Seeing the familiar in an unfamiliar way

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24.02.22 at 9:00 am

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“The thing I love about the Explore your Boundaries concept is: It forced us to find routes which we never would have looked for. Often it felt like you were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and yet if I stopped and thought about it, I was only 25 miles from home.”  Mark Beaumont

The opening quote describes why we came up with the idea of Explore Your Boundaries. When the second lockdown at the end of 2020 grounded us in Edinburgh, Mark Beaumont and I downloaded the boundaries of Scottish councils as GPX files, mostly out of curiosity. We then made good use of Komoot’s ‘Match route to known ways’ function, where the app will replan parts of the route along best alternative ways. The routes won’t be matched exactly, but with the closest paths that are cycleable, at least on most occasions. To use our local knowledge and route planning experience, we then used the different map layers in the app to fine tune the routes, e.g. the Open Cycle Map, Komoot Cycling Map and Satellite Map.

With this process we mapped 24 different routes around Scotland’s councils, with the aim to explore the few that were within the restrictions we faced until the spring, and more once that was possible again. We made a start with the route in Edinburgh on 2 January, in full-blown winter conditions. Cycling the Edinburgh boundary route brought home the fact that although we never ventured far away from home, we had a proper adventure.

The planning of the routes also allowed us to see a country with different eyes. For me the planning of a trip is almost as important as the trip itself, as it allows me to dig deeper into the history of a place, understand its geography and its people. In the step of manually adjusting the routes after we had auto-matched them to existing paths, I managed to include points of interest I either knew well or those I was keen to find out more about. Simply by looking at a map of a certain place I discovered features I wasn’t aware of. At times I used the brilliantly-useful Heritage Paths website from Scotways, the Scottish Rights of Way Association, to trace paths on older maps. This helped me to see an area in a different, unfamiliar way.

Explore Your Boundaries allowed us to change our perspectives and find new ways to break the monotonous cycle of lockdowns. But the change of perspective can be achieved in many different ways. It doesn’t have to be an overnight adventure or a longer trip to see the familiar in an unfamiliar way. Even a cycle home from work or a weekend ride can be a great opportunity to experience things in unusual ways. Cycling at night offers a different focus and let’s you experience your surroundings in a unique fashion. 

seeing the familiar in an unfamiliar way

Using the seasonal changes also brings a lot of variety. My friend Gunnar once gave me the tip that he uses his rides in winter to spot great bivvy places for the summer, as the lack of leaves on the trees allows for finding perfect places for hiding in summer. And those lucky enough to have snow in winter will possibly agree with me that everything just looks that little bit more pretty covered under a white blanket.

“Our respect and admiration for Mary Harvie’s spirit grew and grew the more we thought about the trip she made with her sisters in 1936. In her diaries Mary comes across as someone totally up for a challenge, really curious, full of energy and above all, humble and understated about the things she did. Mary’s willingness to stay in each moment and make the very best of every situation became our guiding mantra. If we were cold, lacking enthusiasm or looking for the easy way out we asked ourselves, ‘What would Mary do?’. She developed superhuman attributes by the end of our trip.” Lee Craigie

And while Mark and I were inspired by the boundaries of Scottish councils, the lockdown also motivated Harvie Paterson to transcribe the poignant and insightful diaries written by 17-year-old Mary Harvie, from Shotts, Lanarkshire. In her diaries from the summer of 1936 she recounts her epic two-week 500-mile cycle and hostelling holiday she took with her two sisters Ella and Jean, exploring the North West Highlands, Skye, Highland Perthshire and Stirlingshire, both on and off the bike. 

Mary’s diaries inspired Lee Craigie, Alice Lemkes and Philippa Battye from the Adventure Syndicate to recreate this journey last October for ‘What would Mary do?’ – a stunning film from Maciek Tomiczek. Mary’s story from her diaries allowed Lee, Philippa and Alice experiencing Scotland from an unfamiliar perspective, that of a woman, who almost a century ago rode her bike with friends and experienced the joys of hostelling.

Often a change of perspective can be achieved quite easily, at other times it requires more personal initiative or the help of good friends. But even if there is more effort required to see the familiar in an unfamiliar way, it is certainly worth it.

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