Mountain biking holidays for families and groups are being launched this Spring, to help fund mountain bike outreach for underprivileged young people in Lewis and Harris.
From March, the Scaladale Outdoor Activity Centre in Harris will be offering ‘edge of the world’ outdoors experience holidays and has four available weeks – March 2 to 9 and April 8-14, 15-21 and 22-28. Weeks are also available in October and November 2019.
All bikes are provided free as part of the holiday as the centre was able to buy a fleet of 12 Whyte hardtail mountain bikes thanks to LEADER funding. The bikes are in a range of sizes, from children and teen sizes through to small, medium and large for adults.
Other equipment, such as helmets and safety glasses, is available as well, at no extra cost.
The holidays are run by fully-qualified Scaladale Centre staff, with accommodation provided in the hostel on a self-catering basis.
Transfers can be arranged, with pick-ups from the ferry or airport, and the Centre can arrange for supplies to be delivered prior to and during the holiday, so there will be no need to visit the supermarket.
The holidays are aimed at people from the age of 10 upwards who want to improve their mountain biking – or just enjoy their mountain biking – in a beautiful location with a sense of remoteness yet close proximity to accommodation and conveniences.
A typical programme would begin with a ride up the Bowglass track to the bealach near Tom Ruisg on day one, as an introduction to the activity and to allow instructors to gauge fitness levels. This would take a few hours.
The rest of the programme could be tailored around whatever the group wanted, with the last day usually consisting of ‘the loop’ route from Bowglass through the hills all the way to Miavaig – a distance of 13 miles and around five hours.
Scaladale Centre manager Kate Lewis, who moved to Harris in 2016, said: “The first day is really good because it gives me an idea of where people are at with mountain biking. You can gauge their fitness and ability and then tailor the rest of the week to progress them from that point – and it sets up the challenge of, by day five, doing the whole route through to Miavaig.”
This guided ride from Bowglass to Miaviag has been offered by Scaladale in the past as part of the Isle of Harris Mountain Festival.
“It is a challenge,” said Kate. “I’ve done it as a guided route with groups of every ability and experience and everyone loved it.
“I want to encourage people, whatever level they are at, to get as much fun and enjoyment out of mountain biking as possible.
“There’s lots of riding you can do on Harris that’s not too challenging but very remote, so you get that wonderful feeling of wilderness and being in the middle of nowhere.
“For people who come on holiday, that’s what they want. It’s certainly what I wanted, when I came here.”
The mountain biking holidays include several short days so that groups can also enjoy some sightseeing, whether to the Callanish Stones, Luskentyre beach or anywhere else – and centre staff are more than happy to act as guides and drive holidaymakers to the sights in the Scaladale Centre minibus.
The holidays are only available in the Spring and Autumn as the centre is too busy with other activities and residentials for young people during the warmer months.
There are eight spaces available each week and they are aimed at families or groups who want to improve their ‘wild riding’ skills.
Kate said: “Mountain biking is so beneficial for mental and physical wellbeing and just stacks of fun! There is some amazing riding in Harris but it can be hard to know where to go.
“These holidays would be perfect for those who have not, as yet, done much ‘wild’ riding – those who are enjoying blues and reds at tail centres, for example, but would not yet be confident in setting out into the relative wilderness of the Outer Hebrides unguided. It is also sustainable tourism directly benefitting the local community.”
The riding will be in coastal, mountain and woodland locations with qualified mountain bike leaders. The five days will be progressive and tailor to each group’s abilities and fitness – which will improve during the week.
The informal atmosphere at the centre, which is unsupervised at night-time, is another plus and there are indoor games and stunning views to be enjoyed from the communal area when not riding.
Also, additional activities such as archery and abseiling can be arranged and those booking the March holiday will be able to make use of the Scaladale indoor ice rink, which is dismantled in April to make room for the more activities during the warmer months.
Kate said: “The holidays will be very family friendly and aimed at people of any age who want to improve their mountain biking in an incredible wild environment.
“The holidays will be quite affordable compared to other guided riding holidays as they will be using our self-catering hostel.
“We are ready to take bookings for our first holidays which will be during four weeks in March and April. We will only take eight on each week and tailor the holiday to their needs.
“We thought it was important to provide great bikes for our visitors, so that people who only have a week for their holiday don’t have to waste days and nights doing the long haul with a car or van full of bikes. We can give advice on good ways to get here via planes, trains and buses.
“We are very grateful to Whyte Bikes for their support for this project, which is also LEADER funded for the first two years. All we need now is support from holidaymakers to make this into a win-win adventure for all of us.”
The new holiday packages are sustainable tourism at its finest, as the money from the holidays is to go to supporting the outreach mountain biking run by Scaladale in Lewis and Harris.
This is a programme of free mountain bike sessions in the Lews Castle Grounds in Stornoway, run during the school holidays for children from families from the most remote corners of the islands.
The outreach programme has been funded by LEADER for two years but the Scaladale centre hopes to be able to sustain the free biking sessions in the longer term with income from its holidays.
Two of these outreach sessions, for which children can be picked up by minibus and taken home again, are being run every school holiday. They began in Autumn 2018, with sessions also over Christmas, and are usually full.
Scaladale is an outdoor centre and hostel owned by The Lewis and Harris Youth Club Association, a charity supporting a network of youth clubs in the Outer Hebrides.
By booking a holiday with Scaladale, guests are supporting the Lewis and Harris Youth Club Association’s valuable work with young people, engaging them with outdoor activities and equipping them with life skills.
In fact, the two instructors who work with Kate at the centre – year-round instructor Calum Blane and seasonal instructor Finlay Emmett – gained experience and qualifications in outdoor activities through a Scaladale Young Leader programme run from 2016 to 2018 and funded mainly by the Lewis and Harris Youth Club Association with support from Youth Scotland.