She earned her cycling stripes pedalling like fury on the braes of the Campsie Fells, discovering a passion for the outdoors that would inspire others to follow her lead.

Now revealed as just the third woman ever to receive Scotland’s most prestigious mountain award, adventurer Lee Craigie is urging changes in the way women taking part in outdoors sports are viewed and catered for, so more can grasp its benefits.

The former professional mountain biker turned active travel campaigner, filmmaker, author and champion for women in the outdoors, is the 17th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

Awarded by the organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, it recognises her devotion to encouraging the public – in particular women and girls - to access walking, cycling and physical activity across Scotland.

Previous winners include mountaineer and search and rescue pioneer Dr Hamish MacInnes, Andy Nisbet, who developed more than 1,000 new winter climbing routes in Scotland, and biologist Dr Adam Watson, a specialist in mountain flora and fauna and authority on the Cairngorms mountain range.

While Craigie joins only two other women named since the award’s launch in 2008: Myrtle Simpson, the first woman to ski across Greenland on an unsupported expedition received the award in 2013, followed in 2022 by paralympic cyclist and adventurer, Karen Darke.

Glasgow-born Craigie is behind The Adventure Syndicate, a collective of female adventurers with who use storytelling, film, events and adventures to encourage a more diverse range of people to experience the outdoors.

As well as showcasing women’s achievements, the group offers outdoor adventure and exploration opportunities for women and girls designed to boost self-belief and confidence.

But, Craigie says despite women always having participated in outdoor and mountain sports, their most basic needs to enjoy them are often under-served by clothing and equipment manufacturers.


The Herald: Cycle champ Lee Craigie (front) is an Ambassador for Active TravelCycle champ Lee Craigie (front) is an Ambassador for Active Travel (Image: Maciek Tomiczek)

While, she says, those who take on the most extreme challenges can face criticism rarely experienced by men, while at professional sport level there can be pressure from sponsors to wear revealing clothes in order to appear attractive in marketing material.

She has urged outdoor clothing manufacturers to be more considerate of women’s needs, body shapes and style preferences when producing suitable active wear for outdoor activities.

“Outdoor clothing and bike clothing is often styled by middle-aged men, making decisions that are applied to other middle-aged men," she said. 

“When it comes to women, they are looking at it as ‘what do men want to see?’.”

But, she added, discussions over plus size clothing for women is sometimes dismissed. 

“I have conversations with people in marketing departments of some outdoor clothing brands who say the market isn’t there for plus size women - or for any women.

“They say they don’t sell clothes to the same degree as they do to men, and they have to make a profit. But they are not giving women anything for them to buy.

“We are 50% of the population we have always done this kind of stuff, and we need to be provided for. If they take a chance, and we will pop up and buy your clothes.”

Although women’s participation in outdoor sports such as wild swimming, cycling and mountain biking has boomed in recent years, sportscotland has previously said tight-fitting and revealing clothing plus having to use equipment designed for use by men, are barriers to women and girls becoming involved in many sports.

While Craigie, who became British Mountain Bike Champion in 2013, represented Team GB at World European Championships and Team Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, said women taking part in daring outdoor activities are often treated differently from men, citing Alison Hargreaves, the highly experienced climber who died in 1995 while tackling K2.

“To the media, she was a mother-of-two and in this extremely risky situation, who died and left two small children.

“The number of men who put themselves in a much riskier situation is not in question.

“But we have this inbuilt prejudice.”

Craigie began mountain biking to relieve the pressures of secondary school, rising to the peak of the sport while combining an outdoor education degree and three year Post Graduate Training in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy.

After working as a technical mountaineering guide in the USA and Australia, and outdoor instructor for Scottish education authorities, she founded Cycletherapy, offering children excluded from school opportunities in mountain bike riding and bike mechanics.

While her role with The Adventure Syndicate has helped to raise the profile of varying forms of cycling for women, sparking a flurry of all-female cycling groups, competitions and events.

One inspiring project saw the collective recreate three teenage sisters’ epic 1936 bike ride from Glasgow, through the North West Highlands, Skye, Perthshire and Stirlingshire.

Craigie says it shows how women have always enjoyed the outdoors, yet  concerns over safety and attitudes to exercise now make it hard to imagine 16 and 17-year-old girls embarking on a similar journey today.

Another adventure saw her and two friends take their mothers - aged from 63 to 79 - on a weekend bike packing through the Cairngorms, aimed at confirming that age need not be a barrier to outdoor activity.

She added: “We need to reset the narrative to make sure everyone – male or female – enters the outdoors with a level of respect and awareness and wants to be inspired by it."

Craigie, raised in a sporting family that nurtured her passion for exploration and adventure, also wants more opportunities for young people to discover the outdoors, and a shift from risk-adverse parents to give children opportunities to ‘skin their knees’.  


The Herald: Lee Craigie (centre) with The Adventure SyndicateLee Craigie (centre) with The Adventure Syndicate (Image: Maciek Tomiczek)

“We should be making sure every child has equal access to outdoor natural environment," she added. 

“When I look at children in particular, I see mollycoddling parents trying to take all the risk out of everything.

“There’s a bigger risk - if you don’t allow your child to understand where the boundaries of physical ability are or how the weather works and all the things we get by being in an natural environment, they will fail later.

“Let kids scrape their knee, they will much richer learning for it, more resilient and will come to assess their own risk.”