New blog from Jim Densham, Senior Land Use Policy Officer (Climate). He's been traveling to RSPB Scotland reserves by bike and public transport...It can be done!

Learning to slow down and enjoy nature 

Someone accused me of not being very low-carbon because I planned to use the train and ferry to travel to Coll and Tiree during my sabbatical. I laughed. I didn’t fancy either the cycle ride from Glasgow to Oban, or the swim. After all, part of the idea of my sabbatical is to show people that it is possible and realistic to visit RSPB reserves without a car.  Anyway, swimming to Coll is out of the question unless you are the Olympian Keri-Anne Payne or the masochist David Walliams.

It’s true that the ferry is not exactly low-carbon. You would have to do the maths but if you were on a half-full ferry in winter it might be more carbon friendly per passenger to fly in a full plane. But if you did fly you would miss the chance to spot wildlife on route. I saw porpoises, a pod of 20-30 common dolphins, basking sharks, seals, and gannets spearing themselves into the sea, plus the beautiful views during the voyage up the Sound of Mull and across to the islands. I prefer the slow route and with Calmac ferries investing in some diesel-electric hybrid ferries, the ferry journey might become cleaner and greener too.

Gannets by Andy Hay

Getting to the reserve on Coll was fine by bike. It’s about 10 miles to the reserve from Arinagour where the ferry offloads, a bit up and down but not too arduous. The views are worth it and being on a bike you feel in the countryside and closer to nature. The destination in the west of the island is worth it too; Machair with its unique mix of shell-sandy soils, grassland and flowers; huge sand dunes; long sweeping beaches; and farmland managed carefully for the secretive corncrake. Tiree is flatter and greener with beaches dotted around the island. The land managed by the RSPB on Tiree is a large Machair plain and a sensitive site, hence why it is not an advertised reserve.

Machair on Tiree

Both Coll and Tiree are amazing places to enjoy nature and on a bike you can pootle along and stop when and where you like along the single-track roads. I’ll admit I’m not very good at this slow cycling philosophy – I like the ride too much. But I’m learning to slow down. I was inspired by two people I met on Coll who took most of the day to cycle their hired bikes around the island - they had seen so much wildlife. On Tiree I put my mind to a slow ride to where I was staying for the night and was rewarded with a view of a female hen harrier hunting low over the moorland.  With so much nature all around why not take some time to slow down and enjoy it.

Cycling on a track through the dunes on Coll

Find out more about my sabbatical travels at