The Scottish Highlands boast more than just dramatic hills carved into skylines and rainy days. Among the mountain paths lie a burgeoning adventure subculture, that inspires people to lose themselves in nature. Mikayla Parton, professional mountain bike racer, primed for the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships taking place across Scotland, tells us how her homeland Scotland offers more than just beautiful landscapes, but adventure.
Film made by Brand Scotland and BBC Storyworks.
The Brand Scotland promotes the country as a place to live, study, visit, work and invest and is a partnership between VisitScotland, the Scottish Government, SDI (international arm of Scottish Enterprise) amongst other partners.
Mention Fort William and most mountain bikers will think of the UCI DH World Cup. Whilst the event and the downhill track have been massively influential on mountain biking around Fort William, there is way more to the area than that. This lovely BBC film on Mikayla Parton and her journey to participating in the UCI 2023 Cycling World Championships in her home town, provides a really nice opportunity to look a bit deeper into what makes a successful mountain bike scene.
Recently, the Fort William Family Bike Festival brought together brought together the different elements of the bike community, and really highlighted that the town and wider Lochaber area has such a strong and vibrant mountain bike scene. In a post after the weekend, pro rider Hannah Barnes said ‘The local scene is thriving!’, which really summed up the general feeling over the weekend.
A good club can be the foundation of creating a great biking scene. The West Highland Wheelers, mentioned by Mikayla in the film, was started in the late 80’s and while multi-discipline, mountain biking has always defined the club. The club have been key to hosting the World Cups, having supported and helped fund and establish the World Cup downhill and 4X tracks. There is a really strong kids club that runs every week outside winter, with over 70 junior riders, over 20 adult leaders and 6 junior leaders. The club have recently started running Bike and Blether sessions, aimed at making mountain biking accessible and social place to develop friendships and support good mental health.
On a wider social and community level, Highlife Highland have also been key to the development of mountain biking over the years, running ongoing sessions that are very open and accessible, and allow young riders to feed into the West Highland kids club. A Rock up and ride programme has been running at two local primary schools. Led by Scottish Cycling and run locally by the West Highland Wheelers, 50 young people with the greatest need have been provided with free bikes for kids, and supported through introductory sessions.
Great insight to what goes on at the West Highland Wheelers Bike and Blether Sessions!
Lochaber is well known for its steep, often wet and challenging trails. To help maintain and develop the trails, Lochaber Trail Association formed 2 years ago. Its been great to see the progression of LTA – the most recent dig had 34 volunteers, 1 baby, 1 toddler, 4 young people, 5 dogs and a brilliant and diverse group all working hard on the trails. The trail association is made possible by a dedicated group of organisers, but also a strong local community pulling volunteers from the West Highland Wheelers, but also another key groups.
The University of the Highlands and Islands School of Adventure Studies, based in Fort William has helped transform the town and wider community. Students study outdoor tourism, adventure and marine based subjects, and have brought a steady intake of enthusiastic young people who are passionate about exploring, protecting and working on the local trails, crags, mountains, lochs rivers and sea. This has allowed a really strong community of young people who want to study, live and work in Lochaber, and contribute to its community.
A group of students formed a female cycling group called Fort William Foxes, allowing a supportive and fun environment for female riders. This energetic group were behind the organisation and running of the Fort William Family Cycling Festival, but also contribute to many other community organisations and projects. The formation of the group has really helped engage local young people, both male and female in participating and contributing to cycling and mountain biking.
The local bike shops, Off Beat Bikes and Nevis Cycles, plus the locally based mountain bike guides and coaches are super supportive of creating a strong cycling community, and are all involved in different projects, groups and events.
The culmination of all of the existing groups is the development of the Fort William Bike Park. This £600k community led development has taken 5 years of local planning and fundraising, to reach the point where construction of huge Velosolutions pump track, concreate BMX and skate park and trials area is starting on the 3rd April, and will be open for the Cycling World Championships in August.
This facility is a really exciting opportunity for cycling in Fort William to grow and develop to become more successful, accessible and relevant – with many strong partnerships that will benefit the wider community and meet a range of important social objectives.