For a group of disabled people in East Lothain, any form or disability or impairment presents no barrier to enjoying outdoor activity and sport. Beyond Boundaries East Lothian, or BBEL, provides disabled people with the opportunity to experience and participate in outdoor sports including everything from cycling, to canoeing and gorge walking. I feel privileged to have been asked to act as an ambassador for BBEL and am looking forward to representing and championing thier cause in the future.
The group started around 6 years ago and has grown significantly last year engaging with around 300 people across the county. At the moment BBEL is run on a completely voluntary basis and relies on people selflessly giving up their own time at weekends and evenings. BBEL tries not to make any distinction between volunteer and service user, everybody is a member and an equal and has an equal voice. This organisation is providing disabled people throughout East Lothain with the opportunity to try out and experience many different outdoor sports that otherwise they would never get the chance to experience. For disabled people, access to the outdoors can be more difficult, which is why the work of BBEL is vital in giving people the opportunity to socialise, build confidence, and participate in the life of the community.
Sadly BBEL is struggling to find the vital funding it needs to sustain the organisation long term. Every council member in East Lothian was invited to a recent AGM to find out more about the organisation but sadly only one turned up. If this organisation is to have a long term future, it must find monies to fund at least one full time post. If disabled people are to play and full and integral part in the wider community, it is vital that politicians and community leader take seriously and recognise the value of disabeld people’s lives.
I am delighted to have asked to be an ambassador for this organisation and hope it continues to grow and provide the opportunities and fun for disabled people that it has.
Cycling over Harris from Tarbert to Callanish was just wonderful, the weather was fine, the road was quiet and with a cross-tail wind most of the way cycling was not too difficult. Although the mountains of Harris were truly spectacular they, without doubt, presented the biggest physical challenge. Shortly after leaving Tarbert and passing through a few villages a beautiful bay called Ceann an Ora stretches out in an expanse of space on the left hand side. I saw a road on the other side of the bay which I thought might be the one I had to take. It meandered along the side of the hill and gradually gained height into the mountains. However this turned out not to be the route although before long I was wishing it had been.
The road then took me east onto what turned out to be the most difficult part of the whole journey. The mountain of Tarsaval is the highest part of the whole journey and the road wound steeply up the side. It was the steepest or biggest mountain pass I have cycled so far. It was difficult and while I was plodding my way up, I was wondering if I really wanted to make a habit of this kind of cycling. I have lots of routes in Scotland I would like to do in the future and it was as if this was giving me a little taste of what it would be like doing some serious mountains in the Highlands.
Being on top of the mountains there made up for the climb several times over. The view was spectacular and the feeling was lovely. I felt like I was getting near and was in sight of completing my challenge and that felt good. I just had to finish today and that would give me 40 miles to complete the following morning to reach Ness. I enjoyed cycling the rest of that road and was having so much fun that I missed the sign to say that I was on Lewis, the last island on my journey. It was after I had stopped and met Eileen that she told me I had reached Lewis. I just had 7 miles left to do to the west of the island to Callanish where we would stop for the night.
This 7 miles turned out to be the most difficult part of the whole trip. The road went west over open moorland directly into a very strong wind and, with little shelter I was up against it all the way. Unfortunately I had to stop and eat only a couple of miles from my destination because I had the feeling of running on empty. This is one lesson I have learned the hard way which is to know when you are running low and to stop and refuel before you suffer the ‘ knock’ as we call it in cycling terms.
That evening we stayed in the village of Callanish and visited the famous stone circle. What made it more special was that it was the day of the full moon. We had our evening meal at the stones and took so many photographs. I found it just amazing to think that these stones have been there a minimum of 4000, but possibly as much as 6000 years, and still the purpose of them is unknown. It is a very special experience going there and a must for anybody visiting Lewis and the Outer Hebrides.
I have been lucky enough to get another guest blog post published, this time on the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op website. I have written a summary of my trip to the Hebridies and a little background about how I got into cycling in the first place. Hope you enjoy.
