Homecoming 2014 – A Brief Guide for Outdoor Types

Buachaille Etive Mor

‘Homecoming 2014′ is billed as a “year-long programme of events and activities to showcase all that’s great about Scotland“.  It should have registered on the consciousness of most Scots by now but will most likely be new to those from outwith Scotland.  So I thought I’d give you a brief guide to what it’s all about, with a particular focus on outdoors-y events and activities.

So in a nutshell, what is Homecoming 2014 ?

Homecoming 2014 is a themed series of events and activities.  It’s designed to attract visitors to Scotland and showcase Scotland’s distinctive culture and attractions internationally.  It’s one of a series of themed ‘years’, with 2013 being Year of Natural Scotland and 2015 being the Year of Food and Drink.

Homecoming 2014 builds on two key events taking place this year, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, and of course is designed to generate a feelgood factor in advance of a third event, the referendum in September.

Within the Homecoming 2014 events programme there are a series of themes echoing the themes of previous years – ie food and drink, active, creative, natural and ancestry.  Think of it as a ‘campaign’, similar to the City of Culture programme, with lots of activities designed to generate tourism revenue and enhance wider profile.

So what’s happening ?

There are 430 events taking place throughout the year, an overwhelming number.  There’s everything from Highland Games to festivals, marathons and arts events.  But dig a little deeper and you’ll realise that many are simply annual events packaged under the Homecoming banner.    In fact, 85% of events and activities are not new – and you have to search quite hard to try to identify what actually is new.

What are the highlights in terms of outdoor events and activities ?

Of course, even if not new the range of outdoors events and festivals is impressive – and well worth coming to Scotland in any year.  These include An Feis Mor, Scotland’s Festival of Paddlesport, the Loch Ness Marathon and Edinburgh Marathon Festival, the Strathaven Balloon Festival and the Nature Festivals in Orkney and Shetland.

But there are three standout events taking place in 2014 for the first time:

  • the John Muir Festival and opening of the new John Muir Way;
  • the first Enduro World Series mountain biking event during the Tweedlove cycling festival; and
  • the Forth Bridge Festival, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge.

The John Muir Festival and John Muir Way

A new 100-mile trail, the John Muir Way, will be opened on 21st April, tying in with the 100th anniversary of John Muir’s death.  It stretches from John Muir’s birthplace in Dunbar right across Central Scotland to the waters of the Clyde at Helensburgh.

Born in Dunbar on 21 April 1838, John Muir was a farmer, inventor, botanist, geologist, explorer, mountaineer and writer but he is best known as a pioneer of nature conservation.  He’s known as the ‘Father of National Parks’ having campaigned for the creation of the first National Parks in Yosemite and Sequoia in California and established the Sierra Club, one of the US’ most important conservation organisations.  There, the 211-mile John Muir Trail was named in his honour.

John Muir

In Scotland, Muir is comparatively less well known.  While there’s an existing John Muir way, which goes from Dunbar north to the outskirts of Edinburgh and zig-zagging past some of the city’s key attractions, the new John Muir Way is a significant extension.  West of Edinburgh the trail goes past the 15th century Blackness Castle overlooking the Firth of Forth and along the foot of the rolling Campsie Fells.  The section following the former Strathkelvin Railway is particularly suitable for bikes and push-chairs while the high-point of the route (literally and metaphorically) is the Stoneymollan road from Balloch to Helensburgh, giving superb views out over Loch Lomond and its neighbouring mountains.

SNH have published downloadable maps for each of the ten sections of the trail together with a map of the entire route (12Mb file).

The John Muir Festival takes place between 17 to 26 April 2014 and promises to be one of the highlights of the Homecoming Scotland 2014 celebrations.  The festival not only includes the official opening of the John Muir Way on 21st April but also includes the opening of The Helix and the Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk, the giant horse heads overlooking the M9 on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

“Everybody needs beauty… places to play in and pray in

where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.”

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.”

John Muir, 1838 – 1914

The Kelpies at The Helix, Falkirk

The Kelpies at The Helix, Falkirk

The Enduro World Series Mountain Biking event, 31 May – 1 June

The UK’s first ever Enduro World Series is one of the most hotly anticipated mountain bike races of 2014.  With two days of trail racing on stages around the Scottish Borders’ Tweed Valley, this event aims to be tough, but a lot of fun, with the emphasis on great riding and quality trails.

The two day race course will visit both Glentress and Innerleithen, and take in some of the finest hidden and natural trails in the area.  Riders will need to deal with a significant amount of distance and vertical ascent on a tour of the UK’s premier enduro trail destination.

The Enduro World Series event is just one of many events taking place within the fortnight-long Tweedlove Festival between 24th May and 8th June.  It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re into road cycling or mountain biking.

The Forth Bridge Festival, 4 – 13 September

Since 1964, the Forth Road Bridge and the adjacent Forth Rail Bridge have become Scottish icons of recognised the world over.  The Forth Road Bridge was built to replace the former ferry and provides a direct link between South Queensferry, to the north of Edinburgh, to Fife, Dundee and Aberdeen, carrying 25 million vehicles each year. 

A highlight of the 50th birthday celebrations will be the Tower Top Trips, giving members of the public a rare opportunity to climb to the top of one of the Forth Road Bridge towers.  Unfortunately all 1,000 tickets were snapped up quickly when they went in sale last October.  The Forth Bridge Festival programme also includes a boat flotilla on the Forth; a torch light procession over the Bridge; boat trips; a rowing regatta ; a 50th birthday firework display from the Bridge, the Forth Bridge House Party, including a Birthday Parade; and Scotland Welcomes the World to Lunch.  The Lunch aims to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the largest  sit-down outdoor lunch. 

Forth Bridge Festival