Blue Monday and Adventure Therapy

From my personal life experience, I can assure you that depression is a very real medical condition. It can, but doesn’t always occur due to a traumatic or upsetting event. It can, but doesn’t always, resolve itself and only last for short periods of time.

Yesterday was ‘Blue Monday’: the most depressing day of the year. This is based on a range of social factors such as post Christmas financial strain, weather conditions and an absence of events to look forward to. Myself and 4 members of the Elisha House Recovery Community engaged in a day of Adventure Therapy at Gisburn Forest this ‘Blue Monday’ and the outcome was far from depression!

Gisburn Forest MTB Trails

The more I learn, the more I realise that we, as a society, do not know or fully understand about depression (and mental health in general for that matter). Many people respond well to medication and to talking therapies like CBT but for me, and for many others, this isn’t enough and the most therapeutic treatments involve:

  • Newness and novelty, like learning new skills or experiencing Awe and Wonder.
  • Connecting with others and sharing positive experiences.
  • Looking after physical health through rest, relaxation, diet and exercise.
  • Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

This is why I am passionate about delivering Adventure Therapy sessions and constantly look for opportunities to share everything on the list above. There isn’t much in the way of validated evidence for the efficacy of this method, but there is an insurmountable volume of anecdotal evidence, spanning history, showing that communal outdoors activities support improvements in mental wellbeing.

I am yet to find a cyclist, hiker, fell runner, climber or any other outdoors enthusiast who disagrees with this statement, which I believe to be due to their own personal evidence. Some feel this so strongly that they go out of their way to share it.

I would like to thank Mark Vose for his generous donation that led to the provision of an adventure therapy day, which took place on ‘Blue Monday’ and benefitted 4 men from Elisha House recovery community. These men are recovering from drug & alcohol addictions and also deal with issues around mental health on a daily basis.

We arrived at Gisburn Forest at 10:30 and began the day by developing some fundamental mountain bike skills. One member of our group is a former downhill MTB racer so had the ability to showcase his strengths in a very noticeable way. The others shared his pride by practicing, growing and developing skills at their own levels in a supportive environment.

Following this, we practiced Shinrin Yoku to connect with the forest. By focussing all of our attention on one small object, such as a leaf, a pine cone or a patch of moss, we were able to open our minds to what nature has to offer and this stayed with us throughout the day. These were our observations from the activity. (please forgive some paraphrasing: I didn’t record detail as I joined in with the activity too!)

“I chose to stand under that tree because it made me feel safe. I’ve been feeling a lot of sadness lately and feeling safe allowed me to process that sad feeling more comfortably”

“I kept thinking about the purpose, what is it for? What does it do? That made me realise that everything has a purpose, even if we don’t know what it is”

Becoming at one with the Forest

“The moss is so soft and spongy. Its dry to touch but it gives of this silky liquid. It feels soft like its cleaning me and protecting me”

“The way the needles are connected to the branch is just like the way the branches attach to the tree. It’s like every part of the tree is a tiny version of itself”

Lunch was then enjoyed before we rode to the highest part of the forest to practice a guided meditation. “send it” became the catch phrase for the next couple of hours as we rode up through the forest, stopping at several points where skills can be enjoyed alongside stunning views, sounds and smells. We laughed, learned, grew and celebrated achievement, progression and effort as we took time to play. Both the desire to take risks and get outside of our comfort zone and the desire to be calm and observe the world around us were indulged with perfect synergy.

Our guided meditation noted the connection between us and the environment. We focussed on how our out breath nourishes the trees around us and our in breath is nourished by the oxygen produced by those same trees, once we found connection, both externally and internally, we explored the idea that our lives both shape and are shaped by out environment. We did this by considering how a river both shapes, and is shaped by the landscape it flows through.

All that remained from this point was to descend through the network of mountain bike trails and fire roads and end our day, physically tired, emotionally enriched and satisfied!

Looking forward to 2021

I don’t think that anyone will disagree when I say that 2020 wasn’t what any of us planned for or expected. I am however, looking forward to a much more constructive 2021 and would like to begin by sharing a small gift to those who share my love of going a little bit further than last time!

In 2020, a significant amount of cycling events were cancelled, this included both of the 24hr events (Mersey Roads and Kielder Chiller) I was planning to ride. I did however, on my third attempt, complete my everesting (not so subtle Brag)!

I’m pretty good at problem solving and have always wanted to put on a 24hr event: so In 2021, I’d like to put on the inaugural ‘Mary Mary off-road TT’, which has been designed to be as Covid secure as possible and minimise personal loss if it does need to be cancelled or postponed. In line with Breaking Cycles CIC’s beliefs, its also designed to have a tiny environmental footprint too!

Rooley Moor Road

I want this to be both brutal and inclusive so, although its a great 24hr challenge, I’d also like to invite people to use this event as an opportunity to ride the MTL for the first time or set their own goals, like a fast lap, night lap or double lap…

Please click here to find out more about ‘Mary Mary’ and hopefully help to make it happen…

The next time I post, I’ll be sharing the first part of my 2021 Vlog series: “#FatLadsCantClimb – Been there, done that, the T-Shirt doesn’t fit” which follow up on the themes of #FatLadsCantClimb as I document what it takes for me to get down to ‘race weight’ for this year’s cycling challenge…

It’s all coming together now…

Last week, I shared a few words about collaborations with Harwes Farm and Elisha House. This work continues and we’re already investigating opportunities to do more together in the future. Don’t take my word for it though, have a look at this video and see what the Residents of Elisha House think about the time we’ve spent on cycle training, volunteering and most importantly, just enjoying the world we live in!

