Hey Scot! Tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
I live in a little farming village just south of Dunkeld. I was born in Dundee, but would spend as much time as possible in the Highland Perthshire area walking my dogs and cycling and was desperate to move to the Dunkeld area as it is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. I was lucky enough to buy a derelict cottage in the area, way back in 1999 and it took me two years to renovate it. It was just big enough for me and my two lurchers - I still stay in that same cottage, but I am now married and we have two children.
I had an 18 year career working in social care supporting people with physical and learning disabilities. It was something I was passionate about as my older brother has cerebral palsy. But I was restless and needed something more. I gave it all up and started my own guiding company with the remit of attracting visitors from oversees to come and cycle in Scotland. It’s been a rough ten years with massive highs and massive lows, but I am now running trips in Scotland and Ireland as well as guiding freelance in Italy, France and Spain. I also coach road, MTB and track cycling and regularly run Bikeability training in schools around Tayside. A fun part of my job is riding as a chaperone rider on many cycling charity events including those for BBC Sport Relief and Children in Need. I have worked with Zoe Ball, Greg James, John Craven, Matt Baker and supported many events for the BBC One Show.
I also write a weekly column about cycling for the Dundee Courier.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I’ve always loved being outdoors, but when I was younger that was just being outside on my bike, climbing trees and building dens with my mates. My mum was from Fort William and we used to always go there to visit relatives. It never occurred to me that people actually climbed these mountains.
My brother has cerebral palsy, so our family activities were always geared to be inclusive for him. It wasn’t until I did the Duke of Edinburgh Award (D of E) at school that I got a my first real taste of the outdoors. Growing up I was painfully shy and I rarely spoke in class. I hated team sports and it wasn’t until I saw a poster advertising places for the Bronze D of E that I had any interest in taking part. I overheard others talking about going on camping trips and it sounded amazing. I signed up and through the years going from Bronze to Gold I learnt a lot of skills that stay with me to this day.
I volunteered with a local charity, which was actually the one I went on to work with for 18 years. I joined the school swimming team, I learnt to play guitar, I found a love for hill walking and I joined my first cycling club. Perhaps one of the key moments was once I discovered I had a natural talent for navigating using a map and compass. Suddenly, I went from being the shy kid in class who never got picked for a team to the popular one. On the mountainside in the Cairngorms everyone would be crowded around my map waiting for me to pronounce the direction of travel. It gave me a huge boost to my confidence and a realisation that I did having something to offer.
What's been your favourite trip or adventure?
I’ve travelled all over the world and one of my favourite journeys was into Bolivia with my wife, but perhaps the story I keep coming back to was what initially seemed like an typical night-time mountain bike ride in the hills above Pitlochry. A few of us met at the local bike shop in Pitlochry and set off up the hill. It was around minus 10 degrees Celsius and we were having problems with our gear mechs freezing, but we made it to the summit of the hill. The full moon was out and wind had blown the snow covered hillside into ridges, that in this sub-zero weather, had set like concrete. The moonlight was so bright we switched off our head-lights and descended over the rutted snowscape whooping with delight.
How do you make sure being active and having family time work side by side?
When I first started cycle guiding many people warned me about making a living doing something that was a passion for me. I took that to heart and tried over the first few years to keep my family life and personal time separate from my work. It didn’t work and I found that I was doing less and less in my personal time. I got to quite a low point before I realised that I didn’t need to keep them separate. Fortunately my family love all the activities that I do, so it is easy to include them in many of the things I do. Above and beyond cycling we spend a lot of time outdoors. After spending a lot of time away from home (220 nights in hotels in 2019) it is a pleasure to come home to Scotland and set up a tent on a remote beach somewhere, light a small fire on the sand and sit with my family and dogs as the sun sets over the west coast. We bought a canvas bell tent with a wood burning stove a few years ago and now have fantastic winter camping trips.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
Dave Stibbles was my PE teacher at school. He was the leader of the Duke of Edinburgh award and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am now. He was like a stocky sergeant major and many pupils didn’t get on with him, but I loved his discipline and straight-forward approach. He had been involved in outdoor education at the time of the Feith Buidhe disaster on Cairngorm, so his military style method was crucial to ensure we were all safe. He ran weekly navigational classes and made sure we had all the skills necessary to be independent in wild mountain environments.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
My kids refer to GDS (Grumpy Dad Syndrome) with the remedy being a healthy dose of getting out on my bike, or out with the dogs. I know that, whatever the weather, outdoor, physical activity is the key component in keeping my demons at bay. The more I sit inside, festering and waiting for perfect weather to ride in, the more difficult it becomes for me to motivate myself into action and the more my family become fed-up with my grumpy behaviour. But knowing something and actually doing it are two very different beasts. It often takes a real effort to get myself outside, but when I do I never regret it. If I am struggling, I phone a friend and arrange to meet them, then I don’t have an excuse not to go. I also love my dogs and we have two lurchers, perfect for ranging through the mountains, or running alongside me when I’m on my mountain bike. There is no better motivation to get you outside on a rainy day than a sad dog, who wants to run, looking at you.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
“Always question what you do. The moment you stop questioning is the moment you get it wrong.” I try and live my life like this, when I interact with people, or when I’m doing a job, especially when I am doing the same thing, day in and day out. It’s easy to fall into a routine and make mistakes.
When did you discover FINDRA and what's your favourite piece?
I discovered FINDRA several years ago as I was searching for clothing as a present for my wife to wear when she went out on her Thursday night MTB ride with mates. At that time there was no men's clothing range, but I was impressed with the style of the FINDRA kit. I bought my wife a Marin Merino Cowl Neck Top. She’s had it for two years and wears it almost everyday, not just on the bike, but to work, to the supermarket and so on.
What is impressive, is despite the sustained servitude that piece of clothing has given her, it still looks like new.
She frequently tells me that it is her favourite piece of clothing she owns and to be honest when I picture her in my head she is wearing that FINDRA top.
For myself, I don’t leave the house without my Betty Stripe Lambswool Beanie; it travels the world with me. I thought I’d lost it once and I was distraught, my wife, fed up with my moaning, bought me another and on the day it arrived, lo-and-behold, my old one turned up in a jacket pocket.