Cycling in France.

Young Londoners visit the Loire.


by Avantika, Avalon, Hannah, Yameen, Yusuf, Jake, Celia and Alex.

Firstly, thank you very much to the Neil Mackenzie Trust for their generous grant that enabled us to have this amazing trip altogether.

We have decided to split this report into three distinct areas:

A diary with details of our trip and the kilometres travelled.

Feedback from young people – including challenges and highs.

Feedback from parents

The Trip – 19/08-28/08/2022 (abridged)

Download full report : loire2

Our original application was for a cycle trip to the southwest of France cycling towards the Spanish border. However, we had to change this at the last minute as the whole area was sealed off due to large forest fires which meant that the original route had been closed and many campsites along it. Climate Change in action and this theme continued throughout our trip and feed into our John Muir Award Project.

We followed part of the EuroVelo 6 route, the section we chose to cycle started at Tours and finished in Nantes, it was a cycle ride of approximate 337km over 7 days, averaging 48km per day.

It was indeed a challenge for all, we carried our own panniers with equipment, clothes, and food with the aim of being as self-sufficient as we could be. The route followed most of the time the river Loire and along designated cycle paths for around 70% of the journey.

Day by day summary.

Friday 19th London to Tours

We just about all meet at 16:30 at St. Pancras International Station all of us ready for our adventure, if not a little nervous at the same time. We set off for France at 17:30 pm, two hours later the Eurostar arrived in Paris Gare du Nord from there we took the R3 to Austerlitz station the other side of the Seine, Avalon really loved the doorhandles on the R3. We had a little wait here before the next train, so we took a break to eat our packed dinners and we had a few fries on the side. The train we took to Tours was very plush, sofa like seats and we were the only ones in the carriage. The journey lasted around two hours and we arrived there at 1.15am. From the station it was a good 15-minute walk to the hotel, and we all struggled carrying the pannier bags as they were very awkward. By the time everyone was settled, and, in their rooms, it was already 2 am and we all fell asleep very quickly.

…………………………………………. Download full report and photographs : loire2


36km to rock somewhere outside Gennes

We woke up refreshed and ready for a new adventure, Monday breakfast was the staple croissant and applesauce after which we packed up the tents and prepared the cycles for the day. Today was probably the easiest cycle ride as we continued to follow the river and we seemed to quickly reach the town of Gennes. We had lunch here and then we had some free time to go and wander around the town Alex went off and discovered a delicious bakery … which we all then went to find. Importantly we were able to stock up on supplies and goodies for the next few days. Some of the group were a little late getting back …they got lost apparently ..!

We cycled a few more kilometres to a small village with some bakeries, we stopped here for some drinks as it was a really hot day, Jake tried to make some weird mix with the drinks that didn’t go down to well. After another 2 km, we arrived at the place we would be spending the evening, early enough to enjoy. Hotel for the evening was a structure made of rocks “Dolmen de la Pageire”, we were wild camping this time we were more prepared and knew what to expect the rock was an amazing experience. It had good sleeping conditions and great climbing; it gave us a chance to build even more skills and learn from each other. It also had amazing views of stunning fields and forest. We explored the forest which was very enjoyable and where we found two chairs. After dinner we were first set a challenge by Alex and Celia where we were in teams and had to label the bike parts after which we looked for different ways to climb the rock which strengthened our team building skills as we supported each other. We ended the day in a relaxing manner talking and listening to music while watching the sunset. We then went to sleep surprisingly comfortable.



62km to Saint Herblain

Thursday, the second longest day of cycling and everyone woke up with lots of ants in their tents and in their panniers. We emptied everything and tried to banish all the ants with limited success, we were to find out later. Having completed this task, we ate our breakfasts and prepared for the cycling.

