A Million Miles...
I'M just back from the Isle of Eigg, where celebrations marking the 15th anniversary of the community's buyout of the island have been in full swing.
This time I took my bike - perfect for quick commutes between my tranquil camp spot on the beach and the fun being enjoyed at the pier, tea room, shop, village hall and campfires.
During a lull in the festivities, I cycled across the sunlit island. A rich chorus of joyous birdsong accompanied me as I ascended the wooded flanks of Eigg's east side. On nearing the summit I met a truck and a quad bike stopped for a chat - a good excuse for a short break. As I pedalled away, I relished the sparse soundscape; occasional bleating of sheep and lambs, the piping of oystercatchers, an odd snatch of laughter carried on the breeze. The sea sparkled below, the colours of fuscias and wildflowers glowed as they caught the soft evening rays.
In my experience, bikes and islands are a match made in heaven. Some of the best adventures I've ever had have been on two wheels. Among them, exploring Cuba by bike and cycle camping on the Outer Hebrides were unforgettable highlights. As Kerry's blog points out, cycling is a very sociable form of transport.
Once off Cuba's well-worn tourist trails, we encountered unfailingly generous hospitality, escaped the hustlers and incessant talk of dollars and discovered the local economy. Spares for bikes were the most precious currency of all, being in extremely short supply on the island. Most locals rode heavy old Chinese bikes, which didn't prevent them speeding past us on our fancy, western geared bikes with a grin and a wave on the uphill stretches. Back then a decade ago, even on the main roads, cars were few and far between and the lack of ads screaming from commercial billboards was refreshingly novel.
Back on Eigg, the islands going green project includes measures to try and reduce emissions from transport. Most of the Eigg population live on the north west side of the island, while the pier, shop and other facilities are on the south east side, 4.5 single track miles and two steep hills away. There's an electric milk float, and some islanders cycle, two on electric bikes.
There's much more scope for visitors to get around on the island on two wheels too. A recent enterprise on the island is Eigg Adventures, which hires mountain bikes and organises two wheeled adventures on the island as well as kayak trips and archery. And new local food company Eiggy Bread can offer such delights as island baked bread, wild nettle, roast tomato and cheese tartlets, or rabbit pasties (the island is currently overrun with bunnies) to fuel you on your way.
Back at home, Transition Black Isle is getting underway with the biggest sustainable transport project the area has ever seen.
A Million Miles aims to encourage residents of the Black Isle to cut their car mileage by 1% - or a total of a million miles per year. The project, backed by £194,741 of funding from the Scottish Government's Climate Challenge Fund, will include a major drive to get people on their bikes. Two project officers have been appointed, job sharing a full time post. I'm contracted to do some work on the PR side of the prject and we're now recruiting six cycle trainers. They will be based in the villages of Fortrose, Muir of Ord and North Kessock, which will be the focus of the project during the first year.
Studies in Scotland show that the principal barrier to cycling is the perception that it is unsafe, so a Million Miles' main strategy will be a range of community cycle events and training to provide the skills and confidence to cycle safely on the existing road and cycle network.
The team of Community Cycling Trainers will run events such as accompanied bike rides, training in safe cycling and bicycle maintenance as well as bike and accessory demos and sales. Some of these events will be organised in conjunction with local schools, others will be more widely available.
We plan to gather the views of cyclists and walkers to develop an Active Travel Map of the Black Isle, which will be made available both on-line and in a printed version. Another key aspect of the project will be to lobby Highland Council to improve dangerous stretches of roads or tracks identified as constraining the active travel network.
Unlike our Hebridean counterparts, we are intersected by some fairly big, busy roads and live in an area where many people commute to the city to work, giving rise to a popular perception that it's too busy to bike.
However the Black Isle also features some amazingly beautiful B roads and quieter routes to be explored together as a Million Miles gathers pace. In July we'll celebrate getting the show on the road with a Sunday cycle and picnic, offering TBI members and friends a chance to relax and have some fun after all the hard work of pulling together the bid.
Lift share, public transport and sustainable transport events will be other key aspects of the project, which has funding for three years. Exciting times - keep an eye on the TBI website or give us a shout to find out more.