Braemar to Inverness

Most days we have been in Scotland we have either had hail, rain, wind or all of the above but on the two hardest days, the wind died down, the sky cleared and the sun shone bright and brilliantly. So much so that I have found myself with a beautiful though rather unusual Scottish cycle glove tan.

My cycling guide warned that these two days are the hardest because on the first you pass over the highest road in the UK and the second day there are seven big climbs; three of them monsters. The last one started 33 miles into the ride and popped out of nowhere. I cycled across a bridge, around a corner and there it was. A mammoth mountain starting with a 20% incline. For those of you that need help imagining what this looks like; it’s straight up.

I have to say that as I approached that hill, my vocabulary will never be repeated and then all I could do was laugh. The climb was just ridiculous. You know when you feel like everything has been against you and someone tries to cheer you up and kindly says ‘well the only way from here is up?’ Well that doesn’t have the same connotation for a cyclist who has just ridden over six mountain passes and is at the bottom of her seventh. But that was the truth, the only way forward was up so I gritted my teeth, turned around and went home… No, I put my bike in the easiest/balance-challenging gear and climbed it at a snail’s pace.

The feeling of reaching the top of these Cairngorm mountains and the highest climbs on such a magnificent day was incredulous! Scotland has been so kind! Surrounded by an eerily quite and deserted ski resort I celebrated my successful summit with two Jelly Babies before shooting back down the hill at an ear popping 40 mph.

The best thing about these cycle rides is that I sleep so deeply so when I reached Michael at Grantown-on-Spey that exactly what I did.

Grantown Grammer School invited us in to capture their learning about peak oil, the Janeemo and work on their John Muir Awards. With a shorter session then usual we flew through introductions, storyboarding and rules for filming before sending the students out to capture their stories between freezing hail showers.

With the Cairngorms behind us it was on to Inverness, just north of Loch Ness, to visit Crown Primary School’s eco committee.  What a friendly, welcoming school it was. At Crown we learnt about their eco-garden complete with a gigantic xylophone, storytelling chair and garden beds healthy with growing herbs. They are on their way to achieving their eco-school green flag and so we wish them the best of luck.

It just so happens that one of graduates from my sustainable development class at St Andrews University went there when she was wee and now she works for community energy Scotland in Dingwall. It fills me with hope to see education turning out students like my friend Jenny who care about the future and pursue careers that will help make it more sustainable. Shouldn’t that be the purpose of education worldwide?

David Orr starts his book ‘Earth in Mind’ by writing “If one listens carefully, it may even be possible to hear the Earth groan at every graduation ceremony when another batch of smart, degree-holding but ecologically illiterate, Homo sapiens who are eager to succeed are launched into the biosphere.”

But  after our time with Crown Primary school we have great hope that many more students will be following in Jenny’s footsteps, graduating with ecological literacy and an ambition to take care of the planet.


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