We cycled along by the river all morning which was very pleasant until we reached a very conveniently placed supermarket at the end of the path, so we purchased lunch and ate it in the local park where Avalon found more trees to climb, and Avantika found some very sour grapes. We spent a little bit of time here before the afternoon cycle into Nantes. This cycle again was by the river and pleasant until about 3km outside Nantes when we suddenly started noticing a lot of fly tipping and burnt-out cars, to be honest we all found this piece of path a little scary. Having got through this we then arrived in Nantes and stopped for a quick water break where some of the young people played chase, Jake used his parkour skills and jumped over the riverbank wall… but then was unable to climb back up it and we had to put Operation save Jake into action.

Jake having been rescued we continued to Saint Herblain where we would find our accommodation for two nights. The cycle from Nantes was a little industrial to start with but then we found our way into a nature reserve and had to cycle along a boardwalk which was really fun.

Have unloaded the bikes we opened the tents in the garden to dry them off a little and Alex and Celia went to get some food. We had a feast that night pizza, chicken, salad and to finish off ice cream. After this we collectively choose a film to watch and relaxed with popcorn. We were all happy to be sleeping in beds that evening, although Alex and Celia slept on the floor in the lounge.


Saturday 27th

Travels around Nantes

Saturday was the last full day of the holidays and we had to leave the house as we were staying in Nantes that evening to make catching the train easier on Sunday morning as it was at 5.30am.

We were staying in a lovely apartment about 15-minute walk from the station and we all had a good night sleep even if it wasn’t for very long as Alex woke us up at 4:30 am.

This diary just gives a taster of all the things we learnt and experienced on this trip, and we all feel that we have grown in some way having completed this amazing Journey.

We had a five hour wait in Paris …but finally made it back to London with many stories to share.

Young people’s feelings and thoughts about the trip

“This trip showed me another side of the culture of the French. It allowed me to truly experience life as a local which I would never have seen if it wasn’t for this trip. We pushed past our previous thought to be physical limits through kindness and encouragement.

We went through a short trail, where multiple people kept on falling of their bikes, but through perseverance and prioritizing the team goal over one’s own (which we learnt from Alex) we successfully made it through to arrive to a warm bed and running water (which this trip allowed me to see its value).We all had lots of fun on this trip and got to learn a little about ourselves as a bonus.”.  (Hannah)

“I’m very proud of myself for cycling, such a long way and distance in such a short amount of time and sleeping out in the open and in the cave” (Yameen)

…………………………………… Download full report and photographs: loire2

Parents feedback – it is easy as a worker to forget how these trips can change the prospective of a young person and the feedback we received from the parents after this trip really helps to high light the necessity for all young people to have access to such schemes no matter their family background or parental income.


“I’ve been meaning to write to you about how the trip away has impacted Avalon’s life.

She seems different, more buoyant, more confident, more resilient, more positive, less anxious, and much much happier. Avalon seems to have settled more into herself and for the first time actually likes herself. School is presently ok; this has never happened before!!!!

I wish all young people who struggle could have the same opportunity. Experiences like this can raise people up and out of their darkness and give them the confidence and resilience to make positive life choices leading into young adults”. Linda (mum)


Jakes Mum

“I feel that Jake learnt some valuable lessons on this trip emotionally and physically, he has matured because of them. He Developed more independence but being away made him value his family more. The trip improved his confidence and self-esteem because he has more self-belief.

He’s gained more motivation to take parts in multiple sports clubs and activities on a weekly basis which is so important for him. As he has a lot of nervous energy and playing sports and cycling keeps him busy and fit and has helped with his focus at school. I think he’s learnt a lot more about what his body needs to function as an athlete and is now taking more of an interest in nutrition to fuel his body. I’m so pleased he took part”. (Laura)

Download full report and photographs: loire2

Greenland 2022

Greenland 22nd July- 7th August 2022. Hannah Mortlock, Tom Litchfield and Bethany Carol from St Andrews Univeristy Mountaineering Club alongside the Scottish Arctic Club and with the support of The Neil Makenzie Trust.

