Markus Stitz, author of Great British Gravel Rides and founder of Bikepacking Scotland, is a filmmaker based in Edinburgh who cycled around the world on a single-speed bike in 2015/16. In 2020, in the middle of the second lockdown, he teamed up with Mark Beaumont, the fastest man to cycle around the world, to design gravel cycling routes that follow the boundaries of Scottish councils, which they titled Explore Your Boundaries. This culminated in the production of a short film of their adventures. Their 100-mile route in East Lothian became one of Mark’s favourites, and when contributing to Great British Gravel Rides this was the route he chose to include. It became the eighth route in the book, ‘Explore Your Boundaries: East Lothian’.
Markus and Mark have just finished up another project with fellow Great British Gravel Rides contributor, Inverness-based Jenny Graham, who coincidentally is also a round-the-world record holder, having completed her route unsupported in 2018. Jenny’s coast-to-coast route in the Scottish Highlands opens Great British Gravel Rides as the first route.
The trio’s latest escapades continues on from Mark and Markus’s Explore Your Boundaries, this time taking them around the borders of Argyll and Bute, also known as Scotland’s Adventure Coast – a very apt name! The 500-mile route involves cycling on remote islands such as Jura and Isle of Gigha and following sections from the Wild About Argyll Trail and Dunoon Dirt Dash, as well as various ferry and boat crossings. Although if you need to dial up your adventure even further then there are two potential extensions to the route, courtesy of Markus’s Great British Gravel Rides: route 4 near Oban or route 26 on Jura.
For Jenny the trip to Argyll offered a great adventure in a, so far, little known part of Scotland to her:
‘As a Scot I know the north part of the country very, very well, but I've not explored very much down in Argyll and every time I've been here I've just been blown away by the coastline; I think that's the bit that gets me. When I think about Argyll I just think of this rugged coastline and amazing beaches, and quite mixed weather.’
Mark has a special connection to Argyll as he spent his very early childhood on a small farm near Tayinloan, and has memories of excursions to the beaches on Gigha. For him, gravel riding is a welcome change from his fast, and often record-breaking, road rides:
'If I was to summarise gravel riding in a sentence, it would be: creating memories. I never come back from my gravel rides and define it by how far I went. I define it very much by moments in time … Gravel bikes have really connected me with those trails and allowed me to still move really efficiently, but to do almost everything.’
Markus has created a film with the support of Schwalbe UK to accompany the route, making it the third in the Explore Your Boundaries series, and Markus noted that it was the biggest project in the series so far:
‘I am a big fan of having storytelling behind routes I am creating. I think for me that's what cycling is about. There are sections where you just travel through, and there are other sections where you take a little bit more time to explore. On the bike you really extend your freedom and I think this is what I'm trying to get across in my storytelling, whether in films, books or photography. But I also think it is really important to tell a story of cycling that is not suffering, that is not hardship, but infectious fun!’
And while the three are certainly used to putting their heads down and racing for a while, the nine days of filming were a welcome break from their daily routines, and they fully enjoyed the change in pace. To end with Jenny’s own words: ‘The journey aspect is what makes me reach for the gravel bike each time.’
The Argyll route, and those in Great British Gravel Rides, are designed to be easily accessible by public transport. To get you started, Helensburgh, Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Dalmally and Oban, all entry points for the route, are serviced by Scotrail’s Highland Explorer, which can take up to twenty bikes on the journey from Glasgow to Scotland’s Adventure Coast, including cargo bikes and tandems.
Explore Your Boundaries Argyll & the Isles is a key feature of Wild About Argyll’s Pedaddlinginitiative, led by Argyll & The Isles Tourism Cooperative with funding from VisitScotland, which is showcasing the wealth of people-powered adventures available to the novice and the enthusiast across the breadth of Argyll and the Isles.
The pictures featured in this blog are by Maciek Tomiczek, who also photographed the front cover of Great British Gravel Rides. From top to bottom the images are:
(Header) Cycling the coastal road on the east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula, following the Caledonia Way
Markus tackling one of the steeper climbs on the Mull of Kintyre
Markus, Mark and Jenny take a break from riding with a rest on the beach at Scalpsie Bay, Isle of Bute
Jenny's "rugged coastline" that forms the east coast of the Kintyre Peninsula
The Isle of Gigha
(L-R) Markus on the Mull of Kintyre, Mark descending through bracken near Tarbert, Kintyre Peninsula, Jenny riding on the beach, Scalpsie Bay, Isle of Bute