Weekend Warm-Up: Rainspotting — Bikepacking Scotland

In November 2019, a six-person team took their bikes to Scotland. Will Meyer, Stefan Amato, David Sear, Taylor Doyle, Jordan Gibbons, and Luke Francis did not all know each other as they stepped onto the sleeper train in London. They came together through their various roles in the cycling community.

The group is heading to the UK’s most remote train station: Corrour, in the Scottish highlands. Their endpoint is the Bridge of Orchy, but they are not taking a straight route. They are there to explore the ancient Grampian mountains. “My name is Norval; on the Grampian hills/My father feeds his flocks,” goes the famous old Scottish verse.

As the cyclists see the snow-covered central highlands pass by, they admit that it is “beautiful from the train” but intimidating. Amato is the main route planner. Others are not entirely sure of the plan but are keen to get started.

Photo: www.pannier.cc


The cold strikes them the moment they disembark. Unable to feel their hands, they push off onto the gravel path and start pedaling. The four-day bike tour sees them skirt around various lochs, tackle snowy moorlands, and push their bikes through peaty bogs.

The rain makes some of the ground impossible to cycle over. At one point, they end up knee-deep in mud, in fits of laughter as they try to navigate winter in the highlands. At this time of year, daylight hours are limited. To cover the distance, they pedal through the darkness with just headlamps to guide them. It looks like the middle of the night, but it is only 5:30 pm.

Photo: www.pannier.cc

The plan is no plan

At first, it seems like the group has no plan, but quite the opposite. At this time of year, they know you need “multiple rough plans” and are on your own if something goes wrong. They know that some routes on the map they are trying will not be possible and they will have to backtrack. They have approximate locations of a few places they can stay each night.

The short film shows the eery, silent central highlands as winter falls. The group cooks the classic Scottish dishes cranachan and cullen skink in their bothy and they go skinny dipping in icy lochs.

From the beginning, you get the sense that this is not about cycling from A to B. It is about the experience, and the flexible, trial-and-error approach that allows them to leave their daily lives behind is part of it.