On the 22nd July, Bethany Carol, Hannah Mortlock and Tom Litchfield flew from Glasgow to Keflavik (Iceland) to join the Scottish Arctic Club’s 50th Anniversary Expedition to Tasiilaq and Ammassalik Island. After landing in Iceland, we enjoyed walking around Reykjavik before meeting the remainder of the 25+ other expedition participants in Reykjavik City Airport the following morning. After a slight delay, we boarded a propellor aeroplane to Kulusuk, East Greenland. From here, we transferred by boat to Tasiilaq, the largest village in East Greenland, where we were based for the next few days.

While in Tasiilaq, we got to know many of the other Scottish Arctic Club members (many of whom had different objectives for the expedition, so we would not see until the flights home), stocked up on supplies, ate a delicious meal and watched the finals of the East Greenland football competition. We also walked up Sømandsfjeldet (a 718m hill behind Tasiilaq).

After this, we were transferred by boat up the Ammassalik fjord, then Ikerasagssuaq fjord to a granite cirque (65.91258694575762, -37.579071692925346), identified by Scottish Arctic Club members. We were initially alone in the cirque for several days and enjoyed the solitude and remote feeling (it was a 90-minute boat ride from Tasiilaq and over 5km from, and out of sight of, the nearest settlement (Tiniteqilaaq)). After that we were joined by six members of the Scottish Arctic Club expedition and enjoyed their company and the chance to learn from their expertise.

While in the cirque, our primary aim was exploration, hill walking and mountaineering. Active for most of the 10 days we spent in the cirque, we particularly enjoyed climbing (and a planned bivouac on) the West Flank of Pt. 2000 (we yet to find any details of previous ascents of this mountain), the West Ridge of Nîniartivaraq (the big ‘N’) and making an attempt (we reached a fore summit to find the final 80m to the summit to be extremely loose and steep) on the South Ridge of Pt. ~1120 (we yet to find any details of previous ascents of this mountain). We had an enjoyable afternoon multipitch rock climbing and loved the chance to spot wildlife (we saw Minke Whales regularly in Ikerasagssuaq fjord and Arctic Foxes sniffing around our food barrel most evenings. We also successfully fished in the fjord, catching trout and cod.

After a fantastic 10 days in the cirque, we headed by boat back to Kulusk, where we enjoyed the supermarket, and then flew back to Iceland. In an incredible, but manic, layover with a friend (who now lives in Iceland) we were thrilled to relax in a geothermal pool before heading out in the evening to see the volcano, which had started erupting two days before: A truly awe-inspiring way to cap off an incredible trip. Exhausted but hugely satisfied, we arrived back in Glasgow on the 7th August. We are hugely grateful to the Neil Mackenzie Trust for their incredibly generous support of this trip. We had a hugely inspiring, enjoyable and educational experience and are all eager to enjoy further international expeditions and, where possible, to assist other young people planning their own expeditions.

We are so grateful for this opportunity and the extremely generous support we received from the Neil Mackenzie Trust, so thank you! 

For report and more pictures: Greenland 2022 Pictures and captions

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!

Orla’s First Bothy

Any sort of walking with a three month baby is bound to be challenging. Bearing that in mind we (I) thought the Neil MacKenzie bothy challenge would be the perfect test of (a) my recovery from giving birth; (b) whether my old orange waterproof still fit; (c) how much the baby liked her finally useable sling; and (d) how well the baby’s new pink flamingo waterproof sling cover worked. With those subsidiary goals in mind, we set off to ultimately prove that having a baby wasn’t going to stop us from doing whatever we wanted to do.


Aengus, my husband, got to know Neil when we first moved back to Canada. They set off with two others to climb an unclimbed peak in Northern British Columbia and shared a tent in the pouring rain for almost three weeks. While I can’t speak for Neil, Aengus returned as something close to a bear- constantly hungry, very unshaven and a bit grizzley. I felt sorry for whoever was forced to shack up with him for so long- very lucky Neil.

Anyway, we wanted to share this adventurous spirit with Orla, our daughter. She is already a bit on the grizzley side so we thought a wild walk in Elgol would be just the ticket. Now to tick off one of my initial test questions, before we left, yes, my jacket still fit. Hurray! What a bonus to starting off our walk on rainy Skye!


