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Mark Beaumont pushes the limits as he heads to the Highlands to talk North Coast 500, gravel riding and more

By John Davidson

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John Davidson spoke to adventure cyclist and film-maker Mark Beaumont as he brings his Faster tour to Eden Court in Inverness next week

Mark Beaumont at John O'Groats at the end of the GBDURO. Picture: Markus Stitz
Mark Beaumont at John O'Groats at the end of the GBDURO. Picture: Markus Stitz

Adventure cyclist and film-maker Mark Beaumont has seen some sights over the years on his round-the-world rides and epic bike challenges in South America and elsewhere.

But home is where the heart is for the 40-year-old father of two, who is from Perthshire and now lives in Edinburgh.

He is currently touring the UK and is looking forward to a trip to the Highlands next week, a place he is drawn back to time and again, whether for record-breaking rides around the North Coast 500 or for more sedate two-wheeled fun.

"It’s been a number of years since I’ve been in Eden Court and it’s always a good crowd," he tells me. "I think the unique thing about Inverness is that it’s got such a wide catchment compared to down south. Down there, people will travel maybe 15 miles to a show, where as in Inverness people will come from Skye, from all over, so it’s always amazing.

"There’s been a lot [of adventures] closer to home and I think part of that is a reaction to what’s happened in the last three or four years and appreciating home in a different way, and I think we’ve all done that.

"But it’s also the fact that I’ve got two young daughters and I genuinely don’t want to be going away for six-month expeditions to the other side of the planet."

I remind Mark that probably the last time we spoke was getting on for 20 years ago, when he was preparing for his first round-the-world bike trip and I was a rookie reporter in Glasgow.

Flashback to Mark's build-up to his first round-the-world cycle challenge which he completed in 2008.
Flashback to Mark's build-up to his first round-the-world cycle challenge which he completed in 2008.

He laughs at how unprofessional and unprepared he was back then (that makes two of us!). But that experience – and many a little closer to home before that – stood him in good stead for a career which he is perfectly suited to.

"My career has been two things – riding a bike and making films," he says. "I think the film-making side of it has always been front and centre of it alongside the riding a bike. It’s not an afterthought.

"The very first thing I did before that round-the-world trip the first time was get it commissioned by the BBC, and it’s always been a huge part of what I do.

"I think sometimes people miss that and think 'Mark’s a bike rider'. I’m a broadcaster and so with that in mind I ask what’s the story that people care about, that they want to hear. My athletic 'want' to push myself and each year take on different things is one thing, but it’s not the complete story."

Storytelling is at the heart of what Mark does, and he's keen to talk about his films, including ones made with Inverness's own Jenny Graham and fellow adventure biker Markus Stitz.

The Bealach na Ba climb on the North Coast 500. Picture: Markus Stitz
The Bealach na Ba climb on the North Coast 500. Picture: Markus Stitz

He finds that audiences relate more directly to these Scottish projects, where people know the place and understand the challenge.

He says: "We’ve done films with Jenny and Markus and with these projects closer to home, it’s interesting how people relate to them, because when you’re out there doing stuff in Patagonia or Mongolia, people find it interesting but it’s very hard to relate to, whereas when you do a big gravel route in the Cairngorms or you do a whisky and riding film on Islay and Jura, or smash the North Coast 500 record, I think people really get it.

"The NC500 in particular was an amazing race but it was also an amazing reaction, with people going, ‘I know that, I know it’s a hilly old route and it’s a beautiful tough route that people might typically do in two weeks’ so I think people really got that.

"It’s interesting now that I’m 40 and have got my own family, to come back and appreciate adventure in Scotland in a different way – and to try to get the next generation into it has been really fun."

A lot of the rides Mark is remembered for are the fastest or the furthest – his current UK talks tour is even called Faster. Does he ever want to slow it down and take a deep breath?

"It’s a fine balance," he explains. "Each year I try to take on one or two projects that are purely about the physicality, purely about the athleticism, purely about racing, but there’s a good balance of projects where it’s more about place and who I’m with.

Mark Beaumont heads to Inverness next week. Picture: Markus Stitz
Mark Beaumont heads to Inverness next week. Picture: Markus Stitz

"So if you take some of the Explore Your Boundaries films that we’ve made and getting into gravel riding in the last few years, you never judge those rides by your speed and your power – it’s about the photographs and the people you’ve met.

"So for me, I’m not a racer in the traditional sense although I’ve always had that competitive edge. I've tried to do one or two firsts or fastests each year, but it’s getting the balance between that and other things.

"Those races are a bit one-dimensional. I mean the North Coast 500 is fantastic, it’s great to get that out of your system, but in 2019 I filmed exactly the same route as a bikepacking trip going off the traditional route and finding roads off the A9, so it’s a balance of the two.

"When we made a film about GBDURO – which is the gravel race form Land’s End to John O’Groats, going through the north of Scotland – we made a conscious choice to not just tell the athletes’ stories, but the story that we told was exploring wild parts of the UK that you might not have seen, and it was about sustainability – making a film without taking a car – and it was about showcasing who was in the race, half of the top 10 finishers were women.

"These were stories we chose to tell. We could have easily told a different story, but I think you’ve got an opportunity to tell a broader and more interesting story and that’s what's at the front of my mind.

"And that speaks to who comes to the events – you think it would be serious hardcore roadies but it’s not, it’s theatre-goers, retired people, it’s kids, it’s anyone who has an interest in travel and a bit of wanderlust. To fill Eden Court with 500 people, it’s clearly a pretty broad church."

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