Recovery is a film that charts the story of James, and how mountain bike Trail Therapy has helped in his recovery from mental ill-health


Mountain biking makes us feel good. It’s why we do it, and it’s why we love it. And it has very real physical and mental health benefits, something that Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) hoped to harness when it started the Trail Therapy programme. This video charts the story of James, a former mental health patient and now leader and mentor on the programme.

Supported by NatureScot, Edinburgh Napier University and Trek Bikes, the idea behind the programme is to combine the wellbeing benefits of mountain biking with traditional therapeutic techniques delivered by mental health professionals to help support those diagnosed with mental health illnesses.

One in four people experience mental ill health in their lifetime, and one in three people with a long-term physical health condition also having a mental health problem. And mental and physical health are intrinsically linked.

“We know from an ever-expanding body of research that the benefits of being outdoors in nature in combination with an activity that requires concentration can have profound physical and mental health benefits,” states DMBinS. “Our bodies and minds are simply not separate so approaching mental ill health from a whole body perspective makes increasing sense and it is this, along with focus and the positive (and managed) risk associated with mountain biking that makes this programme so exciting.”

The video also introduces Paul McFarlane, the Trail Therapy mountain bike leader for DMBinS, and Amy, an Occupational Therapy Assistant working in mental health and a leader on the programme. Together, they ride the trails weaving down the mountain side at Nevis Range near Fort William, Scotland.

Photo of James, Amy and Paul of DMBinS Trail Therapy programme, next to a sign that says 'mental illness is not a personal failure'

James, Amy and Paul, all part of the DMBinS Trail Therapy team

They explain how Trail Therapy uses a technique called dialectical behaviour therapy, based around a combination of four elements: mindfulness or focus, social interaction, emotional regulation and decision making. And happily, mountain biking involves all of these, from focussing on the trail ahead to the social chats with mates on the trail.

“As participants go through the programme, we hope to facilitate folk as they grow in confidence, improve their social interactions in a supportive environment, establish skills of self-regulation and accelerate their road to well-being,” state DMBinS. “We want our participants to become more comfortable in open and minimal support environments, with the ultimate aim that cycling becomes part of their active lifestyle.”

“For many this will form part of their resilience toolkit to enable them to be discharged from NHS care. The result is a better quality of life, an additional practical tool in their toolkit for managing their own mental health and increased physical health as well as mental health.”

The final thought goes to James himself. “Recovery is about progress not perfection. Its about being the best version of myself that I can be, however not being to hard on myself if I fall short.”

And now, we recommend you get out there and go ride.


Find out more about Trail Therapy from the Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland website

The following organisations have useful resources around mental health;