Since this was also a test of how the baby would cope with the rain (she hadn’t actually seen or been introduced to this particular weather pattern yet), we opted to take the land rover track around to a smaller single track leading to the bothy before returning back via the coast to Elgor. It turns out the baby didn’t care about the rain in any way. She slept from the main road to the bothy without waking. And again, two more of our test were passed- the baby did indeed like her sling and her pink flamingo cover was actually waterproof.



While it wasn’t a super long walk to the bothy, it was an excellent first challenge in Scottish weather conditions for us as a family. It involved slipping in the mud, near constant rain, some navigation, tea and some random encounters with two Americans and Glaswegian who were ‘waiting the weather out’ at the bothy. We didn’t have the heart to tell them that the weather we had was near perfect for a mid-October day!

To Bell’s Bothy in Camasunary – by a not so direct route described in a roundabout way

Finally, after years of talking about getting ourselves to Scotland and to visit Bell’s bothy in Camasunary, I met up with Daniel in Inverness in June 2017. He had come all the way from Vancouver (Canada), whereas I had made the short trip over from the Netherlands.

The several (outdoor) stores in Inverness allowed us to pick what we were lacking for out little adventure (a map, food, and after some searching, white gas). We had beer for lunch (and mighty fine beer!), as the our food order took so long that the bus to Skye was about to leave without us. Eventually, we grabbed to-go sandwiches with chips (translation: fries), but our smiles quickly vanished when the bus driver told us that our chips were not allowed on his bus and had to ride beneath with the luggage. This minor setback was quickly forgotten, however, as stunning scenery soon came into view on either side of the bus and we were busy keeping a lookout for Ol’ Nessie as we zoomed past Loch Ness.

About 3 hours later, we disembarked by the historical Sligachan Hotel on the Isle of Skye. After taking an early dinner in the pub while orienting ourselves on the map, we hoisted our packs trying our best to convey to the crowd of fellow tourists that we were real men of the mountains. In keeping with tradition, we then failed to take an obvious bridge and soon found ourselves hiking along on the wrong side of the creek.
Having adjusted our internal compass and self image, we then set course in the direction of the mountains Sgurr nan Gillean and Bruach na Frìthe.


After a gentle hike up a trail and then a bit of contouring to the west past a few sheep we pitched our tent in a very pleasant basin north of Bruach na Frìthe at about 600m elevation or so. Tent up and drunk on the beautiful view, we started getting dinner ready. Stove and food unpacked, the two mountain men quickly looked at each other expecting the other member to produce matches. Realizing that our respective ignition sources were safely stored in Norway or Canada, attempts were made to create sparks by ways of short-circuiting batteries and cursing foully. Neither produced the desired result, and our second dinner was taken cold.



Alex and Daniel close by Sligachan on day one

a gentle hike up a trail and then a bit of contouring to the west past a few sheep we pitched our tent in a very pleasant basin north of Bruach na Frìthe at about 600m elevation or so. Tent up and drunk on the beautiful view, we started getting dinner ready. Stove and food unpacked, the two mountain men quickly looked at each other expecting the other member to produce matches. Realizing that our respective ignition sources were safely stored in Norway or Canada, attempts were made to create sparks by ways of short-circuiting batteries and cursing foully. Neither produced the desired result, and our second dinner was taken cold.

After having spent a windy and rainy night, we awoke to a windy and rainy day with fog that made it difficult to see our boots stored outside the tent. We abandoned our idea of climbing onto the ridge that should be behind our tent, and after a cold breakfast the clouds lifted enough that we had a pleasant walk with a view along a creek down to the “valley”, accompanied by sideways rain. We then headed SW in the direction of the Fairy Pools on a well trodden trail. Having ensured we were properly wet, the rain and wind retreated as we got over the highpoint of the trail and we had a very pleasant downhill walk from there and soon found ourselves sitting down snacking by the Fairy Pools-parking lot. We originally planned a path traversing around from Glenbrittle to Camasunary – however we were warned by other hikers that this involved a section called the “Bad Step” that was tricky to pass and with the general wetness and the wind that seemed to only be waiting for a chance to pick up, we decided to hitch-hike to the Talisker Whisky Distillery in Carbost instead and hunt down a pack of matches along the way (note: the Bad Step didn’t appear that bad when we looked it up afterwards).

