“So what made you join the group?”
“Ah, that explains everything.”
You see, as the old saying goes, it’s who you know, not what you know.
And which highbrow, secretive, influential, elite club have I joined?
The Highland Cycle Campaign.
I can tell you’re impressed. I mentioned it to a friend who isn’t hard of hearing and their reaction was: There’s a campaign for Highland psychos? Hmm, I bet there are some people who would use that word to describe a bloke on a bike! Hardly a month goes by without a “letter to the editor” berating cyclists in general after witnessing somebody in lycra running a red light.
I’ve been cycling since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. (Is it just me or does a Grasshopper sound like a really cool bike? Yeah, just me then.)
Recently I’ve noticed a few decisions or developments where there was an opportunity to make life easier for folk who want to use a bike but this was overlooked. The car is still king in the land of lazy petrol heads. I wondered what happened to the Campaign and cor blimey it still exists.
The AGM was the other night so used it as my chance to slip into the saddle. Well, maybe not quite the saddle. The chairman is the very enthusiastic Hamish. But I definitely managed to get a “backie”.
Various issues were discussed but the highlight of the evening was when the guest speaker, a civil engineering consultant, took the floor and produced an enormous map to illustrate his talk.
I like a map. I dream one day of owning a complete set of OS Landrangers and Explorers.
The map produced by Alan the engineer (why are they always called Alan or Jim? Mind you, I once spoke to one called Adolf. Seriously) showed the proposed route of a new national cycle network - number 78 if I recall rightly - linking Campbeltown, Fort William and Inverness. We were focussed on the Fort William to Inverness section. My excitement at seeing a large map was soon surpassed with the revelation that part of the route will utilise a tunnel from the old Spean Bridge-Fort Augustus railway! We were told that it’s not a very long tunnel - you can see the light at the end as you enter it. But still, what a thrill.
Also, the AGM meant there was free coffee and shortbread.
While I enjoy my biscuit, let me reflect for a moment. Some years back Wife-features (although she wasn’t my missus then - we were living in sin), our pal Feexby and I walked the Great Glen Way. The highlight was when a man wielding a clipboard leapt out from the bushes just a mile out of Fort William and started asking us if we were enjoying the experience and if we had any recommendations to make. We’ll let you know when we’ve done the remaining 65 miles was our answer, which he dutifully noted before regressing into the undergrowth.
Anyway, the cycle route deviates from the GGW in a few places, particularly after Fort Augustus as it goes to the east of Loch Ness and heads for Inverness via Foyers and Dores. It’s quite a climb on the Whitebridge section but what amazing views you’ll get and it could be a real boost for businesses on that side of the loch. From memory there’s a café at Falls of Foyers and I’ve heard great things about the Dores Inn since the new owners took over a couple of years ago from the legendary Ella.
The Highland Cycle Campaign has been working hard behind the scenes for ages on developments such as these. It was pointed out how different things are now compared to just five or ten years ago. In terms of access and ease of cycling around the region it’s much better with dedicated paths and routes all over the place. Obviously I’d like to see a direct route between Nairn and Inverness but suspect it’ll take a bit of work. I will apply myself and keep you updated.
One issue I raised at the meeting was a forthcoming conference on transport. It’s billed as a major event, looking at “transport of the future” in the Highlands and Islands. Guest speakers include Danny Alexander and bigwigs from Scotrail and Stagecoach. It’s backed by some serious dosh by serious organisations.
Sadly, nowhere in the literature for this two day jaw-jaw is there any reference to cycling. Gah! HCC are setting about it.
I recall a few months back seeing a Tweet from Patrick Harvie (one of the two Green MSPs - he’s the one who makes spiky comments and wears a suit rather than the traditional Green uniform of hole-riddled jumper and odour of patchouli) following publication of a major report on ‘low carbon transport’ plans for Scotland. Hundreds of pages long. And not one mention of bicycles. “Major fail” is how Patrick put it. I couldn’t agree more.