The 6th of April is a day that will echo throughout history for this is the day that the Voodoo Unicycles Scottish Highlands Unicycling Tour began.
It’s a story of numbers: 370, the number of miles from Edd’s home to my home, the first pit stop on Friday night. 3.5, the number of hours from Edinburgh to Inverness, where we picked up our home and transport for the week courtesy of Loch Ness Motorhomes. 7, the number of days on the road. 120, the number of miles from John O’Groats we got to, the most northern point in the UK. 4, Jason Auld, Mike Taylor, Edd and Alfred Hawkes, the riders who would tackle the Western Highlands.
When we arrived in Inverness, we picked up the beast that was the Ford Tribute, bigger and better equipped than most student accommodation I’ve had the pleasure of staying in. Edd Hawkes was our pilot and we managed to keep the inevitable scramble for shotgun to a minimum, rotating in a civilised fashion.
First stop on the trip, across a small bridge to the local Lidl where we stocked up on instant noodles and vermouth at a very modest price. This would form the foundation of our Highland diet. Breakfast was covered by Stoats, porridge pots in the morning, porridge bars to snack on.
The first filming stop was a completely average, unknown, generic bridge in the middle of nowhere. We were eager to get some footage in the can so Mike jumped up on the rail, Tim (our film maker from Beard Askew productions who documented the adventure) hid in the bushes next to the river and shot it. Excited to try out the goodies we’d be given by HedCamz.com, Mike was strapped up with the Isaw pointing upwards (we all agreed this was superior to the GoPro) and the HedCamz own model, one of the smallest cameras I’ve ever seen, attached to the frame of the Uni. After spending some time on this, we quickly realised that we couldn’t stop at every river, hill, bridge or picturesque landscape as they were as common as chewing gum on the pavement.
We shot up to Loch Ness, an iconic spot infamous for it’s fabled monster. No sign of it but we did spot some novelty condoms in the gift shop. We then continued North where we got the first opportunity to ride as a team at Eilean Donan Castle near Skye. It was the location for the Highlander films, a black and white picture of which was hung on the wall next to the entry fees. After seeing both, we decided not to go in and shoot on the surrounding rocks.
The Isle of Skye was our aim for the night, in particular, a campsite where we could recharge the camera batteries and take a shower. We passed through Portree and shot a couple of lines there, which ended in an approach from the ubiquitous alcoholic Scotsman, asking to be filmed. En route to camp, we passed one of our filming targets, the Old Man of Storr, a breathtaking rock formation situated close to the sea. As we looked to the right, we couldn’t help but stop. Parking up, we soaked in one of the most breathtaking views any of us had ever seen. The sunset on the coast had turned the hills a bloody red and the turquoise of the sea only increased the intensity of the sight. This was our chance to break out Alfred’s quadcopter and attach the Isaw camera. We managed to get an amazing combo of Trials and Muni before the copter crash landed on the side of the cliff, out of action on day one.
Day two saw our first chance at MUni, little did we know trekking up the Old Man of Storr would be like a deleted scene from the Narnia films. Snow had completely covered the mountain and we couldn’t even see the unique rock formation from the thick mist. We ventured up anyway, hoping to take advantage of the bright white canvas. Our ATW bobble hats seemed like a fashion accessory but they came into their own in this winter wonderland. We made it to the top, I didn’t even bother taking my Uni but Alfred and Edd managed to tame the terrain on their 24″.
Surreal moment number one, we met a friendly lady on the way down who said she’d heard Voodoo Unicycles were going to be in Skye and wanted a picture for her daughters. Obviously we obliged because we love our fans. Surreal moment number two, we reached the bottom of the mountain, no sign of any snow as if the whole thing had been a dream. It was a beautiful day and the only reminder of the cold and wet conditions were in my shoes. This diversity of conditions set the tone for the rest of the trip.