Picking up hitch hikers was not something the many carloads of visiting tourists had planned for that day, but after walking most of the way we eventually hitched a ride with a German couple that dropped us off one mile outside of Carbost. Matches in hand, we soon embarked on a guided tour of the distillery followed by a small dram at the end. We made our way back to Sligachan by foot and hitch-hiking (thus having made a loop nowhere near our destination) to reboot our adventure, and made it to cellular reception just in time to learn that one of us was requested for an important job interview early next week. After several hours of calling, emailing and internet browsing the airline tickets were re-booked, and we could once again set out on the trail. We now followed the trail taking us south between Sgurr nan Gillean and Marsco directly in the direction of Camasunary.

With no time to spare, we set the fastest course for Camasunary then detoured into the bog instead of taking the obvious gravel trail right away. The lush, green mountain slopes called for many a photograph as the mountain peaks disappeared into the clouds. Many sheep were out and shaking their heads at us as we passed by. At the northern edge of Loch an Athain (?), we spotted a group of deer grazing. After getting soaked by another round of rain and wind, we then came out of the valley and were heading down towards the sea and the Camasunary bothy smiling from ear to ear.


At the bothy, we were met by an enthusiastic band of travelers from the United States, who had come over to Scotland to mountain bike the fabulous trails and enjoy themselves – greatly helped by plenty of whisky! We had a nice chat before we turned our attention on dinner. While hot, this dinner was even more of a disaster than the previous, as M&S had sold us gluten-free pasta – it shouldn’t be stored in the edible section…

We kept being amazed by the location. Bell’s bothy is situated in a wonderfully stunning area, between mountains and the sea. Based on our several great adventures with Neil in Canada, we think it’s a location that would have made him super stoked! The bothy itself is also beautiful with it’s stone walls and blends naturally into the landscape.

Early next morning we were up to check on the weather. Discovering the day had brought rain, clouds that threatened to engulf the peaks but mostly a little fatigue, we devoted the morning to do our part to clean up the shoreline instead of chasing peaks. There’s a tremendous amount of treasures that wash up on the beach and we kept filling bag after bag before storing sturdy stuff at the depot and packing out the rest.

Having done our small part to keep the area nice, we hiked back towards Sligachan in the afternoon and soon found ourselves in company with our good old friends Wind and Rain once more. Several creeks were running higher on our way out and ensured we had plenty of chances to refill our drinking bottles and boots on the way back to Sligachan. Our third and last night on Skye we spent on the campsite opposite the hotel as we had to catch an early bus next morning to make it back to Inverness and attend a very nice BBQ hosted by Angus and Margaret!

We would heartily recommend everyone a trip to the bothy – but bring your rain gear, wool socks and matches! 😉

(Big thanks to our friends who helped us raise a little money for the Bothy Challenge!)



The end of a successful year!

The year of the 2017 Bells Bothy Challenge is drawing to a close, and what a successful year it has been!  Our last walk in of the year had us reflecting on the ups and downs of the Challenge.



Firstly, Thank you to everyone who took part!  It was a great opportunity for personal challenges, getting folks together and meeting friends, old and new, having fun and helping the environment and of course raising money for the Trust.  To date we have raised over £4,000 and I know that there is more to come.  With Gift Aid on some of it, hopefully we will reach the £5,000 mark.  Well done everyone!  Also to come are some reports ………………… James, Alex/Daniel, Paulette, to name but a few!

There were many individual challenges including ……………………………………………


…………………………………………………………………….. Andrew, Alice, Ruth and Mark, Well done!

The highlights of the year included a trip down the Murray River, setting off the challenge in Australia in January, with Lewis and Jorg.


