Celebrating Health and Wellbeing!

May has been a busy month for us, and we, like everyone else, have been learning to adapt to a very different way of life!  Of course for many of us, Covid and lockdown have been dominating factors in what we do and how we do it for what seems like a very long time, so the first signs of change at the end of April, allowing us to socialise again, and even begin to travel, were very welcome.   After all this time not being able to visit our friends and families, there was a sense of uncertainty in this new-found freedom and naturally an element of anxiety.  Lockdowns and restrictions are not really very good for our health!

Behind the scenes, the Trustees at The Neil Mackenzie Trust have been busy.  As we have not had many applications to consider, we turned our attention to thinking of ways we can help other categories of people, who are perhaps not quite so adventurous as those we normally assist.  Of course, we too have been stuck inside and as outdoorsy people ourselves we understand the frustrations, so how about a ‘Health and Wellbeing Grant’ to help those that struggled mentally and physically with lockdown?

So the Health and Wellbeing Grant was born.  How would it work?  Well, when I look out of my office window I see hills, and at the moment there are also lambs in the fields.  Whatever the weather this view makes me smile and appreciate the area in which I am lucky to live.  The Trust is all about encouraging people to push their boundaries and learn new skills in an outdoor environment, so how about we combine the two?  Just being outside is enough to make people feel better, so if we could offer a little financial incentive to help those who are finding it difficult to get active again, it benefits us all.    If you have experienced health problems during the pandemic and would like some financial assistance to join an outdoor group or start a new outdoor activity, then please do have a look at our new Grant! Health and Wellbeing award – The Neil Mackenzie Trust

Of course, our new Grant needed promoting, and what better way to do this than to organise an outdoor event, with the aim of encouraging folk outside to enjoy their surroundings, meet new people and where possible, be active. 

So, on Saturday 22nd May, we hosted a Get Outdoors Day in Daviot Woods and welcomed a very mixed group of individuals from all ages and abilities for a walk, scavenger hunt and refreshments.  The feedback was very positive, and everyone who came did so for different reasons, but I hope you would agree that our aims were met: 

‘Thank you so much for a fab afternoon – we all loved it and I’m so glad the weather showed up for it. Great idea and fab mix of folk, good to have a blether with lots of different people on the way round.  I meant to take more [photos] but was enjoying just walking along phone free!’

‘Yesterday was great! I look forward to the next one.  I’m also pleased to say that I recorded over 10,000 steps for the first time in a very long time!’

‘We had a lovely time on Saturday, met lots of lovely people and found a new wood to stomp around.’

More photos of the day can be found in our Photo Gallery.

We were also very pleased that our friends at the School of Adventure Studies at West Highland College UHI in Fort William were able to organise a Taster Coasteering session as part of our Get Outdoors Day event too – definitely for the more adventurous, but thoroughly enjoyed by all!  Thank you again to Andy and Zeemon at Coasteering.Fun for hosting the event for us!  Click here to see a short video, put together by Jose from the School of Adventure Studies, of their exploits.

As well as being active and outdoors, self-care is also an important part of health and wellbeing, whether it is establishing a good sleep pattern, practising mindfulness, taking up Yoga, or even just making time for a relaxing bath – these all help us feel better.  It is also something that is very often neglected, and can lead to mental health issues.  As an outdoorsy, working Mother, I have to admit that self-care (particularly in the form of skincare routines, facials and spa products) is not very high up on my agenda, so when I was invited to join a Body Shop at Home group on social media I really wasn’t sure whether it was for me.  Siobhan, who runs the group, which revolves around the promotion and selling of Body Shop products, is also an advocate of positive health and wellbeing, tying in with the Trust’s ethos, so I thought I would give it a go.  She also raises money for a nominated monthly charity, and was happy to help the Trust in our fundraising and promotion efforts throughout May – a win win situation you could say!  Thank you Siobhan and Lisa for all of your hard work and support this month, and yes, I do I love all my new goodies!

As well as raising awareness of the new Grant, there has been an element of fundraising to all of our activities this month, and we are very pleased to announce that we have raised a grand total of £500, which will all go towards future grant awards.  Thank you to every single person who took part in one of our activities, or gave a donation towards this fantastic total.

So looking after your Health and wellbeing can come in many forms, and throughout the month of May we at the Trust have embraced many of them – we hope this will inspire you to do the same!

