The Cairngorms are Calling (Film)
The Cairngorms are Calling is a new short film from Chris McClean and Ed Shoote that follows a group of riders as they battle the elements while pedaling through some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes. Watch it here, and read on for a Q&A with Ed, exclusive photos from Chris, and an overview of the bikes featured in the film…
The Cairngorms are Calling is a new short film by Chris McClean (@chrismcclean) and Ed Shoote (@dmbins) that follows a group of riders as they pedal through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery while contending with extreme bouts of wind, rain, and snow. Watch the full short below, then continue on for a Q&A with producer Ed, a selection of images Chris, and a full photographic list of the bikes featured in the film.
I see some familiar faces here. Can you introduce your riding crew?
With the Scottish Mountain Bike Conference being held in Aviemore at the end of November 2018, we thought we’d take advantage of so many experienced bikepackers getting together to make a short film showcasing why we all love riding in the Cairngorms. First up was Lee Craigie, a cycling legend and former pro MTB racer, who through The Adventure Syndicate aims to enable and inspire others; as well as Paul Errington, the UK’s ‘gravel guru’ previously organising the infamous Dirty Reiver event and Grinduro Scotland, who among other roles is a 3T XPDTN3 ambassador; Russell Stout from Scottish adventure bike brand Shand Cycles; Euan Camlin, a photographer and ambassador for Straight Cut Design; Neil Wilson, a guide from OffTheGridMTB and a local to the area; the amazingly talented filmmaker Chris McLean (who not only had to ride but film it all too); and me, Ed Shoote, regional coordinator for Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS), and the photographer and blogger behind WeLoveMountains.
What and where are the Cairngorms, exactly?
The Cairngorms are encompassed by a mountainous National Park that protects a pretty unique area in the north east of Scotland. From primeval pine forests to the high Cairngorm Plateau where the shattered and slab rock terrain is more like the ground found in Arctic Canada or northern Norway. It is certainly one of the wildest areas and most intact native ecosystems in the UK. On the Cairngorm plateau also comes the threat of blizzards any month of the year, and it’s the only place in the United Kingdom where snow can lie from winter to winter. With no roads transecting the National Park, bikes are the best way to explore the network of ancient paths and tracks, making it perfect for bikepacking.
The landscapes are incredible. Would you say the best bikepacking in Scotland found in the Cairngorms?
Scotland has so many amazing places to go on bikepacking adventures, with the open access laws meaning any track or path can be ridden responsibly, but personally I keep going back to the Cairngorms time and again. It is probably the best place to start bikepacking in Scotland, because it has a great network of established paths and tracks that can be linked up pretty easily for multi-day trips. However, the riding and terrain still takes you on a proper journey into remote and wild country, so you need to be well prepared.
It looks like you encountered all the elements on this trip. Did they present the biggest challenge?
It was meant to be a nice easy ride along part of the Cairngorms loop, making a film along the way! However, in November the days are short and the weather is pretty unpredictable and we saw the full force of that. In these damp conditions, the cold can really creep into you, which wasn’t helped by a few high rivers we had to cross. The biggest challenge was just as the light was fading a blizzard arrived, bringing the first big snows of the winter on the mountains. Chris stopped to film a few shots because the setting was breathtakingly beautiful with the dark mountains and the fresh snow encroaching upon us, but we were soon down to zero visibility and that hypnotic blindness you get from lights reflecting falling snow. It was lucky the experienced group all ‘enjoyed’ the battle against the elements after a long day on the bike, and we got down safely for the overnight stay. I guess the buzz you get from adventure is when you’re outside your comfort zone, and everyone’s comfort zone is different!
What’s the story with Mar Lodge? It seems like such an interesting place.
We wanted to showcase that when riding in winter you don’t have to camp to have an adventure. I was told about a massive Victorian era hunting lodge in the Cairngorms, and the place was so surreal that I just had to organise a ride there. Mar Lodge is enormous, and decorated with stags heads everywhere, which didn’t sit too comfortably with the vegetarians amoug us. However if you’re always camping out in the mountains you can miss the local culture, so it’s good to mix it up sometimes.
Tell us about the camera gear used to film this.
The film was shot by Chris McLean using his Fuji X-T3 and RED Dragon for the riding bits. The drone footage was shot using the DJI Mavic Pro 2 Hasselblad drone, carried in a waterproof Ortlieb Velocity bag. This drone is an awesome piece of kit and survived flying in the wet conditions remarkably well!
Lastly, any advice for folks who are considering a trip to the Cairngorms?
Just go for it. The Cairngorms really are a beautiful part of the world and can be linked up with longer tours across the wider Highlands of Scotland. For those that don’t want a ‘full fight against the elements’ type adventure, then May and September are both typically warm and sunny months!
Interested in more from the Cairngorms? Check out our Cairngorms Loop bikepacking route, and stay tuned for a feature from the Cairngorms in the second issue of our printed publication, The Bikepacking Journal.