Scotland is just epic, right? The land of Whisky, Warriors and Haggis is much vaunted, and rightly so.
While the mountains don't share the same sort of numbers as their European cousins, a weather window on the Cullin Ridge will send the hairs upright and make the buttocks clench with equal aplomb as our continental brethren. .But Scotland has a lot of other stuff going on too.
In 2018, over 11,200 hectares of woodland were planted in Scotland, of which 3,900 hectares were native broadleaves. In real terms, that means 84% of the UK's tree planting took place in Scotland. One of the many reason's (a lot them are too nuanced to go into here) this can happen is due to a low population density, coupled with vast tracts of open, wild spaces and terrain that makes sense for it. We've also got a diverse mix of moorland peat and great, fertile soil.
Scotland also has Britain's two cities with the most green space - Edinburgh and Glasgow, 7 Velo Solutions pump tracks and amazing land access. With this in mind we invited some friends on a journey to see as much of the contrasting cultures of Scotland in six days as we could get inspired by the landscape at home, avoid flying to some far-flung location, use as little single-use plastic as possible and all while having a flippin' mint time.
When you add in a former World Champion, a Highlander who is fiercely Scottish, a Geordie who operates at either 100% or flat batteries and some esteemed riders, then there's sure to be some stories to tell.
Torridon is on everyone's bucket list right? Countless edits, rugged terrain and seemingly endless descents make Torridon a right of passage for the "literal mountain biker". Home to an ever re- increasing amount of native Scot's pine, a rich history and incredible mountains, Torridon can inspire anyone who rides a bike to take pleasure in the natural world.
Did we mention the riding is pretty damn good too?
Bothy's are an incredible Scottish asset. This tiny wee hut was to be our home for just a few hours. After a run in with some "flighty" cattle and some of the worst midges we'd ever seen, being able to cook up some dinner in relative comfort was bliss. Of course, when you add in the aforementioned ancient Scots Pine, Silver birch and a free-flowing burn surrounding the Bothy, the appeal and magic of being in such an environment is only heightened. The area here in Torridon is a prime example of how sound conservation management - re-establishing 1000 hectares of continuous native woodland in the process - along with an outstanding bio-diversity program, and tourism can work together.
Louise Ferguson is still developing her riding - often on the edge of control, ragged and loose, but with heaps of potential, compared with Manon's honed technique, ultra-smooth and very fast style. Both great to watch.
Torridon is one of those places. Most people know about it now, yet it's still relatively remote compared to anywhere below Manchester, where the population density of middle England can make space a luxury. This area of Wester Ross is wild, free and offers riding unlike anywhere else south of here. It's a special place.
This poor guy was a bit flimsy looking, and extremely tame. While deer overpopulation and mass culls are a political hotbed in the Highlands (Along with re-wilding efforts, which are often compared to the clearances of the late 1800's - only a few generations ago - and still culturally sensitive for good reason), there's no doubting that deer are often seen as an iconic form of Scottish symbolism.
If there's anywhere to inspire a love of the natural world in the UK, then it's the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland. From Golden eagles to the re-emergence of Beavers and the pods of Basking Sharks and Dolphins to be seen, to be amongst this all while riding our bikes is something pretty special.
Scotland now has 7 Velo Solutions pump tracks, and the cycling facilities in cities are amazing compared to a decade ago. Street riding isn't so big anymore, but it is awesome.
Pumptracks give us the best of both worlds, and the area of Glasgow couldn't make for a more marked contrast to Torridon.
Having green, and public, spaces in cities is so amazing in Scotland. It allows the culture of nature to ferment amongst the young, provide full access space without hindrance and give communities a sense of mojo through participation. There's pretty good riding to be had not far from home for a lot of people.
Manon was a joy to watch around the pump track. Ultra-smooth, style for miles and despite the 32º heat, able to bust out lap after lap.
Mark Ducat is a kid going places. Already making his stamp on the pumptrack world series at 16, Ducat is more than a one-trick pony. With his skills on off-road terrain developing rapidly, this is a name you should keep an eye on.
It was amazing to see what has been going in Glasgow, and how many young people are out on their bikes. Any bikes at all - old junkyard heaps to racing BMX's - this was run what you brung spirit at it's best. This is riding in it's purest form - free from the constraints of image and societal pressure.
Hopefully, these kids will stay on bikes right the way through to adulthood and beyond.
The Hightower himself, Ben Cathro, was to be our guide for Dunkeld, Perthshire. Coincidentally, it's also home to Britain's tallest tree.....!
Dunkeld has been around on the riding scene since about 2001-2002, when Scottish scene legend Peter Pollock pioneered what was, at the time, an absolutely savage DH track. Since then, Dunkeld has evolved into something of a riding mecca for trail bikes. With its mix of rocky, open and forested terrain high above the Salmon filled, and now thriving Beaver colony of the Tay (Which does bring some problems for farmers), and with decent rail connections, Dunkeld is a modern classic.
The area of the Tay Valley is prime agricultural land; The terrain and views from high above Dunkeld couldn't be more different to that of Torridon but were no less beautiful. It highlights the diversity of the land in Scotland, a stunning view at every point.
Cathro led us to some of the mellower trails in Dunkeld, but definitely on the faster side of the spectrum. Cathro is still fast - very fast - and it was rad to watch him play his way down the trail.
The riding was belter, if different to what I'd expected Cathro to take us to. I expected the rocky terrain and brutality of Cathro pummelling the ground, but seeing him in chilled and playful mode was a pleasure.
At this point, having had the option to fly or go overseas on this trip, I think we were all pretty happy to be here - whatever motives each individual had - and surprised by the sheer amount of good stuff in Scotland.
Aye, that's right. Everyone else can take their bench cuts, berms and kickers and leave them where they are, as this is all about pure and unadulterated old school filth!
Pioneered by some Hazzardous types, it's a type of riding that is much admired but seldom copied. If you can ignore the endless midges and near-constant threat of rain, there's a lot to delight in beneath the shadow of Ben Nevis.
We were lucky enough to bump into brothers Brodie and Jake Hood, along with the fairly famous Australian Sheepdog Lumi. They happily guided us to a Dudes of Hazzard Classic (We tried to meet up with them, but they were out of town) where typical chaos ensued. Manon was calculated calm and pretty much nailed the trail immediately whereas Mick and Louise, being more do or die type riders spent a bit of time in the dirt, or riding sections at electrifying warp speed.
It's a unique type of riding that the Fort William crew seem to revel in - It's so wrong that it's just so right.
Having barely scratched the surface on what Scotland has to offer, it was refreshing to know that we don't always need to spend fortunes, fly miles and consume as much as we're used to in the quest of having a good time. Creating an experience is always number one on the list, but more and more thinking about how we do that is becoming critically relevant. We can't be Carbon Neutral riding bikes the way we do as yet - but with drive and conviction, we can definitely improve things.
With special thanks to Radon bikes, Industry Nine and Funn components.