Beach clean and weekend in the “Big House” at Camasunary.  Thanks to you all for coming, and for your hard work – David & Lesley, Kenny, Ruth, Kath and Geoff and for all the food and drink you brought in.


Canada Day beach clean with Carly and Kelsey who were over from Vancouver on The Neil Mackenzie Adventure Grant.  We had to postpone our BBQ for 24 hours because some over zealous helpers carried out and dumped our food – it had been wrapped in a black bin bag and left in the porch in the bothy!


MS Bike event on Vancouver Island where we cycled 60km and raise £2,600 for MS in Canada and about £800 for the Trust

MS start

The Three Unwise Men, David, Doug and Gavin who cycled off road from Farr, near Inverness, to the bothy, and raised money by holding a competition to guess the total height they gained on a 4 hour cycle in November in Strathnairn.

Day 3 at the bothy

and finally ………………………………….. probably the youngest person to take up the challenge –  Orla, aged 3 months who walked in to the bothy with her parents Aengus and Paulette from Elgol in October.

There were others – walkers, cyclists, climbers, paddlers – thank you all.  If you didn’t manage to do something challenging this year – The Challenge continues next year – Anywhere, anytime.  Please let us know what you are doing for YOUR Challenge.

I mentioned that there have been downs to the Challenge.  I will not dwell on it.  However I just want to mention that although we have cleared a lot of rubbish from the bay, there is a lot still there.  Furgusson Shipping are going to remove what is collected in due course.  It is a pity,  if we had had the support of the landowner, the Mountain Bothies Association and the John Muir Trust we would have made a much better job of the beach cleans.  Unfortunately without their support we will not be continuing this part of the Challenge next year.

Beach Rubbish

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.

Our 2017 Challenge

MS Bike, Vancouver Island, Canada.

MS startUs, sporting our MS Bike T-shirts, with Fiona, Miranda and Kate, ready to start!

Background and training

When Neil died in an accident in Canada in January 2015 we had just booked our second campervan road trip of British Columbia for that summer.  We cancelled it, but said that we would go back sometime, when we were ready – when the time was right.  Last year we decided that we would do the trip in 2017, and booked a small van for a six week trip.

We arranged to be in Vancouver for the presentation of the third mentorship award, in Neil’s name, at the University of British Columbia, and to start our trip in mid-August.  The intended route would take us onto Vancouver Island and then north through the Inside Passage (on a 16 hour ferry running between the mainland and islands of the west coast of BC) to Prince Rupert, then north to Stewart (and Hyder just across the border in Alaska), across to the Rockies, and back to Vancouver, catching up with as many of Neil’s friends as we could, on the way.

Having contacted Fee & Bob on “the Island”, with our dates, in the early stages of planning we were surprised in March to get an email from Fiona asking for sponsorship for a cycle ride in aid of MS in Canada, the weekend we were due to be with them!  We sponsored her, looked it up, and decided that we would make this our “2017 Bell’s Bothy Challenge”.  The information said that it was for all ages, stages, and abilities, but it was not until mid-June that we discovered that the minimum distance we could ride, over the 2 days, was 60km!

Training started in earnest once we knew what was expected of us by way of gradients, distance and general fitness.  I had by this stage lost about 2 stone in six months, so that at least was a start!  We set our weekly goals, and trained on our heavy electric bikes, with the batteries mounted for extra weight, but without turning them on (where possible).  Our final training ride was the weekend before we left. On the Saturday we completed over 40 miles on and off road around Slochd, Carrbridge and Aviemore.  It was cold and wet, some of the tracks were rougher than we had been on, (before or since) and we struggled in places with our small wheels, heavy bikes and lack of suspension!  At least the following week it would be warmer, the road surfaces better, the bikes more suited to the rides and there would be stops for sustanance at fruit farms, wineries and other places of interest.

Arrival on Vancouver Island, and the Challenge.

