Greg Callaghan x Skye - Photo Epic

Mar 3, 2018
by Matt Wragg  




How do you imagine the life of a pro racer? It's just riding bikes, right? If you're looking in through the lens of social media those daily bike rides must look rather appealing, especially if you're looking in from wherever it is you pass the hours between Monday morning and Friday evening to pay the rent. But as we all know, social media isn't a true reflection of life, it's a snapshot, a carefully curated insight into just one part of a much larger picture. When you get down to the bottom line, racing bikes is a job, and not the kind of job where you punch your card at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon and forget about it until Monday morning. It is all-consuming. If you want to reach the highest levels of the sport, then you need to strip away almost everything that isn't helping make you faster. As you reach that rarefied air you can only find around the top step of the podium, the pressure mounts. After all, a racing career is a short, fragile thing, and another shot at cresting that summit is never promised.

The original plan was to spend a freewheeling week tooling around Skye with Greg Callaghan, searching for trails and routes across the island. Then the season happened. At the third round of the EWS, he took a storming victory in Madeira - his first away from home soil, a huge landmark in his career, cementing him as one of the guys to beat at any race. With that victory and another solid ride at home in Ireland, he went into the halfway point of the season with the ever-elusive number one plate strapped firmly to the front of his custom-painted Cube Stereo. Having a certain Sam Hill snapping at your heels would sharpen anybody's mind. So the plan changed. Between fitness tests, rest days and the ever-crucial interval sessions, a week became just two days. That is the reality of racing, even taking a couple of days free time is a risk, they are days when you could be training or recovering, getting fitter, getting faster. But, if you get your hustle on, you can get quite a bit done in that time...



Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
It may be a long drive north, but you are well-rewarded for your perseverance.

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Not a bad spot for a night's sleep, right?



With little time and little plan, we hit the road north from Edinburgh. The first thing the journey north teaches you is that there is a lot more of Scotland than most people living south of the border ever realise. It's not just the bit after Hadrian's Wall, and even with good traffic, it's a solid seven hours trucking through the Highlands. As night fell we pulled up to the Quiraing and made our camp for the night, right on the col as you climb up from the coast.

Coming from southern Europe, the 5am sunrise was something of a shock to the system, the rays rudely poking in through the curtains as the sheep brayed their morning chorus. Still, watching the morning sun hitting the Quiraing softens that blow and with the clock ticking an early start was just what was ordered. From the col, the access trail into the iconic spires offers a nice warm-up pedal before you get into the spires and chutes. It is here that you can see how someone like Greg is on another level to us mere humans. Hiking the bike up the steeps he started lining up gaps and transfers that most people wouldn't even consider rideable - awkward, sketchy hits with zero run-in and even less landing. Yet rather than holding on for grim death he was finding his element, grinning as he launched into a brutal crosswind and still landing smoothly. What is more impressive is realising that this was Greg not taking risks, he was comfortable here in these harsh, unforgiving conditions.

On the way back to the van we found something neither of us ever expected to find on a remote mountainside - a DH track. Some local riders had cut a fast, steep series of bends through the rocks with some sketchy senders and rubble-filled berms. To call it intimidating doesn't quite do it justice, certainly standing at the top on a short-travel bike it felt like a lot to be taking on. Aboard his race bike, Greg barely seemed to register all this and took to carving the corners and sending the gaps as he flowed down to the field below.



Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
This may not be quite as impressive as Danny Macaskill's spire on Skye, but the passing hikers still gave Greg a round of applause.

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
It may not look huge in a photo, but to drop this onto the non-existent landing with a crosswind is seriously impressive.

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg



After a quick lunch in the van, it was time to pack up and search for our second spot of the day. After several false starts we pulled into the Glenbrittle campsite - the starting point to reach In Pin, the rock spire made famous by Danny Macaskill's short film, The Ridge. As the sun was starting to set there wasn't time for a big loop, but enough time to take in the first part of a loop above the campsite to stretch the legs and watch the sun dip down across the bay.




Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Heading back down towards the campsite.



Next morning was another early start, although there were no sunbeams to gently rouse us from our sleep, the wind beat a tattoo against the sides of the van. It was the kind of day where it's hard to get yourself out of the warm and into the saddle. The storm meant that getting towards the higher peaks was far too risky a proposition. Battered by the wind and cloaked in cloud, there was no thought of pushing our luck. Once we headed up onto the lower slopes we were rewarded with a technical monster of a trail though, all awkward, loose rock. Amongst the boulders, Greg showed an all-new side of his riding. It is no secret that his life on two wheels began on a trials bike and the rocks that littered the trail and that mountainside gave him a blank canvas to play with the terrain in a way you would never see inside the tapes of an enduro race. Little trials moves to keep the momentum on the climb, or hopping onto a boulder and pivoting to a manual back off again. A huge grin on his face as he effortlessly picked a line across a stream on his back wheel, hopping from rock to rock.



Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Riding fuel.

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Up and over.

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg
Greg's attempt to replicate Danny's frontflip over this fence was slightly less successful...

Greg Callaghan on Skye in Scotland June 2017. Photo by Matt Wragg


All too soon we were back in the campsite, cold, wet and happy. We'd been on Skye for less than 48 hours, but had managed to drive almost the length of the island, see the iconic sights and take in 3 good rides. The break was over and it was time to head south once more, back to the training plan and the serious business of riding bikes...


68 Comments

  • + 80
 sometimes endless whip and whooping videos become boring . then this , faith restored..
  • + 25
 No doubt! Well written and so many beauty shots
  • + 4
 @Mieszko42: stunning pics yeah !
  • + 15
 Awesome..Scotland is absolutely stunning as are the photo's. Oddly enough, I'm 1/2 Scottish, and have the same first name as Greg, he's a very talented rider. I completely enjoyed looking at this..Very nice work..
  • + 11
 Hey Matt, please tell us more about this journey out of the photography's point of view. We are curious about how you manage this trip logistically on a tour with your equipment, where you spent how much time and light situations. Please please please. Smile
  • + 7
 I'm afraid there's not a lot to tell, all the images all have exif data so you can see what they were shot with, but I'm not one for talking in length about how to take photos.
  • + 2
 Look like all where shot with the A7 R and 24-70. May have had some strobes in there but with that camera and its DR maybe not.
  • + 7
 @downhillnews: It’s an A7RII and all natural light.
  • + 2
 the photos speak for themselves! Lovely article.
  • + 2
 @mattwragg: Alright then, each to his own. We, the ordinary rabble, were just interested in e.g. how you manage to transport even your big a7+24-70 2.8 combo and how long your tours are. Really really nice photo stories though!
  • + 3
 @Babbeldibu: Lugging around a 300, 70-200, 14-24 and a 50mm with 2 bodies gives a ton of options. What I found is that I would really only use 2 lenses. Shooting MX makes it a bit easier at least you are not hiking up and down mountains. If you where looking for a good set up a wide like the new Sigma ART 14mm combined with like an 85 F1.8 would give you a good range. You can get 70-200 F2.8's now for like $1000 used instead of going the 85 route....
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: Yeah saw it was the 2. I am hoping Pentax and Sony get this MF rangefinder made and hope it is under $5K that would be nice to use. Hopefully LS lens would be an option. Nice pics BTW.
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: hey Matt beautiful images! May I ask are you shooting jpg's or raw? Any post processing? Just curious, great work again!
  • + 4
 @Babbeldibu: For this trip, as I was on the bike, I used my regular Evoc riding pack (20l FR) with a strap mount for the camera: www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00H7JGOS4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 and popped the 18mm Batis in the bag if I wanted something wider. If there's no commerical pressure, I prefer to go down to a real minimal setup, sometimes just a single prime. I kinda think that zoom lenses are there for when work means you don't necessarily have the flexibility or time to make a prime work.
  • + 5
 @shreddyshots: RAW, always. Jpegs are for point and shoot cameras taking holiday photos.
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: That's some interesting stuff! Thatnks for the infos Smile . Also think that 1-2 primes would solve for 90 % of the work (even with commercial pressure). Wish ya good light further on!
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: I totally agree, your photos just look so untouched in terms of post processing I was curious. Still haven't felt a need to jump to an A9 or A7rIii or heck even the a7iii? I am pretty blown away by the A9 thus far, I loved the few times I shot with the R2 as well though! Thanks for responding man!
  • + 1
 @shreddyshots: hey @mattwragg can you quicly summarize the advantages of RAW over JPEG? Is it more than just image quality?
  • + 1
 @YoungGun13: Raw is the raw image (duh), jpeg has been messed about with and compressed by algorithms that don't care about your images as much as you do.
  • + 1
 @shreddyshots: Ha, cheers, I've kinda leaned into the dark/moody vibe with the processing, but hopefully they still look real, if you know what I mean. I've had an A9 since last Autumn... Depending how work goes this year, I may trade up to an A7RIII for one of my A7RIIs as the colour handling of the A9 is a long way ahead of the A7RII and the A7RIII carries that over (and I want that joystick)...
  • + 1
 @mattwragg: So when you export an image for digital or print use what format should be used?
  • + 1
 @YoungGun13: Digital is usually jpeg and print depends on what they need.
  • + 7
 That Quarring trail is no joke either. I rode it almost a year ago, got bucked, fell 40 feet and broke the shit out of my leg. Long way to the A&E too.
  • + 8
 glad you enjoyed it!
  • + 5
 If I wanted to show a non mountain biker why I like riding I would show them these pictures. Love the rich saturated colours with the ominous clouds clinging to the dark, rough textured geology.
  • + 2
 The Quiraing is a stunningly beautiful remote part of Skye and does make for some great biking photos, but it's not very rideable for long sections of the trail, so be prepared for lots of hike-a-bike. There also a lot of serious exposure. If you do go to ride it, do it off-season. For three quarters of the year, you will have to contend with potentially hundreds of hikers. These photos are absolutely amazing and really capture the atmosphere.
  • + 1
 @Blawrence: I was thinking of making a trip to ride there but I'm not overly keen on rain and cold. We have lots in Vancouver. Know of any good Scottish spots to hit in the spring/summer?
  • + 1
 @vanmtnbiker: We were there last August for the full month and the weather was generally quite good. It wasn't a cycling trip, so I'm not the best person to ask. We only got 3-4 days of riding in and around Fort William, but we never had to ride in the rain, and never got bothered by the midges. Fort William really only has two good trails: the DH course and the Red Giant, but if you ask around at the bike shops, there are plenty of unofficial trails around that area that are far better than the "XC" trails at Fort William. My impression was that a lot of the better riding in Scotland requires a fair bit of local knowledge.
  • + 2
 @Blawrence: ...yup spot on... the more official stuff , is great that's its there! but we don't have 3 riders worthy of the top 10 in the EWS because they have fort William red route to ride.!!!..... oh no!. we have a ludicrous amount of "off piste " local knowledge trails. Ironically none of which are on Skye. This article paints a very false picture of the riding potential on skye. Which is a shame as the visuals on sky are outstanding, just the not the riding. :-(
  • + 1
 @forkbrayker: Not exactly true. There are a lot of brilliant off-road tracks here on Skye (with great views as well). Just look at an ordnance survey map or come to Skye and I'll show you. I will admit the Quiraing is the best I've found but the track to Boreraig on the south of the island is a close second. Mind you it depends what you are looking for. I will searching more out this weekend.
  • + 6
 That camper gives me a semi..
  • + 6
 I assume this was done a while back as he's not got red bull kit?
  • + 6
 "5am sun rise" at least 6 months ago then
  • + 6
 Go on the Greg!
  • + 1
 @mattwragg this is awesome! I'm a Sony shooter my self and really enjoyed the journalist side of this, having shot at a fair few world cups and other things I appreciate the effort that has gone into this, also It's great to see Greg ride, he's a power house and all round top human! all in all a great article about a great racer with stunning imagery!!
  • + 2
 Unbelievable views and awesome photos , nice to hear of a pro like Greg doing a different type of riding , nice one Greg I’ll be rooting for yer this year !!!!!
  • + 1
 My great-great- grandfather came from that area of Skye so it's nice to see the fantastic photos of the hills. That's probably where I would be living if he hadn't migrated to Australia.
  • + 1
 Northern Scotland.....hipster free Iceland Smile

