Tom’s Fairly Long Ride - the Mull to Muckle: Looking back, looking forward.
It started in July. Well, actually, it started the previous December, during which I first became interested in planning, plotting, mapping and generally dreaming of a long-distance cycle run. One which, preferably hadn’t been done before. Which I could do while in my 56-year-old state of fatness and unfitness without much preparation. Dream on, my wife said.
And then I realised that no-one seemed to have cycled from one extreme of Scotland to the other. Meaning from the Mull of Galloway in the south to the Muckle Flugga lighthouse shore station (Saxa Vord is probably further north, and so is one remote cottage, but I was in the mood for lighthouses) on Unst, Shetland. Lighthouse to Lighthouse. 437 miles, if I opted for the Aberdeen-to-Shetland ferry. Which I did, vowing to complete the Perth-Inverness-Orkney route another day. Or year.
I could only afford a week off work, and for logistical reasons had to knock off the Shetland Mainland and Island of Yell sections in advance. After that it was train and car to Galloway and we were off.
It was called The Fairly Long Ride as the ride was going to publicise the Fair Trade cause and would be supported by - as well as supporting - Scottish Fair Trade Forum. I put together an hour-long musical show to perform en route - Tom’s Fairly Good Show, and preparing this had me wrestling with some of the central issues relating to Fair Trade economics. I will never forget the long conversation in Inverness Station with my friend George from Ghana. He was idealistic and uncompromisingly pragmatic:
“We need structural change. We need local control of commodity prices. But I’m in favour of the Fair Trade movement. It makes things better. It makes things a little less unfair.”
I was - am - proud of The Fairly Good Show and disappointed that the Edinburgh show had to be cancelled and that so few people came to the Glasgow one. There was even a Fair Trade wine tasting, with wine expert John Lamond! All the more liquid for those who did come, even though I was related to most of the audience. But the show was performed successfully, with guest Martin Meteyard, at the Belladrum Festival in August, and will soon be available in part to watch and listen to online.
I met with Fair Trade Groups in Girvan, Prestwick - I spoke at a school assembly there - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen, and the whole thing was filmed, courtesy of Promote Shetland. You can see the finished films, read more and see some pictures at http://mull2muckle.blogspot.com . Edinburgh was particularly inspiring, as there was cake, MSPs and news that a motion congratulating me on the trip had been put before the Scottish Parliament. even though at the time I was only halfway there.
There was considerable media interest, in print, radio and on television, and I think the trip raised Fair Trade awareness considerably. It was clear that the more committed and active the local Fair Trade group, the more effective my visit was in gaining public and media attention. It was also evident that there is great enthusiasm in Scotland for Fair Trade, and that events can this are one way of tapping into that.
I was fat, I was unfit, and some of the journey was very hard. The perplexing detours involved in following National Cycle Route One were often infuriating. I can assure you that there is NO cycle path next to the A90 from the south end of Stonehaven to the north. That stony bit is a drainage ditch, and no place to try and walk, pushing a fully-loaded touring bike. The Forth and Clyde and Union Canal route between Glasgow and Edinburgh is in parts dangerous, crumbling and downright scary.
The weather was on the whole very good, and my final morning, arriving at the Muckle Flugga shore station, was idyllic. My thanks to Scottish Fair Trade Forum for all that they did, all the Fair Trade folk I met along the way, Fairpley Ltd, Precious Productions and Promote Shetland.
For anyone interested, I rode a Surly Long Haul Trucker steel bike with a 20-year old Brooks B17 saddle, and used Avenir and Ortlieb panniers. I didn’t have a single puncture in my Continental Sport Contact Urban Hybrid Tyres, which only needed a tiny amount of air, once. It took me nine days. Afterwards, I weighed exactly the same as I did when I started. But I did eat a lot.
Next year I’m planning to cycle the Perth-Inverness-Orkney leg. I hope other folk will tackle the Mull2Muckle as THE Scottish Fair Trade cycle route. It is a Fairly Long Ride. But it’s worth it!
(This was written for the Scottish Fair Trade forum website)