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4 Jan 2023

Adventure with purpose

Guest blogger Ailsa Beck reports on The Alba Cross - a self-powered journey from west to east Scotland - and reflects on regeneration projects run by the Trust and others that they visited on the way.

Alba Cross - Ailsa and Nellie

The Alba Cross was a 500 mile self-powered journey across Scotland from Ullapool to Stonehaven via the Isle of Skye that Nellie Wilson and I undertook last year. The project grew from a desire to feel more connected to the people who own or who have significant influence on the way Scottish landscapes are shaped in Scotland.

We covered most of our journey on our bikes, with Shay (chief adventure filmmaker) bunny-hopping us in the van, which became an extension of our tent home for the next six weeks.

We had nothing but the essentials we needed for the road. What we did have was a sense of purpose and nature accompanying us as a quiet observer.

The conversations

We visited seven land-owning entities which varied from community owned, nationally owned and privately owned - including several John Muir Trust sites. Our experiences at each site were wildly different, which really made it a special trip.

Conversations about regeneration, deer management, community involvement and stakeholders were the most frequent. What made the site visits special was the amount of time we had to immerse ourselves within the landscapes.

The Alba Cross was about ‘adventuring with a purpose’; whether this was learning new skills in the outdoors on work parties (or helping others with our existing skills), sharing knowledge of landscapes, or engaging with the people that look after the land we often take for granted. Our purpose was to look beyond the boundaries and lines drawn, and see the commonality between these groups. 

When we visited Assynt, and Quinag in particular, I was overwhelmed by the vastness of the geological landscape. Growing up, I never knew Scotland could look so different from place to place, and I realise we need to celebrate it more and continue to invite more people in to learn and respect it.

The silence of the north reflects the damage not only produced from overgrazing, but a disappearance of culture. We were so grateful to have met Romany Garnett of the John Muir Trust, who was concerned with the revival of all peoples to the area. She has set up a Women in Deer Stalking group that really inspired us: stalking remains an inaccessible world for many, but it should be an integral part of Scottish culture.

We support the regeneration vision that many of the sites we visited have in their hearts, but once achieved, we all have the responsibility to be keepers and protectors of our lands.

Lessons learned

Halfway through the trip, a sickness bug ripped through our camp and we had to rest. This change of pace made us appreciate slow travel and the associated lifestyle as we eased across the Scottish countryside.

We are inspired that a tiny seed of an idea grew into something we are beyond proud of. Nellie and I hope to explore and develop further projects that will hopefully showcase more of the Trust’s valuable work.

Alba Cross - Map

Rocks - David Lintern

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