Our big walk through the Lairig Ghru

For anyone with a little knowledge of the outdoor landscape of the Cairngorms, the distinctive gap between Braeriach and Ben MacDui that forms the Lairig Ghru is a dramatic feature of the Cairngorms’ skyline. This particular landmark has been a source of intrigue to me since childhood, and every time we drove south along the A9 it would be something to look out for – and every time it would look different dependent on the weather and the time of year.
As I was unable to complete a personal challenge during the official ‘Bothy Challenge’ event last year, I wanted to do something this year, and so I decided that walking the Lairig Ghru would be my focus.

Ready to go!

I managed to persuade a handful of friends to join me, and so after a few months of planning and practice routes, Audrey, Carol, Sian and myself set out on Sunday the 22nd July from Rothiemurchus to complete the 20-mile walk to Linn of Dee, 5 miles west of Braemar.

The weather was perfect, light cloud, some sun and enough of a breeze to keep the midgies away. We set off just after 8am, and our first stop was scheduled for 10am. Having consulted the map and our trusty ‘WalkHighlands’ route guide, we had predicted that this should take us roughly to the start of the pass itself. Although a little nervous we were all in good spirits, ready for the challenge ahead. The walk started through the Rothiemurchus Forest, and once we had crossed the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, built by climbers from this group in 1912, we soon began to climb.

First stop, looking back towards Aviemore

The route became less of a track and more of a path, and we were all still quietly confident that we would be able to manage the distance without too much difficulty.  We reached the junction with the climbers path up to Braeriach at about the 6 mile point and a decision was made that this would be a good first stop.  The views were amazing in both directions, and Aviemore seemed a very long way away!



What came next caught us a little off guard. Re-fuelled and legs rested, the next stage was into the pass itself. ‘A couple of hours to the bothy on the other side before stopping for lunch?’ We thought…  Stage 4 of the WalkHighlands route guide told us that, ‘The route now climbs through the great trench of the pass itself, with mountain walls on either side…… The path disappears several times and the going is rough for a kilometre or so.

Entering the Lairig Ghru with Aviemore in the background

What we actually encountered was over a mile of rocky terrain, caused by glacial deposits and erosion from the steep mountains on either side, and not only that, we were still going uphill! This meant that things slowed down quite considerably as we negotiated our way across the boulder field. The actual summit is not known, but eventually we passed a cairn marking the ‘top’ and the route tentatively started to descend.


We passed the Pools of Dee, which as a result of the dry summer were very low, and finally re-joined the path, and a definite descent. Unfortunately we soon realised that the bothy was still a good way off and we all felt the need for lunch. A good spot was identified, with amazing views looking down Glen Dee and across to Cairn Toul.

Lunch stop, with Coire an t-Saighdeir in the background

It’s safe to say our lunch was devoured in record time! We also had the obligatory toast to each other as encouragement, but also to remember my brother Neil. His death in January 2015 inspired me to get outdoors and make the most of our surroundings, much as he did. I will never be a climber, like he was, but I have definitely re-discovered my love of hillwalking, and choosing this walk was very much done with him in mind!


Corrour Bothy and Devil’s Peak

We checked our maps and route details, and re-evaluated our timing – as things stood we were OK to reach our destination in plenty of time, assuming there were no more boulder fields! So we set off again, assured by the fact that we were back on a good path and it was down-hill, for the time being anyway!  An hour or so after we set off again, we passed the track off to the Corrour Bothy and Devil’s Peak behind – no time for a visit on this trip, but maybe next time!

Shortly after we passed the bothy, the path went off to the left, and seemed to keep going in this direction for quite a while, in fact so much so that we started to wonder if we had somehow taken a wrong turn!  After a quick check of the map and an opportunity to take in some sugar, we confirmed that we were in the right place.  Sure enough, very soon after our quick breather we began to descend again towards Glen Luibeg and the Luibeg Burn. The terrain was definitely improving, and it was good to see trees again! Our next focus was reaching Derry Lodge, an old, abandoned shooting lodge. From there we were expecting a relatively easy walking along a good Landrover track to the car park at Linn of Dee.

Descending in to Glen Luibeg

By the time we reached Derry Lodge, energy levels were considerably lower, legs and ankles were aching, and our pace had slowed dramatically. Unfortunately we had lost time along the way and so we had no choice but to keep walking – after all, there was only 4 miles left and we were nearly there, or so we thought. Although the terrain was easy, this part definitely felt the longest – but lack of energy and tired legs and feet probably contributed to that! Those last 4 miles turned into 5 and a half, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we were so glad to reach the car park, and our lift back to Braemar!

