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Biking Brings Boom to Highland Perthshire

LISTEN: Mike Stead gets into what Perthshire Gravel report means for Highland Perthshire

Perthshire Gravel is a network of biking trails started in November of 2019, this November the group behind it are now revealing their findings from studying their impact.

One year after starting the Perthshire Gravel project, the results are in, and they prove to be good news for locals and tourists alike.

Project lead, Mike Stead, Trustee of Highland Perthshire cycling said: “So we have now completed the first phase of the Perthshiregravel.com project where we have mapped about a dozen shorter loops and then one big loop of 200 miles, which is a multiday bike packing experience.

“The shorter loops are spread around four locations throughout Highland Perthshire so that’s Comrie, Aberfeldy, Pitlochry and Dunkeld, so people can start and finish from any of those locations.

“And then the bigger loop passes through all of them and is, as I said, 200 miles long so people can spread it out over a number of days.”

These routes are proving to be popular with the ‘Dunkeld Lochs Loop’ coming in as the most popular choice of 86 responses taking 44% of the vote.

Dunkeld won out again with second place for the ‘Dunkeld Hermitage Loop’ at 38% of the vote.

Followed by Blair Atholl in their place with 24% of the vote favouring the ‘Blair Atholl Gravel Adventure.’

‘You very much just turn up and go’, says Mike, since all of these tracks are free to use.

The view south from Rannoch Stattion towards Loch Laidon and the mountains

He explained: “Perthshiregravel.com is a website, and it is a free online resource to help people plan adventures on a bike, off-road, in Highland Perthshire.

“We haven’t put out any markers, in the physical world, we haven’t built any tracks or anything like that, we are simply using what’s out there already. So, forestry tracks, estate tracks, bridleways, old drove roads, that sort of thing.”

The mission of Perthshire Gravel breaks down into three objectives: first is ‘increased visitor and resident participation in off-road cycling opportunities.’

Next is an ‘increased local business income through accommodation, food and other visitor spend.’

And finally, as the study backs up, an ‘increased awareness of Highland Perthshire as a holiday destination.’

Starting in November of 2019, the project picked up a number of tourists before the lockdown measures came into force, so their study features the impact tourist are having in the area.

These three objectives stand the test of time according to the study, nearly 70% of respondents came from outside Highland Perthshire, Crieff, Perth or Blairgowrie.

35% of respondents came from outside of Scotland to visit Highland Perthshire for its attractive bike trails.

With an average cyclist spending 3.7 days, local facilities are reaping the benefits from these trail users passing through.

While nearly half of cyclists camped their way through the trails, just over a fifth used serviced campsites.

And another near fifth used hotels with 15% of others using self-catering, followed by 13.5% of cyclists staying in bed and breakfasts.

The view over Loch Faskally in Pitlochry on a clear autumn day

One user said: “We came to the area for a week of cycling and walking, inspired at least in part by routes we’d seen on Perthshire Gravel.

“After convincing my partner to brave some of the longer and more challenging routes, we had an amazing time; the scenery, particularly on the Blair Atholl Bothy trip, is absolutely stunning.

“We’ll be back to tackle a few more routes soon!”

Which is what Perthshire Gravel is all about says Mike Stead: “So even with the lockdown and travel restrictions that COVID has given us, and the almost complete absence of any international tourism, we’ve still had hundreds of people providing us feedback on the trails.

“This was mostly focusing on the summertime period after we launched in the end of May, end of June.

“So what we had was feedback from around a hundred and seventy people, and what this told us was the average stay of someone coming up here to do this was just under four days.

“And critically, for local businesses was around a hundred and seventy pounds per person.

“That equates to forty or fifty pounds a day, that’s about average for a tourist, so what this tells us is far from people on bikes not spending much but actually they spend just as much money as other tourist.”

He added: “As you can imagine if you’re out cycling all day a fair amount of it goes on food.

“At the end of an enjoyable day cycling, a fair amount of it goes on drink as well, people like a beer or glass of after nice days bike ride, ideally by a roaring fire or a pub or B & B.”

Mike is expecting the opportunity for people to spend to increase once they’ve installed their new e-bike charging stations across routes in Highland Perthshire.

Dunkeld and Birnam from Newtyle Hill

He said: “Their cabinets that go into businesses and hotels, imagine something half the size of a coke machine and its got six lockers in it and the lockers are kind of similar to what you might get at a swimming pool or gym.

“So you take your battery off your e-bike, so your bikes locked up outside the café or hotel, you take the battery off, take it inside, put it in the cabinet and start charging it up.

“Now the batteries are quite expensive, they’re typically around five to six hundred pounds, so you actually lock your battery in the cabinet.

“And then you’re free for an hour or two to have a nice lunch, or morning or afternoon tea, go visit local shops, go and visit local shops, maybe stock up on food if you’re camping or go to local museums or other visitor attractions.

“So it gets people to stop longer, it brings them into centralised locations where we will be putting up these stations and it’s more of an opportunity to then have people build an itinerary where they can travel from place to place to place and not worry about charging their bike on the way.”

More information about the Perthshire Gravel project can be found on their website: http://perthshiregravel.com/

And their full report can be found on: https://issuu.com/perthshiregravel/docs/2020_11_30_evaluation_pgt

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