By the time I stopped and it had dawned on me that I had probably gone too far and didn’t really know where I was, I was soaked to the skin and really starting to get cold. The rain had been coming down quite heavily but I hadn’t really realized it, I was just enjoying my cycle.
I came off the road into the car park of what looked like quite a modern building that had been built in slate to perhaps emulate the stonework of long ago. I sheltered in the porch where I noticed the sign on the wall saying Church of Scotland. I thought I had found real refuge but the doors were locked. I took out my mobile telephone to call to see where my support driver had got to only to find I had no signal. In between sheltering in the doorway, I kept running round the outside of the building to try and get a signal. Eventually I got through but wasn’t able to tell Eileen where I was before we got cut off again because, in fact, I didn’t know where I was.
I think I was there for about 45 minutes, long enough anyway to get very cold and very wet. While I was standing in the doorway taking shelter, I was very concious that I was being watched by a family in the house opposite who kept peering out the window to see if I was still there. I was trying to make myself look cold by blowing into my hands and wrapping my arms around my shoulders and, in my head, had a fantasy that they might come and place hot coffee in my hands. This was time to meet my good Samaritan. A fantasy it turned out to be however, but as soon as the car arrived I got warmed up with some chocolate and a hot drink.
We spent the night in a B&B just beside the village of Bayhead on North Uist. There was nowhere nearby to eat and the landlady was so kind to us. We bought some delights at the local Co-op and Morag, the owner of the B&B, let us have the run of dining room and sitting room to enjoy our meal and relax. We were both getting tired by this time so having a few hours to chill was great. We had a lovely nights stay there so I feel I have to put a big recommendation here for Morag’s B&B, Bayhead, North Uist.
Next morning I dreaded going out in the rain again but once I got underway and got into a groove, as they say, and the miles soon passed. The weather wasn’t good but I still loved the scenery. Along the north coast every so often the road would go quite near the beach and I would get another wonderful view of the stunning beaches there. I crossed yet another causeway, which turned out to be my last, onto Berneray where we got the Ferry to Leverburgh on Harris. Unfortunately I didn’t see too much of Berneray other than the ferry terminal where we boarded.
The ferry crossing took about an hour and the rain didn’t’ seem to be letting up. Our plan was to spend the night in Tarbert about 20 miles from Leverburgh. When we boarded the ferry at Berneray I got myself dried off and warmed up so was dreading going back out in the rain again to push another 20 miles. Fortunately the rain had eased very slightly and lulled me into thinking that it had stopped. I got underway and only a short few miles further on is started to rain again. I was out there now I thought and may as well carry on to make Tarbert that night.
Funnily enough, this particular leg of the journey turned out to be my favorite bit of cycling of the whole week. By the time I got into the Mountains of Harris, there was just a very soft gentle rain, not a breath of wind, and not remotely cold. It just made for a wonderful atmosphere and feeling for going over the hills. I hardly passed another vehicle and felt like I had the island to myself. I had a ball that afternoon despite all my reservations about going back out in the rain. By the time I reached Tarbert I was soaked to skin but I couldn’t have cared less. I was so happy and felt so fulfilled that I was doing it and had such a good time, nothing seemed to matter.
We had difficulty finding accommodation in Tarbert that night. We had gone round several hotels and B&Bs but there seemed to be no room at the Inn. We ordered take away pizza in a local hotel called Hotel Hebrides down at the harbour and, as we were waiting, explained to the manager that we can’t find a bed. Her name was Emily and could not have been more helpful. Emily let us sit in the bar and eat out take away pizza there, while she phoned around to try and find us a bed. AS time went on we became more and more worried that we would have ot sleep in the car. We had sleeping bags with us so it was an option but we were trying our best to avoids having to do that. As it it got later we really thought we might have to do that. Fortunately at 9.30 pm, we found a guest house with space for us. We were so grateful to Emily and the effort she put in to find us a bed for the night. We have a very comfortable night at Flora’s Guest house and all was well.