Seriously though. Simply beautiful images and well written. Stoke through and through
  • + 3
 Great content, thanks for sharing
  • + 3
 Home seat home...amazing how you take it for granted!
  • + 0
 really like this guy. went to the Cube website. terrible. can't even find his bike. they must be awesome bikes to get by with such a shit website. and they are ugly to boot, must be the best bikes ever.
  • + 3
 Just, wow. Makes me want a very decent camera again
  • + 2
 Awesome article and photography. That front flip over the fence takes some skill...some Macaskill.
  • + 1
 Awesome photos, now I really want to go back to Skye... Luckily I haven't planned my summer vacation yet Wink .
  • + 2
 where are the trees? why don't trees grow there? or even bushes?
  • + 11
 We hid them for the photos.
  • + 3
 @mattwragg: not sure why, but that remark made me think of Monty Python’s “How not to be seen” bit
  • + 2
 too windy and harsh..... there are parts of Skye with the magical bush and tree, but go get some screen shots of Shetland or Orkney on the north coast of Scotland..... pretty much ZERO bushes and trees, and any that do get a root planted rarely grow above 5ft
  • + 1
 Bacon and eggs, avocado and bread. Best breakfast ever! Lovely pictures, love content like this
  • + 2
 Love these articles so much! Dream job!
  • + 3
 No Redbull helmet??
  • + 1
 That is what I was wondering?
  • + 2
 Living the dream....bacon all the way
  • + 1
 Good to hear that its not just us who find the trail intimidating Big Grin
  • + 2
 Deadly!
  • + 1
 Where is his Red Bull helmet in this shoot?
  • + 2
 So good!
  • + 1
 Great article and stunning photos! Thank you! Man I miss Scotland...
  • + 1
 Jesus Murphy! Are there, uh, many engineering jobs to be had on Skye?
  • + 1
 Not many but I have one. You want cycling and engineering then? What sort of engineering do you do?
  • + 1
 Lovely.
  • + 1
 Love Ireland!
  • + 3
 Scotland too
  • + 0
 More Van Porn please! Good luck this year Greg!!
  • + 1
 Hup the parish!
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