Although exhausted, we are all filled with a great sense of achievement. It had been an amazing day in a fantastic corner of the world. The weather had held for us, and although we had encountered a few hardy midgies at our first stop, they had pretty much kept away too. Although the walk was primarily a personal challenge for all of us, we had hoped to use it to raise a little bit of money for The Neil Mackenzie Trust at the same time. Thank you to everyone who sponsored us, our final total was a fantastic £500!

The biggest thanks have to go to Carol, Audrey and Sian for agreeing to do the walk with me! There was definitely blood and sweat, but no tears thankfully – just lots of fantastic memories, and hopefully our newly fledged walking group will have plenty more adventures to come!

Ladies Night!

On Friday 10th November, The Neil Mackenzie Trust hosted a Ladies Night as a social event to raise awareness of the Trust, and maybe a few extra pennies at the same time.

We had a great evening – thank you very much to the lovely ladies of Strathnairn (and those that came out from Inverness to join in the fun) who came along, it was a very successful event!

Thanks also to the businesses that supported us, particularly Cheese & Tomatin for providing their delicious pizzas and Mhairi from Scentsy for joining us for the evening.  We were also lucky enough to receive some great raffle prizes from:

Landmark Adventure Park

Jury’s Inn/ Juvenate Leisure Club

Café 1

Inverness Harbour Trust

The Sleeping Beauty Salon at The Palace Hotel

Infinity Trampoline Park

Majestic Wine

Tales of a Feather

We raised just under £500, which we are very pleased with, and this will go towards grants for 2018.  Thanks again to everyone for your support!

Three unwise men travelled from Farr

For a number of years our band of 3 (David, Doug and Gavin) 50+ year old mountain bikers have been going out for a longer day trip in the autumn. The target has been to cover 40 to 50 miles with as much off tarmac as possible, preferably in a loop.
In the spring of this year David suggested that we join in with the Neil Mackenzie Trust’s Bell’s Bothy Challenge, get to the bothy at Camusunary on Skye by your own steam from as far away as you could manage, using our bikes. The official Challenge was to take place over the first weekend in May but due to work and personal commitments we had to settle on the first weekend in September. Firm plans were made in July and accommodation booked at Dornie and Broadford. We estimated that we had 120 miles to cycle from Farr to the bothy and split it into 3 legs of about 40 miles each, plus the return from the bothy to our accommodation in Broadford on day 3.

Thursday 31st of August dawned bright and calm and we set off from Farr Community Hall at 8am, usual starting point and time for our Saturday morning rides. Riding through Tomfat woods and onto Wade’s Old Edinburgh Road took us onto Inverness where we headed to the sea lock on the canal to take in the East coast before heading along the Great Glen way over Dunain Hill and Abriachan to Drumnadrochit for a long lunch break. Due to construction work at Craig Dunain finding the start of the GG way wasn’t easy but the ride to Drum was great, especially a steep downhill section from Abriachan to the A82 at Temple pier, wouldn’t want to ride back up it!
During our stop at Drum the rain started but we still had to get to Cannich to complete day 1. Our route now took us along the Affric Kintail Way up Glen Urquhart and then over to Strath Glass. Once again we had route finding trouble at the start of this way marked trail and ended up pushing the bikes up a very steep grassy hill to regain the trail above Drumnadrochit. Now soaked to the skin, thankfully easy forest tracks took us along the south side of the glen to Corimony where we joined the main road to Cannich for a 42mph run down the steep brae into the village.

Caledonian Canal Sea Lock

Day 1 stats: 46 miles, 4,800ft of climbing.

Continuing along the Affric Kintail Way on day 2 saw us leave Cannich straight uphill on the Glen Cannich to Mullardoch road before heading along forest roads to Dog Falls, Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhion and finally escaping the midges at Loch Affric. Beyond the west end of Loch Affric through to Camban bothy the going gets more difficult and the cycling more energetic. We called in at Altbeithe Youth Hostel which sits well onto the mountains and enjoyed hot drinks and chocolate bars in the company of the relief warden. The going gets progressively trickier west of Altbeithe but still rideable in the main as far as Camban. Beyond Camban it’s a case of, “I’ve brought my bike this far and I’m going to ride it as much as I can, even if it’s only for 10 yards until I have to get off it and push/carry it again!”. Eventually we gave up riding at all as the path down to Glen Lichd was so steep and slippery it would have been suicidal for us to attempt. At last we reach the head of Glen Lichd and enjoyed a very quick run down the landrover track to Morvich with the lure of a late lunch at the Jacobite café. Unfortunately at 3pm we arrived at a café which closes between 2.30pm until 5pm, disappointed and hungry.
Sandwiches and hot drinks were found at the filling station at Inverinate and we set off over Carr Brae to our overnight stop at Dornie.


