the hills on my e-mountain bike.

What have you missed most about the freedom of the outdoors over the last few months?

The ability to take off for a few days in my wee red campervan. Every year, when the yellow is on the broom – the traditional sign to Scotland's Travelling People that it's time to take to the road – my wife and I normally spend some time in the north-west of Scotland where we walk the hills and ride our bikes. We've really missed that trip this year, especially so because the spring weather has generally been fantastic.

Have you found any positives in lockdown?

The roads have been quieter so cycling has been nicer and the skies have been clearer because there have been no planes polluting them. Other than that I think it's been absolutely horrific. I miss travel. I miss the hills. I miss not seeing my grand-daughters and my children, but the reality of Covid-19 is that many people are missing loved ones, friends and relatives who have been taken by this dreadful virus. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Coronavirus is a deadly pandemic and I'm very fortunate that no-one close to me has died.

What was the first place you visited or route you did, once lockdown restrictions started to ease – and is there a trip you are still looking forward to when we can travel more freely?

I'm very fortunate there are good walks and great bike routes all within a 15-mile limit of my home but once we can range more fully around Scotland I'm desperately keen to visit the Western Isles. Harris in particular is a Shangri-la for campervanners, a place where you are made really welcome, where the local communities have embraced the concept of campervans and provide facilities, something that many communities in the Highlands could learn from.

What event or events are you looking forward to once things are up and running again?

I have a new book being published in October. It's called Come By The Hills and is published by Sandstone Press in Inverness. It's a follow-up to my autobiography, There's Always the Hills, which appeared in 2018, the success of which really surprised me. It would be nice to think that by the autumn we might be able to gather together in larger numbers – I have a series of book signings and lectures organised, not to mention the book launch itself. These things always work better with a live audience.

Do you have a favourite outdoors book or author?

At the beginning of lockdown I read a wonderful book called Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. It's a novel set in the swamp lands of South Carolina and the author is a naturalist. Her love of wild nature shines through every page of the book and being immersed in her story took me away from the awful tale that was emerging in the world and how badly our politicians were handling the pandemic. I reckon it's the finest book I've read in years and I would recommend it with a passion.

YouTube: Cameron McNeish Outdoors | facebook.com/cameron.mcneish

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