Oh Danny Boy

viewpointI wonder how many others were saddened to watch a video on Facebook featuring the extremely talented cyclist Danny MacAskill and his cousin riding the Beinn na Caillich horseshoe above Broadford on trials motorbikes.

Like everyone else I have nothing but respect for Danny MacAskill, someone whose skills, boldness and abilities have become legendary. To use a rather overused term he is iconic, as I discovered when I took my nine-year old granddaughter out for a bike ride. “I hope you don’t mind Papa,” she said, “but my favourite cyclist is Danny MacAskill, but you are my favourite old cyclist.”

The fact that a nine-year old even knew the name of a cyclist amazed me but Danny’s videos have captured the imagination of a nation, from nine-year olds to grandparents, from cyclists to mountaineers. He has become something of a national treasure, and deservedly so.

Danny is from the Isle of Skye and I’m fully aware that riding trials bikes is part and parcel of growing up in the highlands, almost a rite of passage for young men. It’s a popular pastime and for the most part is enjoyed well within the law and within the bounds of community responsibility.

For example, the annual six-day trials event in Fort William in a well organised and tightly controlled event and everyone thoroughly enjoys it but just occasionally someone cuts loose and makes life miserable for others.

We had a young neighbour for a while who regularly rode his trials bike through the woods behind my house, ruining pleasant summer evenings for everyone with the whining, screaming engine of his bike. It seems as though he rode it to achieve as noisy an eardrum-piercing cacophony as he could.

And every sport and activity has its outlaws and mavericks. I wish I could claim all hillgoers were decent folk but I know from the amount of litter left in wild places that we are far from perfect, and I’m not accusing Danny MacAskill of being an outlaw or maverick. In truth he is a role-model, and that’s what worries me.

I think Danny was badly advised to put this particular video on his Facebook page. I don’t know if it is part of his very lucrative sponsorship deal with Red Bull and I don’t know if he had permission from the land owner to ride a trials bike over Beinn na Caillich, but if he didn’t then he was acting outside the access arrangements of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. My worry is that others, seeing the hugely respected Danny MacAskill ride a motorbike over some mountain tops, will think they can do it too, with impunity.

Only recently the highly sensitive summit vegetation on Ben Wywis was badly damaged by irresponsible people riding either trials bikes or quad bikes, and similar damage was done at the wildlife reserve at Loch Fleet near Golspie. These incidents brought comment from Police Scotland wildlife crime officer Dan Sutherland who said: “The use of off-road vehicles on protected sites such as Loch Fleet and Ben Wyvis is not only damaging to habitats and wildlife, but may also pose a hazard to members of the public who are responsibly accessing these sites for recreation.

“The use of motorised vehicles on any land without permission is an offence, and other offences may be committed against wildlife legislation.”

Thankfully, such incidents are comparatively rare in Scotland but I know from friends in the south that in places like the Yorkshire Dales damage to footpaths and the high-pitched noise from trials bikes has become commonplace.

Beinn na Caillich above Broadford

And as we now know to our cost when countryside miscreants are outlawed they tend to move on to other areas and Scotland’s renowned liberal access laws are sometimes misinterpreted as being able to do whatever you like. The comments on various trials and even mountain bike forums clearly demonstrate that there are Neanderthals out there who have no perception of the law. One eejit even expressed the view that because of what Danny MacAskill has achieved he should be able to do what he wants.

We are also cruelly aware that here in Scotland, National Park officials have absolutely no compunction in creating byelaws that victimise the innocent in an attempt to curtail the activities of the mindless few. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think the unthinkable if Ben Lomond, for example, was to become a target for trails motorbikers.

I’ve never met Danny MacAskill but by all accounts he is a thoroughly decent guy. I really hope he can take the criticism that has come his way because of what obviously was a single error of judgement. Danny is one of our very few outdoor celebrities, a real and genuine role-model, and with that role comes responsibilities. Encouraging folk to break the law, however innocent it may seem, is not acting responsibly.

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