In the mountains west of Glen Affric                             Glen Lichd House

Day 2 stats: 41 miles, 4,200 ft of climbing.

We left Dornie in another infestation of midges, the price we pay in the Highlands for a calm mild morning. This was the start of our big day, planning to reach Bell’s Bothy by mid-afternoon then on to Broadford to our accommodation. The greater part of today’s riding would be on tarmac unfortunately with only a short section from Strollamus to Luib and then Sligachan to Kilmarie via Camusunary off road. By keeping to side roads we managed to reduce the main road mileage to a minimum. Dornie to Balmacara was done on the footpath beside the main road, then past Balmacara Square across to Erbusaig and in to Kyle. Crossing the Skye Bridge on a bicycle was pretty good, being able to stop at the top and enjoy the view. Next a main road slog along to Broadford where we deposited our overnight gear at our bunk house accommodation for that night. Morning coffee at Broadford then along the footpath to Skinadin before leaving the main road again at Strollamus to take the old road, complete with old mile stones and plenty of deep water, directly across the hill to Luib. This track was a complete unknown but rode really well with a fast descent to Luib. Another couple of miles on the main road and then we turned off to follow the coast round by Moll to Sconser. This was another unknown but was a lovely ride along a very quiet, if rather potholed, road where we watched gannets diving for fish with Raasay in the background. The last main road drag took us from Sconser to Sligachan, and lunch. The next 8 miles would lead us to Bell’s Bothy and would challenge our riding skills, a narrow stony footpath with plenty of rock steps, and an unexpectedly deep peat bog. The going was very slow here and technical, physical and mentally tiring as we’d already cycled 38 miles before lunch. To travel into the normally unseen side of the Cuillin and Blaven was quite special and then to have the bay at Camusunary appear with Eigg and Rum silhouetted on the horizon was a great way to arrive at Bell’s Bothy.

Our arrival was later than intended, 5:30pm so not quite mid-afternoon. We paid a quick visit to the bothy, toasted our success with a dram of malt on the beach and then started the last leg of the day, over the 600ft pass to Kilmarie, then 9 road miles through Torrin to Broadford. The climb out from Camusunary was hard going, loose and steep, pushing the bikes where we simply couldn’t cycle them. But going down the other side was excellent. Steep and some parts rocky, some parts loose, but all pretty fast. We made good time along the road to Broadford and arrived at the bunk house around 8pm.


Looking back to Sgurr nan Gillean                              Outside Bell’s Bothy, Camasunary

Day 3 stats: 63 miles, 4,400ft of climbing.

Sunday morning and we were back on the bikes. Only 9 miles to get us to the railway station at Kyle for the afternoon train back to Inverness and a welcome rest.
A great weekend, with great company, and great sense of achievement. To the Neil Mackenzie Trust, thank you for the inspiration.

Dunmaglass Adventures!

Back in the Spring, we launched our Sponsored walk at Dunmaglass as part a year-long series of events for the Bell’s Bothy Challenge. This was to be a family-friendly day to encourage people to get out and explore the Strathnairn area and support a good cause at the same time. Generally, support from the community of Strathnairn had been positive, but it was difficult to tell whether anyone would really fancy trekking up a hill with us to raise a little bit of money! Very quickly, we learnt that the support was genuine as families registered for the event and started collecting sponsors. People came out from Inverness to join us, and we even had participants who travelled up from Edinburgh for the weekend!

As the day of the walk approached, everyone involved in organising the event, as well as our budding walkers, were studying the weather closely. The plan was to offer 3 separate routes to allow for walkers and cyclists of differing abilities, and so that everyone could see a different view of our surroundings, looking down on Strathnairn – from the top of a fairly high hill (802m above sea level). By the Friday evening, the day before the walk, it became apparent that walking at the top of the hill with lots of children was going to be a little unsafe – the weather forecast was predicting gusts of 45 miles an hour at low level, nobody wanted to hazard a guess as to what that would translate to higher up! With some help from the guys at Dunmaglass, who knew the land better than any of us, we managed to plan an alternative route at lower level, which meant that the event could still go ahead.

The big day arrived, and as forecast, it was windy. Not the lovely sunny summer’s day we had hoped for, but when you live in Scotland you learn to make the most of the weather conditions that are thrown at you! The day started with an introduction from Tom, one of the Gamekeepers on Dunmaglass Estate and a chat from Jenny from Loch Ness Rural Communities Group.

