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Park Talk

24th October 2014

Author: Duncan Bryden

Encouraging new visitors to the Cairngorms National Park, with its stunning landscapes, abundance of wildlife – including species you won’t see anywhere else – and a vast array of activities from cycling, walking, watersports, wintersports and so on, well you would think it would be easy wouldn’t you but it’s not a place that everyone knows about.

There are groups of people and communities across Scotland and indeed Europe who think that visiting the Cairngorms National Park, or any National Park for that matter, is not for them.

They see barriers in the way such as cost, lack of knowledge – perhaps they think you have to be a mountain climber of even own a pair of wellington boots? Or maybe they think that a National Park such as ours can’t offer them anything and they don’t have any empathy with the place?

There will be a whole host of reasons and some of them very personal to that group or individual but the Cairngorms National Park is a Park for All and it can and does provide benefits and fun for everyone who gives it a try.

Fun and chatter was loud and long at the weekend when people from all backgrounds and abilities from across Scotland came together to celebrate national diversity at the very first Outdoor Festival for All. Blair Castle in the Cairngorms National Park hosted 350 people, all taking an active part in a range of recreational and learning activities within the grounds.

The sunny autumn was enjoyed by groups including the Edinburgh African Community, Disability Groups Perthshire, Cairngorms Health Walk Project, Ross Community Mental Health Team, Nepalese Community of Aberdeen, Scottish Arabic Women’s Association and South Asian Women and families in Edinburgh.

Old and young enjoyed activities and workshops such as guided walks, biking, bushcraft, wild cooking and archery. For many, it was the first time they’d been in the countryside, let alone in the Cairngorms National Park.

Many were surprised by the accessibility of the Park – just a bus ride up the A9 for those from the Central Belt. Many also said they would come again and encourage others within their communities to do so, commenting on how the restorative qualities of the landscape were a contrast to their daily lives. It costs nothing and requires no experience or navigational skills to go for a walk in a nice area of woodland but the benefits to health and mental wellbeing are priceless.

Backbone ran the event in partnership with the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission. Backbone’s main mission is to entice and excite people from all backgrounds and abilities to engage with Scotland’s diverse landscapes. They aim to specifically target communities that would not normally venture out of towns and cities.

I hope the event gave a new meaning to inspired people to come back to the Cairngorms National Park again and gave them some confidence to do so – and of course, encourage others.