We had a comfortable night in Mrs McPhee’s house and really good breakfast to start the day. That was the first time for many years I had stayed in a B&B and it’s a strange experience. I found it odd being in someone else’s houses with their things around me, and their tastes of décor and soft furnishing. Normally when you go to a hotel everything in non descriptive or neutral, but I felt really strange at first to be in someone’s house surrounded by their taste in flowery wallpaper. The black pudding at breakfast made up for everything though and set me up nicely for the day.
It was dry again this morning. Not too cold with a bit of a south west breeze. If it stayed like this all day I thought, it would be a fairly easy day. I needed a bit of boost however. For the first time I was beginning to question why I was doing this in the first place. It was not a particularly nice morning and I was about to get on the bike and cycle 40 miles, for what purpose I asked myself ? Then across the car-park I caught sight of a couple of people who we met on the ferry the previous day. It was lovely to see them again and we exchanged a few words and, among other things, they gave me lots of encouragement. I don’t think they realised how much benefit they had been to me and it really helped. Just a bit of a chat was enough to help me get underway and, a mile up the road I felt fine again.
This reminded me of the mental health issues I have experienced in my life and how having support from understanding people to talk to and give a bit of encouragement can change everything. I can’t believe I am actually mentioning my mental health struggles on my blog for the planet to see. It has taken me a long time to get to this stage where I can feel comfortable about doing that. Who knows, I might write more about this in the future, because believe me, I have no end of material in that department!
The weather was deteriorating, it was clouding over and beginning to rain more persistently. Although the wind was getting up, I remember feeling it but it hadn’t yet become a problem. It seemed to be blowing across me and occasionally I got a push from it. I rode on through the rolling hills of South Uist toward Benbecula which, despite the wind, was a pleasant enough cycle. I was really struck by the contrast in the landscape between east and west, the gentle rolling scenery where I was and the mountains towards the east. I passed lots of lochans where I sometimes got a glimpse of a bird of prey, mainly buzzards unfortunately. I’m always hopeful of seeing the majestic Golden Eagle. I generally go by the rule that, if in doubt, it’s a buzzard. I had this method confirmed to me whilst on Islay last year when I did see an eagle sitting on a telegraph pole when there was no mistaking, it was huge!
When I crossed from South Uist on to Benbecula I crossed another of the thoughtfully constructed causeways that link many on the smaller islands. With their giant boulders that line the route and the shoreline that drops away from them, I find them really quite beautiful. I had a memory of seeing them featured on the television last year when they became flooded and cars got stuck half way across them in a storm. It wasn’t difficult to imagine, it felt very exposed.
At the start of every causeway, there is a triangular road sign that says “CAUTION, Otters Crossing.” I got really excited because I would have loved to have seen an otter and I thought my chance had come again. It was the perfect scenario because I am on my bike, they’ll never hear me coming, so I could sneak up and get a good look at one. In the distance I saw something move. It was perched on a rock on my right hand side as I looked at the causeway just up ahead. I slowed the bike down and tried to peddle as smoothly and quietly as possible. I saw it move, and could see the shape of its rounded head and muzzle. I was so excited and, as I got near, it turned to look at me and it was then I noticed it was a grey seal. I’ve never been so disappointed to see a seal before but I was.
I pushed on for the next few miles in the rain over, what felt like, causeway after causeway. I didn’t appreciate until I was there just how many tiny islands and how much water there is on the islands. If the light caught the water in my eyeline the reflections were stunningly beautiful and I felt really lucky to be there. There felt like miles of coastline where the sand just fell away from the sides of the road into an enormous expanse of beautiful beach and space.
I had arranged to meet my friend Eileen, who was driving the car with all our kit in it for the week, somewhere on Benbecula but I suddenly had a feeling that I had been cycling for a couple of hours now and I hadn’t caught sight of her. Normally Eileen would drive a few miles ahead in the car and, when I caught up, we would touch base, and she’d go on ahead again. I realised I hadn’t caught sight of her for a couple of hours, it was raining heavily, and I getting cold. I stopped by a modern stone looking building at the side of the road and took myself and the bike into the porch out of the rain. I took out my moby to phone, only to find that there was no phone signal. Suddenly, it felt like a real adventure, I was cold, wet and lost.