Em's Jounrney to the Free Movement Festival

The Free Movement Festivalis an ‘adventure race’ style event, organised by The Adventure Syndicate. Participants travel self-supported or by public transport to reach the festival site deep in the heart of the Cairngorms. By encouraging the use of sustainable and active transport we aim to put the emphasis of adventure back on the journey rather than destination. 

Getting Out The Door

Taking four days to myself to make this journey was a big deal. I am a working mum with a busy life. I get very little time to myself. This is probably my own fault. I am a sociable person; working and being with people is what I thrive on, what makes me tick. I am also really bad at saying no, taking too much on. I get excited by things and before I know it, I am overwhelmed.

However, I am starting to learn that I also need time on my own. Much more so as I get older. Time when all I need to do is concentrate on myself. Keep to my own timetable, start, stop, eat when I want to, go at my speed and my choice of route, without compromising for others. My life is a constant compromise. Which is fine; I am very happy to compromise for my family and friends, but I realise that I do need to put myself first sometimes. Time and space to myself is a release and a reset. It revitalises me.

I had a lot on in the build up to this festival. I was so close to making the decision not to go. Rail strikes, work commitments and volunteering commitments were all piling up to make it very difficult. Quite literally, the hardest part for me was taking the time out to do this, but something kept me going. For me the doing is easy. I know that for many others the making time could be easy, and the doing almost impossible.

Travelling by bike on my own to this festival felt like the perfect beginning to a new role I have at work. This role is focussing on sustainable adventures.

The Journey

I left home on Thursday morning, much later than planned. A list of things that still needed to be done. Stressed to the max.

Three miles down the track and the chatter in my head started to quieten. I could hear the birds and the burns that I crossed. I was noticing the changing colour of the leaves. Nature was filtering in and calming me.

I planned to take three days to travel by mountain bike. I hoped to arrive at the festival site on Saturday in time for dinner and dancing. I needed to be back at work on Monday. I booked a train ticket from Aviemore to Perth on the Sunday, knowing I would miss all the workshops on the Sunday, but that was OK; to me the journey was becoming the most important part. And to do it all sustainably became much more important to me than I had first thought.

Human Encounters

I cycled on my own for 2 days. Towards the end of my first day, in the most unexpected place, I stopped to take a photo and saw a cyclist making his way up the track towards me. The cyclist was called Mike. We had a chat (as you do) and worked out that he had just been hanging out with The Adventure Syndicate on Kerrera.

Loch Ossian Youth Hostel was the busiest I have ever seen it. There is always chat about where are you from? What are you plans? Etc. Amazingly, everyone who was there had travelled sustainably. Possibly because there is no road to the hostel and so you must. But more than that, everybody there had all also travelled by public transport from the very start of their journeys. Two on the sleeper from London.

On my second day on the shores of Loch an Eilein I passed a cyclist taking a photo. We said Hi and then leapfrogged each other for a while. At the Cairngorm footbridge we started chatting, and so cycled to the end of Loch Morlich together, discussing active travel amongst lots of other things.

Later I chatted to Russell & Lee. As I left them my freehub gave up the ghost. They insisted on helping, which involved Russell towing me and my heavily laden bike all the way to Nethy Bridge using two inner tubes. Not an easy feat.

Sitting in Nethy House contemplating what to do I posted on the Festival WhatsApp group that I was having mechanical issues. Penny saw this and came into the café with her husband Steven announcing they were there to help. Sean had also heard about my problems, he cycled ahead of his gang to help. He is a mechanic.

Steven drove me to Aviemore. To Backcountry.Scot where Andy worked his magic, stole a spring from another bike and “woo hoo” my bike was back in action. I finished my journey with Sean and his gang.

I believe I was meant to make the connection with Andy and his awesome business. Their ethics completely align with those of Comrie Croft. Part of his business includes selling quality second-hand outdoor gear. The shop is a gold mine of pre-loved outdoor kit. This is so easy and such a great thing to do. My ideas brain started going into overdrive!

Accessing the Outdoors Using Sustainable Travel

Time & Privilege: If you want to access to outdoors sustainably, you need time. Time in this modern world is a luxury. Most people will have a weekend, or one day to climb that Munro, ride that trail, paddle that stretch of river.

I’m lucky. I live rurally on the edge of the southern highlands. I have an almost unlimited network of paths and trails from my back door, that can take me by foot or bike to mountains and lochs. However, many people live in a city and have to travel a significant distance to access the outdoors.

Equipment – Living and working in the outdoors for over 20 years I have built up my clothing and equipment over that time. I have a bike that allows me to cover distance. I have bikepacking kit that allows me to carry my stuff. I have the right clothing, tools, electronics, cooking kit and sleeping kit to allow me to do multi-day trips. Not everybody does. It’s expensive.

Skills & Knowledge: I used the online planning tool Komoot to plan my route. I was able to use my map reading skills to check this route against OS maps and adjust. I have the skills that allow me to ride my bike off-road. I know what tools and spares to carry, how to use them and how to do advanced trail side repairs to my bike. I was able to adjust my route on the 2nd day when I realised all the rivers were bursting their banks. My original route took me through a few river crossings that would be potentially dangerous on my own. Not everybody who wants to travel sustainably would have been able to overcome these barriers.

Determination: So many obstacles were put in my path on this journey. It was as if a higher power really didn't want me to start, let alone finish. But something made me keep going. My overriding feeling was 'it'll be OK, everything will figure itself out'. With each obstacle put in my path, it was the humans I met, complete strangers, that helped me figure it out.

When my freewheel packed up I could have got a lift to Aviemore with my bike and asked my husband to pick me up. That was just not an option for me. A potential solution presented itself, I grabbed it, my bike was fixed, and I carried on.

My train journey home became a bus because of the strikes, and the bus would only accept folding bikes. I could have organised a lift home around the time I discovered this. Missing work on Monday was not an option. But I didn’t, I kept going forward.

On having conversations about what to do with my bike, a friend offered to keep it in Tiso until it could be collected. When I arrived in Tiso with a filthy fully laden bike, they offered to post it back to me for just £5. I jumped on the bus with my kit in an Aldi bag and, and just like that my journey was complete!

Fitness: I have the fitness that allows me to ride 100 hilly kilometres in a day. I can then do it again the next day, and the day after that. I think that probably this isn’t the norm. However, I could have significantly cut down the miles by cycling to Perth, taking the train to Aviemore, and cycling the remainder of the way.

Public Transport: The public transport system in Scotland isn’t great. I have come to realise that it is necessary to take a bus to start and finish a journey in many cases.

Trains: There are designated cycle spaces on all ScotRail trains. On most services you can’t reserve a bike space; it is given on a first come first served basis. There are a few long-distance routes on which you must reserve a space. The Highland Explorer carriage operates on the West Coast Highland Line between Glasgow and Oban. This carriage has space for 20 bikes and operates a morning and late afternoon service in both directions.

Buses: Borders Buses sound amazing; they have bike friendly buses on numerous routes in the borders. Stagecoach will allow bikes on the service between Inverness and Caithness. Citylink will carry a bike in a box/bag or fitted with a bike sock subject to space in the luggage area. These services are a tiny fraction of the bus services that run up and down the country. Most busses don’t take bikes, making it very difficult to travel with a bike for your mode of transport when you get to the other end.

Having had a truly wonderful experience, what is the biggest thing I will take away from it?

Maybe, to start travelling sustainably we have to turn our thinking on its head.


December 06, 2022 — Emily Greaves