Still on Skye, we checked off another of our targets, the Fairy Pools. No, it wasn’t a Gay Club, it was like nothing we’d ever seen before. A river, making it’s way across a valley, surrounded by snow capped mountains, with waterfalls delicately splashing the rocks below. It was as if they’d dumped the set of Lord of the Rings here, once filming had finished. The jewel in the crown of this spot was the underwater arch. With good intentions to jump in and film with the Isaw one of us swimming under the arch, we saw a couple of idiots who had already jumped in, risking hyperthermia and decided to ask them instead. Tim was disappointed when he saw no clear route to the arch but somehow, Mike pulled his best Spiderman impression and managed to navigate his way onto the arch. Probably the most beautiful still stand I’ve ever witnessed, despite my heart in my mouth, hoping Mike wouldn’t end up in the water. Another casualty of the trip, my plastic pedals. Stupidly opting to drop my uni down the hill, it bounced a bit too hard and snapped my left pedal.
Day 3 started with a sunrise, well, it did for most of us but Mike remained in bed because he’d “seen the sun before”. Tim had stayed up all night, literally, suffering for his art, taking the opportunity to get a time lapse of the stars, which were particularly vivid without the light pollution of a major town or city to blanket their sparkle. A return trip to Portree saw me fork out a stupid sum for some Raleigh pedals which turned out to be a great purchase. Tim was eager for me to ride some concrete (the irony of going to the Highlands and looking for flat, man made surfaces was wasted on none of us) and this was gifted to us in the shape of a dam. We collectively decided we were going to ride down a sharp incline on one side. It was only when we got to the top and mounted that we realised what we’d let ourselves in for. With a steep drop of around 30ft on one side, 3 shots later, we were ready to take our hearts out of our mouths and never do anything like that again.
The day concluded with us skimming stones on the beach in Ullapool. The beach was covered in pebbles, perfectly flat, smooth and circular, as if they’d be planted there for that exact purpose. We watched the sun go down, as the familiar orange light carpeted the sea, as still as the water in a swimming pool.
A knock at the window of the camper was how Day 4 started. The campsite owner urging us to seize the day as he seized his payment. We messed around in the camper for most of the day, filming a satirical version of Cribs and filling our fridge with SuperNatural energy drink in an effort to feel like rappers.
The double days continued though as we drove off in search of a castle for me to wax up and grind. We found it, in the shape of Ardvreck Castle near Lochinver. Along with watching Mike jump between two towers ala Dan Heaton’s jump in Japan featured in Universe 2, we managed to rig up a grind rail using an old, rusty gate and some rocks from the loch side. Thinking this would be a token effort, it turned out to be one of the best sessions we’d had so far. The rest of the evening was then spent in a tiny pub in Lochinver, a quaint fishing village. 2 pints deep, Mike got challenged by a local lady to a game of pool. It didn’t end there but unfortunately none of us will know whether this could have been the start of something beautiful as last orders was at a 11 and we ended up playing a ridiculous drinking game with a coin back in the camper and drinking box wine and vermouth mixed with SuperNatural.
We didn’t really see Thursday morning but Thursday afternoon brought with it another fantastic opportunity to ride natural Trials. We lost another good pedal in action, this time it was the turn of Edd’s metals. After getting some awesome footage under our belts with Tim’s signature slider, we continued up north in search of the white sand and translucent waters of the Atlantic that we’d heard rumours of. We settled in yet another campsite in order to juice up batteries and barely maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene. That night, we ventured down to the beach, which looked like a scene from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and lit a campfire. It was incredible. I’ve lived in Scotland my whole life but never did I think I could have experience the feeling of being on a tropical island in what is commonly viewed as a cold, wet and miserable part of the world.
It was the kind of place you never want to leave and so we lingered there on Friday, shooting some more MUni on the cliffs overlooking the bay.
We knew we needed to start heading South in order to return the camper on Saturday morning but we couldn’t leave without at least visiting the Kylesku bridge. We’d studied multiple pictures of this span, in an effort to see if it was possible to ride. None of us felt particularly comfortable about seeing any of the team ride this, that is, apart from Mike who was the only one with the ability to do so. Tim told me he wasn’t going to let Mike ride it, it was simply too dangerous. If I’m honest, these are the kind of things that attract me the most, high risk, high reward but even I felt a bit sick merely contemplating watching Mike ride the rail. Thankfully, I didn’t need to. I was riding shotgun with Tim and we got separated on the drive to the bridge. When we arrived the lads looked shaken and were ready to leave. We could only oblige and finished the day with a breathtaking view of the sunset.
