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Park Talk: active travel is the way to go!

8th June 2023

By Russell Jones, Cairngorms National Park Authority Board Member

It’s a great month for biking with the Cairngorms Cycling Festival and the Kingussie Bikeathon happening. I was recently at the Vintage Day at the Highland Folk Museum and amongst the classic vehicles was an incredible display of classic bicycles. If you grew up in the 1970’s you will know that the ‘must have’ bike was a Raleigh Chopper.

Looking at the Choppers on display reminded me of childhood years longing to own the most impractical bicycle ever mass produced. Unfortunately I never owned a Chopper, having to make do with more conventional but far less cool bikes to bomb around on with a shinty stick strapped across the bars. Regardless of what type of bike you owned as a kid, it represented freedom, getting you where you wanted to go quicker than walking!

Then we grew up, passed our driving tests and had a new found freedom –forgetting about the challenges associated with getting to places safely on two wheels.

In later life (who said mid life crisis!) I rediscovered the freedom that a bicycle gives you and have been fortunate to bike pack across the USA and Europe so I know the challenges associated with cycling in a motor dominated environment.

How people move about the Park – as well as how they get here – is a key focus for the Park Authority with the aim being to see increasing numbers of people switching to sustainable forms of transport (using the bus/train more) and active travel, which is essentially walking or cycling rather than relying on private cars.

Working with partners, we want to ensure that public transport is improved across the Park and that it caters for the needs of residents and visitors.

There is much work to be done but progress is being made such as the introduction of the new ‘Aviemore Adventurer’ bus which outdoor enthusiasts can use to get to Glenmore and Cairngorm Mountain with skis and bikes. More of this would be good – perhaps a service to take bikers to Laggan Wolftrax? That would be a ‘win win’ with visitors encouraged to explore a quieter area of the Park, easing the pressures around Glenmore, as well as providing a reliable public transport link for residents.

For people to consider cycling or walking more, it has to be easy and safe. While we already have many miles of excellent paths in and around communities, the Cairngorms National Park Partnership Plan sets out an ambition to further increase the number of kilometres of safe and inclusive off road or segregated on-road routes between communities by 2030.

There has been an ongoing programme of consultation over the past year looking at how we get about the Park and this is all part of the Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030 programme. Staff have been speaking to residents and visitors who have been keen to share their views. In Aviemore alone, the team received more than 600 ideas and people have been equally vocal in Braemar, Ballater, Blair Atholl, Killiecrankie, Boat of Garten, Carrbridge, Dulnain Bridge, Nethy Bridge and Newtonmore.

Everyone wants to get around their villages and connect with neighbouring communities in a more sustainable way. A reliable public transport system and opting to “actively” travel if possible is good for the planet and it’s amazing for our health and wellbeing. If we can deliver on this vision we can make a difference for all our residents and visitors – whether they own a Raleigh Chopper or not!