When we arrived in our hired camper van, on Vancouver Island, we still had not had confirmation of the bikes we were going to hire – they were promised but we had no idea if they would actually be there for us on the day.  They weren’t waiting for us when we arrived the night before the first ride, but thankfully two brand new and free of charge bikes were ready for us on the morning of the first day, courtesy of Will Arnold of Experience Cycling.

We met up with Fiona, her sister Miranda and Kate (another friend of Neil’s from Vancouver Island) on Saturday morning and we are grateful to them (all seen pictured in first photo) for looking after and out for us, on the first morning.  The ride took us through a fertile area in the south of the Island where the biggest challenge was not, as I had expected, the hills, but the traffic.  We cycled on the main Island Highway, and on narrow roads and gravel entrances to the rest stops, and as the day progressed, the traffic got worse.

IMG_1864Saturday lunch stop – Blue Grouse Winery


A few other stops along the way

But we made the end of the first day, with several purchases of wine  from the vinyards – which were transported back to base by the support team –  and set off again on the Sunday for the second trip.  Although we had thought of doing a longer route the second day, we decided that a total of 60km was quite enough, and if we were to get back in time for the BBQ finale we would be pushed for time.  So we set out to enjoy a relaxing second day and got back without hitches.IMG_1881

Sponsorship and thanks!

We set out to raise $500 each for MS in Canada.  It was an opportunity for us to put something back into Canada after all the kindness, generosity and support shown by Neil’s friends and colleagues in Vancouver and the officials we came across during the difficult few months after his accident.  We also pledged to donate £10 to The Neil Mackenzie Trust for every $100 we raised.  Between us the total we donated to MS was $2,600, and the Trust £260, which with some very generous donations for our challenge, direct to the Trust have brought our challenge donation to nearly £800.

Thanks to everyone who has donated to our challenge, and thanks to MS Bike organisers and Will Arnold of Experience Cycling for their help, support, rent free bikes, $100 Shell “gas” voucher and the cycling gear we were awarded for raising the amount we did.


We are fitter and I am sure, healthier, as a result of our challenge, and we will continue cycling on our little electric bikes.  We have thought of getting something different. We hired some real mountain bikes in Jasper for a day, recently.  Fun, but no good to take in the van on a regular basis. So we think that by looking after the ones we have, perhaps adding some better tyres, suspension and better pedals, we will make more efficient use of them.  After all we are getting older and have never been serious cyclists, so we will continue to enjoy using the batteries to get us up the hills, or fight the headwinds!


IMG_1886Bikes safely returned at the end of the Challenge!


Alice’s Challenge

My Bothy Challenge!                                                                  4th – 6th June, 2017

On Sunday 4th June I and two friends Lesley and Lindsey with Cuillin, Lindsey’s border terrier began an adventure and my sponsored ‘Challenge’.  This involved walking from Elgol carrying a pack each to the bothy at Camasunary, staying two nights at the bothy, attempting to walk to Loch Coruisk  via the ‘bad step’, then walking back from Camusunary to Sligachan each carrying our packs. Each pack contained sleeping bag, mat, food etc!


Day 1 starting walk from Elgol to Camasunary – me, backpack & Cuillin who is having a little sit down!

Day 1) The walk from Elgol to Camasunary was only 3 ½ miles, but felt a much greater distance – it took us 3 hours!  Not a walk for the faint hearted.  The coastal path, is a little narrow in places and runs quite close to the cliff edge at points, and with some ups and downs!  However,  there were places of respite and some spectacular views, one of which was the view of bothy in the bay with the Cuillin behind.


Path runs a little close to the edge…in places


welcome respite in a meadow!

photo 4 towards camasunary

Camasunary bay with the Cuillin hills behind & bothy in foreground.

On arrival at the bothy we were met by Angus & Margaret who gave us a welcome barbecue of haggis with salad from their garden, a nice glass of wine followed by baked bananas! After Angus and Margaret left we settled down for the night, rather early but we were tired!  Other walkers / outward bounders were with us in the bothy which added to the experience.

photo 5

Angus, Margaret & me.


