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Merkinch charity offers girls in Inverness chance to try out bikepacking in Cairngorms

By John Davidson

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Girls will be given a chance to become more confident on their bikes before the trip. Picture: Àban
Girls will be given a chance to become more confident on their bikes before the trip. Picture: Àban

Girls in Inverness are being offered the chance to get to know their local area by bike – before heading to the Cairngorms for an exciting expedition.

Social enterprise charity Àban is offering the free eight-week course to girls aged 12-18, with the hope that the club will continue to take its own path after that.

Two female leaders – Nele Adler and Kate O’Brien – will take the group on weekly rides, where they will also learn about basic bike maintenance, route-finding and camping skills ahead of the bikepacking trip.

Nele is Àban’s head of adventurous learning while Kate is a trustee and member of the Adventure Syndicate – a group of inspiring women and girls who share their passion for the outdoors with young people.

While the trip offers a target to aim for, the charity’s founder Johannes Peterson says the most important thing is that the youngsters have fun, make new friends and get to explore local outdoor places by bike, which can help grow confidence.

He said: “It's just about having a goal and a hook for the youngsters. We use public transport, which is about creating that link between ‘where do I live’ and ‘where can I go on an adventure’. Everybody can make their way to the train station, so then if you can get to the train station you can get to Aviemore, and that means you can get into the Cairngorms.

Participants will learn to plan routes. Picture: Àban
Participants will learn to plan routes. Picture: Àban

“In our view that’s more effective than a school bus trip, where you put on your headphones and you wake up when you arrive! So it’s having that goal of bikepacking and that’s where Kate O’Brien comes in.

“We’ve done a teenage girls’ bikepacking trip before and there’s just something that works so well about girls being away together on their own.”

Anybody interested in getting involved is invited to come along to the open night “for pizza and chat” on Thursday, April 27, at the Merkinch Welfare Hall on Grant Street, above Inverness Boxing Club, at 5pm.

The charity is able to provide bikes for the weekly sessions, as well as mountain bikes and bikepacking equipment for the Cairngorms expedition for those who do not have their own equipment.

Johannes added: “There is so much fantastic independent youth work which has been going on here [in Merkinch] for years. For example, the Clay Studio runs Wednesday night youth club in the Madras Street Hall, then there’s RokzKool, the Sea Cadets and Sea Scouts, Merkinch Football Academy and Clachnacuddin have their youth programme.

"We’re new to the area, and what we’re trying to do is supplement all that with our regular weekly outdoor clubs.”

He said it was important to provide opportunities for teenage girls, adding: “Our belief is that there’s quite a lot on offer for primary age children, much less for secondary age – and then I think everybody knows that the statistics point to S2 onwards for girls physical activity just drops off a cliff. That’s why we’ve chosen to work in this way.”

The Girls’ Bike Club project is funded by Essentia, Women’s Fund for Scotland and Cairngorms Trust.

Johannes explained that, if successful, the project would be able to continue thanks to Àban’s social enterprise set-up.

He said: “The way we work is that we start off with a grant-funded project like this, and if it sticks and we get the interest then we fund it from our social enterprise activities – things like the holiday camps, Kessock Ferry swim, guided rock climbing, all of these things.

“That generates an income stream which we put towards projects where there are young people that we don’t want to let down, we can divert those funds to that.”

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