She kindly donated some wildlife identification cards, tick sheets and some pens and encouraged us to keep a look out for some of the wildlife that can be seen in the area. Once everyone was briefed on the route-change due to the weather conditions, we divided into groups. There were still 3 hardy souls (and a baby!) who were prepared to walk the 10-mile route, up and back down the hill (all agreed that the full 14-mile option was beyond their capabilities in the conditions!), so they were set on their way. Although the decision had been made not to walk at the top of the hill, Dunmaglass Estate and SSE had given us permission to go up to the top to see the wind turbines and admire the view. So, those that fancied it drove up the hill for a look – a number of our party had not seen a turbine from such close proximity before, so this was quite a sight! Before we got blown off the hill, we headed back down to start walking. The new route was just under 3 miles, and took us past the end of Loch Conagleann and past the older Dunmaglass Lodge. There is now a second ‘Dunmaglass Lodge’, which is more modern, and visible through the trees.


In total, we welcomed 45 walkers, including 19 children, ranging in age from 5 months old to 60+! Everyone who came enjoyed a walk, even if perhaps it was shorter than planned, and got to see a part of the world they had not visited before.


Each individual will be able to claim an adventure of their own, but I think the most memorable of those will be Annelise’s, who battled 5 miles up the hill and then 5 miles back down again on her own with a young William in a pushchair against the wind! We also benefitted from kind donations of home-baked cakes from the congregation of St Paul’s Church, Croachy, which were much appreciated after battling the elements. The day was a great success, and now that all sponsorship money has been collected and counted, we are pleased to announce that we raised a grand total of £1053!

Thanks must be said again to Dunmaglass Estate and SSE for allowing us access to the land and the windfarm, Iain, Tom and Hamish from Dunmaglass for all their help in the planning and assistance on the day, Jenny from Loch Ness Rural Communities, and the congregation of St. Pauls for their baking. And finally, thank you to everyone who took part, donated money and sponsored of our walkers, without you we would never have reached such a fantastic sum of money!


1 week to go!

1 week to go until our Sponsored Walk!  Thank you to everyone who has already signed up, we’ve got a good mix of folk of all ages – the youngest at the moment is a mere 5 months old!  There is still time to sign up if you would like to get involved, simply download the Registration form from the website, or email Caroline Tucker at caz_mackenzie@hotmail.com .
Plans are coming together nicely for the event, and the early signs are indicating the weather will be on our side too…  Please come and join us if you can for some walking, socialising, cake and fundraising, and if you can’t make it and would like to sponsor any of our walkers, please visit our fundraising page – http://www.charitychoice.co.uk/theneilmackenzietrust/appeals/dunmaglass-sponsored-walk .


Dunmaglass Sponsored Walk

When we (The Neil Mackenzie Trust) started making plans for a year long series of events centred around Bell’s Bothy, it took me a while to work out whether there was an option that would be family-friendly, and that could involve some of the less adventurous of us out there!  With much chat with fellow mums at after-school activities and the school & nursery gates I stumbled upon the idea of a sponsored walk within the vicinity of Strathnairn.  This would allow us to run a ‘local’ event for those that weren’t able to make it to Skye, and hopefully we would be able to do different routes to make it possible to be enjoyed by individuals of differing abilities.

After a few weeks of research, both on foot and by looking at maps, we found a network of tracks recently upgraded for a windfarm development.  Following a little liaison with the landowners, we are pleased to announce the local part of Bell’s Bothy Challenge is a family-friendly sponsored walk at Dunmaglass Estate, with many thanks to Dunmaglass and SSE for letting us use the land.


There will be three routes available to suit all ages and abilities, and our aim is to get as many people of all different ages out to enjoy our surroundings, take some exercise, meet some new friends and of course raise some money for The Neil Mackenzie Trust at the same time!  The Trust’s tagline is ‘Fun to Donate, Fun to participate and Fun to Benefit’, so it would be great if as many of you as possible could come and join us to help us achieve this.

The event will take place on Saturday 24th June at Dunmaglass, Inverness-shire. It is £5 to register per family, and feel free to raise as much money in sponsorship as you can!  There will be prizes for the participants and homebaking & refreshments available at the end of the walk!  For more information and a registration  form please contact Caroline Tucker on caz_mackenzie@hotmail.com or download the form below.

Registration Form for Dunmaglass Sponsored Walk

If you are unable to take part in this event but would like to sponsor someone walking, running or cycling, please visit our Charity Choice fundraising page to make a donation: https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/theneilmackenzietrust/appeals/dunmaglass-sponsored-walk/682

Remember there are other things going on throughout the year, and feel free to set up your own challenge to raise money, wherever you are in the world!