Day 2  To Loch Coruisk:  The weather was fair, no rain or low cloud.  Lesley & I agreed we were game for attempting the walk to Loch Coruisk via the ‘bad step’. Lesley is a very experienced walker – I felt safe going with her – we both agreed if the weather changed or we got to the bad step and we didn’t want to do it we would come back.   Lindsey decided not to join us because her back was sore; she stayed at the bothy with Cuillin enjoying the peace and surrounding views.  Lesley & I set off with map, refreshments, water and all the right gear!

The walk: first challenge was fording the river via stepping stones.  Having achieved this, we awarded ourselves with a ‘water & apple stop’ then headed on our way walking round and over Rhuba Ban.

photo 6

Looking back along our path from the bothy (to the far right of the photo) and Camansunary

photo 7 bad step

The bad step


On our way we met a group of Dutch men coming towards us.  They had camped at Loch Coruisk and were heading to Elgol via Camansunary.  They had negotiated the ‘bad step’  and suggested it was quite a challenge’!  I was not sure whether they were joking, had found it a real challenge or were encouraging ‘these two older women not to attempt it’…..they of course had approached it from the opposite direction.  We wished each other good walking and carried on.  Whilst walking we saw a group of canoeists who had camped near the bothy the night before; earlier we had said ‘hello’ to them as we started our walk – seeing them now it looked as though they were canoeing to Loch Coruisk.   We said to each other, ‘well they can rescue us if we fall into the sea whilst negotiating ‘the bad step….’.   About 1 hour later we reached ‘the bad step’ – picture below. Suffice to say we negotiated it – don’t know how, but we did it with some silent & spoken out words & prayer!

photo 8 after bad step

The other side of the step looking towards the bay with Loch Coruisk behind the bay.

After this ‘little challenge’ we said simultaneously ‘we are not going back that way’!  We got to the Loch, sat down, had lunch & looked that the map!  I have to say the Loch was special and it had a certain quality to it.  I can see why many people want to get to it and it on so many Skye postcards.

photo 9 Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk on the level

There was a clear path from Loch Coruisk climbing slowly, going along the edge of Strath na Creitheach river;  we took this path then reading the terrain went off ‘piste’ climbing up to a ridge with Sgurr na Stri on our right. Angus had told me how we could do this in reverse to get to Loch Coruisk if we wanted to avoid the ‘bad step’.  There were amazing views either way from the ridge.

photo 10 Loch Coruisk from ridge

Loch Coruisk from the ridge.

Then we slowly, slowly negotiated our way down to Camansunary, finally fording the river again!  After crossing the river we were met & greeted by Cuillin and Lindsey!  This was 8 hours after we had left in the morning! We are not sure of the mileage walked but I would like to suggest it was 8 miles….not too long in mileage but felt much longer!   Lindsey cooked us a meal;  thankfully she had some whiskey which Lesley & I were very grateful for! We slept well that night sharing the bothy again with other walkers & sharing stories!

photo 11 Lesley and me embibing much needed refreshment
Lesley and I taking much appreciated refreshment!

Day 3 Walking to Sligachan – back to the campsite.   This was an 8.3 mile walk through the Cuillin and then along the Glen of Sligachan.  Once again carrying our packs! This should have been a walk with lovely views but sadly right from the start there was a cold north easterly wind blowing down the glen –  we were going up the glen! The clouds were low when we started, then the rain came and kept on for nearly 2 ½ hours – sadly looking at the views was not our priority!   

photo 12 Cuillin checking on us

Cuillin the dog keeping a check on each of us!

photo 13 lunch stop - says it all

Our lunch stop! Says it all?


photo 14 welcome view

After walking close to 6 hours & 8 miles this was a welcome view – we were nearly home!

These walks were memorable and I am so glad to have done them and to have done them in support of Neil’s trust fund.  Walking to Loch Coruisk may appear foolhardy but believe me we would not have done it in bad weather nor if we had  felt unsure once we got to the bad step; we both checked that out with each other before we embarked on it.

Alice  Mackenzie

June, 2017

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 .
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 – .