Please follow this blog and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to see more content like this…

The Difference that makes the Difference

‘Without a portfolio of evidence, you can’t prove that it was you that made the difference’

This comment was instrumental in my decision to leave my last permanent teaching job, in April 2015, to pursue other opportunities. It was an easy decision to make even though its not always easy to live with. Yesterday, I felt my values fall into line with a few others and participate in something that has a huge potential to benefit the local community, the organisations involved and every individual who took part.

One of many pieces of turf removed to make way for the sustainable MTB skills are at Harwes Farm.

On Friday 27th November, 10 residents of Elisha house volunteered to share their expertise and help out with the development of the sustainable MTB skills area at Harwes Farm CIC. With some initial funding from the Alpkit Foundation and further financial support from Anderton Bosonnet estate agents, this project began in February and fell to furlough due to lockdown. The volunteering efforts from the Elisha House residents will be a big part of getting it back on track! The development of this resource will also be a key part of an upcoming project, supporting teenagers who experience difficulties with mental health.

Bike storage (with chicken) at Harwes Farm CIC being put to good use.

7 of the residents of Elisha house took advantage of the offer of cycle training for volunteers at Harwes Farm CIC and cycled up to the farm from Colne, this was funded as part of the ‘Treading Lightly’ project, funded by Connecting East Lancashire’s access fund. This volunteering will continue throughout December and the three organisations are looking for further opportunities for collaboration.

Teamwork, groundworking skills and elbow grease…
After the rock garden, riders will drop or roll onto the trail being dug today

I couldn’t justify saying that any person from any of the organisations involved can claim that they made the difference. I believe that by collaborating and working together in the interest of our community we have all done something that has made a difference and will continue to in the future.

Getting ready to ride off (downhill!) into the sunset after a great day!

This day couldn’t have happened without the following organisations playing their part…

Connecting east Lancashire

Harwes Farm

Elisha House

Breaking Cycles

The Alpkit Foundation

Anderton Bosonnet

If you would like to get involved in, support or benefit from any of the projects mentioned above, please get in touch…


This week (5th – 10th October) is Dyspraxia awareness week so I’d like to share some information about Neuro-diversity, specifically Dyspraxia.

On Saturday 10th, the documentary film that I have made, #FatLadsCantClimb, based around my Everesting attempt will become live on my Youtube ( To find out more, just type #FatLadsCantClimb into the search bar on facebook and you’ll see what has already been posted and the event too and I will also be hosting a live Q&A ( where I will be taking questions about whatever you’d like to ask me…

You may be reading this because you know who I am through Cycling and be more familiar with me talking (or writing in this instance) about bikes or an event, or more likely some daft idea for a ride that might not even be possible to do! If this is the case, I’d like to ask you to bear with me as you read on. This is not specifically about cycling or bikes but it is about endurance and determination and where that skill-set comes from.

Some of you may already know that I am dyspraxic and live with depression; in fact, I hope that most of you already know that as I feel like it’s quite important to raise awareness about hidden disabilities as a matter of course. In the very nature of the fact that someone who has a hidden disability like a mental health condition or a  specific learning difficulty does not display any physical characteristics, it’s really easy for our awareness to slip and for discrimination to take place without any acts of malice. I have no specific, high profile case to cite and no data to support it, but I’ve been there personally and I’ve taught young people who have been there too.

I don’t believe that anyone sets out to dis-advantage and marginalise people like me in day to day life so there isn’t anything that people need to stop doing so that Neuro-diverse people are included but there is something that you can do and its easy!

If someone is behaving in a way that seems different, its probably because they are thinking or experiencing the world in a way that is different.

I’d like to point out that I didn’t do my Everesting attempt to raise money for a charity, but I did do it for a good cause (raising awareness of Neurodiversity) and this is the part where I ask you to give; not money, but time. Watching #FatLadsCantClimb will cost you 24minutes and might help you to understand the subtle differences between how we all experience the world. I’d also appreciate you spending 5 minutes to forward this, along with a quick note from you, onto a friend, colleague or family member who you think may benefit or find it interesting.

If you don’t know about Neuro-diversity, please ask. I think a lot of people nod along without asking the question on their mind for fear of it being seen as rude or ignorant where actually it could make a big difference to the way we understand each other: I obviously, can only speak for me, which is where some of the social awkwardness around this stuff lies. The next person might really dislike explaining how they are!

To make it easier for you to come up with the questions, here are a few topics that they might fit into…

  • My cycling achievements (please stroke my ego!)
  • Questions about cycling
  • Specific Learning Difficulties
  • Depression
  • Neurolinguistic Programming
  • Being a fat lad and wearing lycra in public!
  • How to get into cycling
  • Learning to ride a bike
  • My strategies
  • How to create your own strategies
  • Anything else (literally anything: if I can’t or don’t feel comfortable answering it, I’ll just move on or answer privately later!)