Mike Dennison of Sustrans Scotland answers questions about the great outdoors in the Cairngorms and beyond
I’m a 25 year old, in a 53-year-old body!
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do
I work for Sustrans Scotland, the cycling and walking charity. My role is to develop and promote leisure cycling tourism on the National Cycle Network across Scotland. In my spare time I’m an outdoor enthusiast, with an interest in sustainability and conservation.
Where are you based/where do you live?
Literally, in the middle of nowhere! I live ‘off grid’, in an eco-house that I built myself, on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms National Park in Aberdeenshire.
Can you sum up in a sentence what you love about being outdoors?
For me, being outdoors in Scotland is all about freedom and the opportunity for adventure, be it a multi-day bike expedition, or a 30-minute walk – once you set off, what happens next is largely up to you!
What's your favourite outdoor hobby or pastime and how did you get into it?
Adventure cycling is my thing these days – single or multi-day off-road adventures, travelling light and taking in the more remote corners of Scotland. I used to do a lot of running and mountaineering, and was a member of the Aberdeen Mountain Rescue Team for 10 years, but in 2017 I had a hip replacement operation, and so now focus more on cycling as it’s kinder to my joints!
Can you share a favourite route, trip or adventure with us?
One of my favourite routes is the Caledonia Way, which runs from Campbeltown in the west, right through to Inverness on the Moray Firth in the east. It’s a fantastic route taking in the Kintyre Peninsula and the Great Glen, and showcases some of Scotland’s best Highland landscapes, as well as iconic historic sites such as Kilmartin Glen and Castle Stalker. If you’re looking for adventure, it also provides a fantastic way to access some of the more remote locations in Highland and Argyll.
Can you recommend a hidden gem of a location in the Highlands/Moray area that people may not know much about?
One of my favourite locations is Loch Arkaig, a huge fresh water loch – some 12 miles long – easily accessible by bike from the Caledonia Way at Achnacarry, yet seldom visited. There’s an ancient Caledonian pine wood to explore, and the impressive Chia-aig waterfalls. It’s a great location for spotting ospreys – it even has an area dedicated to butterfly conservation. There’s a great wee bothy at the head of the loch, in Glenpean – perfect for an overnight stay.
Please give one piece of advice for anybody who wants to get into your activity
Do plenty of research before you part with any cash. If you believe all the hype, you need one type of bike for this route, and another for that one – which simply isn’t the case. There are some great online forums and Facebook groups where you can get sound advice from very experienced cyclists, recommendations on which kit to buy and the most appropriate routes to ride. And try before you buy – get along to your local bike shop and they’ll keep you right.
What one piece of kit do you always carry?
It’s actually my smart phone, though ironically absolutely not for making phone calls! It serves as a good quality camera, and I also have some really handy apps on there too – maps.me is great for navigation, route planning and ‘geo-tagging’ points of interest; I also have some interactive apps such as SkyView Lite, which allows you to instantly identify stars, constellations and satellites if you are out after dark – a great way to transform a short bike ride or walk into a completely immersive learning journey!
Do you have a favourite outdoors book or author?
I’ve just managed to get myself a copy of Exploring Scottish Hill Tracks by Ralph Storer – I’ve been after it for a while. It charts many of Scotland’s ancient drove roads and historic rights of way – perfect for planning summer adventures!
What one thing would you change about the outdoors if you could?
Accessibility! We all have a ‘right to roam’ under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but that assumes folk have the means of accessing the outdoors, which often isn’t the case. I would like to see more investment in the development of sustainable transport corridors between our population centres, and areas such as our national parks, be it barrier-free cycle paths, or investment in bus services or more frequent trains. The health and wellbeing benefits of accessing the outdoors and green spaces are enormous, and well documented – let’s make them accessible to everyone!
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