Teenage cyclist Mary Harvie's Scottish adventure shows the opportunities lost by being over protective – Alastair Dalton

A film was released at the weekend charting the recreation of a teenager’s epic cycling holiday, in which she rode hundreds of miles round the Highlands with her sisters, staying at youth hostels.

The key point about this impressive trip is that it didn’t happen in the present day, but 85 years ago – begging the question as to how a 17-year-girl would be judged if she did the same now.

That was posed by one of the female trio recreating the 1936 journey – Lee Craigie, who is also the Scottish government-appointed active nation commissioner.

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She observed that by modern standards, Mary Harvie would be considered “intrepid in the extreme, incredible, resilient, utterly remarkable”.

However, Craigie said that if someone today of Mary’s age had announced they were going up north with two friends on their bikes for a couple of weeks, there would still “most likely be an outcry”.

While writing about the new film for Scotland on Sunday, I listened back to Craigie’s reflections, made just after she completed her own version of Harvie’s trip, at Cycling Scotland’s annual conference in November, which I had been invited to chair.

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She said today’s young women were restricted in what they felt they could do by “fear-mongering in our well-meaning communities” – people who thought they were “keeping them safe by keeping them close”.

Lee Craigie and two friends recreated the 1936 cycling trip through the Highlands last October. Picture: Maciek Tomiczek

But Craigie said if we considered the repercussions of that “deprivation of experience”, we might think again.

She said: “The cost-benefit analysis over the lifetime of an active, confident, resilient women in our society would overwhelmingly encourage this level of risk taking.

"Yes, your chance of being hit by a car while riding a bike these days is higher than it was in 1936, but so is your propensity to develop an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, heart disease and type two diabetes.

"I grew up 20 miles from where Mary did. I spent my childhood pretending I was Michael Knight from Knight Rider and my little red BMX was a talking car.

"Together we explored the edges of my neighbourhood, and in so doing I discovered things about it and about myself that set me up as a resilient adult, ready for adventure, friendship and connection with the natural world – but not every kid gets that start.”

Empowering youngsters, particularly girls, and especially those from deprived areas, to have such experiences has been a recurring theme of Craigie’s term as commissioner.

My own mother, on a much more limited scale than Mary, spent summer holidays cycling round the Assynt area of the Highlands as a teenager in the 1940s with her two brothers.

It was a natural way to get around, just as it was for Mary and her sisters ten years earlier – and should still be for those of a similar age now.

Craigie spoke powerfully of the need to reassess risk and freedom, and the opportunities lost by being over protective.

Roads may be far busier than all those years ago, but cycling and walking have a promising future, with record sums being allocated to their development by the Scottish government.

We must just remember the spirit of Mary Harvie – and Lee Craigie – to exploit them to the full.

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