Saturday came and went and saw the trip end in great fashion. My Unicycle had barely managed to keep it together, my spokes were for display purpose only, my tyre was tearing and held on my a thread and I was paranoid that my seat post was about to shatter into a million pieces. I stilled managed to get my favourite shot of the trip next to a lighthouse, 20 minutes from Inverness.
What can I say about this journey? I think I speak for the whole crew when I say it’s an experience we’ll never forget. Before I witnessed the Scottish Highlands, I would maybe have wrestled with an answer to the question of “What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?”. Now I can answer with conviction and without a shred of hesitation, “Scotland is the most beautiful place I’ve experienced”.
We were riding most days for up to 12 hours, 10 times more than any of us do back home. For me, this was a wake up call which lead me to ask myself just how wisely and efficiently do I use my time. It’s the only thing we can’t buy and it’s the only thing we can’t get back once it’s gone. I remember a quote that said “If you wake up more than 2 days in a row and don’t think you could spend the rest of your life this way, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re using your time”.
There is something incredibly empowered about setting a goal and achieving it. This journey was a dream and together we made it a reality. If we can learn anything from this it’s that the only obstacle in our paths is our own perception of our limits. I urge everyone, if you have an idea in your head, a dream that you want to achieve, don’t just let it fester, gathering dust in the deep recesses of your imagination. Do everything you can to make it happen, I’m glad I did.
Check out the full photo gallery and keep an eye out for the video, coming soon!
Words by Jason Auld
Photos by Edd Hawkes
Loch Ness Motorhomes
First and foremost we’d like to thank Alan Hogan and Loch Ness Motorhomes. They kindly donated the campervan to us for a week, without which, none of this trip would have been possible.
The van was amazing and we all agreed that it was the best way to see the highlands. You are completely self sufficent and are free to roam as you please. The diesel heating is an excellent touch for keep you warm on those chilly April evenings. The van comes complete with everything you could possible need for a camping trip to the highlands, all you need to take is clothes, bedding and food.
We highly reccomend booking a holiday with Loch Ness Motorhomes. Why pay for expensive flights to a foreign land when we have the most breathtaking scenery we’ve ever seen right on our doorstep? For a fraction of the cost you can have an amazing time and see some truly remarkable sights. For more information or book, take a look at their website: www.lochnessmotorhomes.com
ATW Clothing Co
Big thanks to ATW Clothing for providing us with warm jumpers and bobble hats to keep us warm up the snowy mountains. At the begining of the trip the hats seemed like a bit of a fashion accessory but when it started snowing they came into their own. The quality of the gear and the range of designs really is great and we were proud to represent ATW during the tour. If you liked any of the gear you saw us wearing, you can buy it from www.atwclothing.com
Thanks to Stoats we never went hungry on the trip. They provided us with porridge pots and oat bars to keep us fueled in the highlands. The porridge pots were absolutely idea for camping, all we had to do was boil the kettle and they were ready in 5 minutes. We never had to waste much time cooking breakfast and the oat bars were great for sticking in our pockets and taking out riding. The flavours are great and we’d highly recommend Stoats as the ideal Muni snack food. You can visit their website and order here: http://www.stoatsporridgebars.co.uk/
Super!Natural are a fairly new energy drink but they have completely captured our hearts and we are all converted. Super!Natural is made from completely natural ingredients and isn’t packed with all sorts of arificial flavours, colours or sweetners. It doesn’t taste like any other energy drink out there and doesn’t leave you feeling jittery and wired. We all agreed that it was the best energy drink we had ever had and would all highly recommend you give it a try. Check them out at http://www.drinksupernatural.com/
Hedcamz were a late addition to our list of supporters for the trip but they were a very important player. They kindly sent us 2 cameras, the Isaw and their own Hedcamz camera.
We already had GoPros with us on the trip but they lay unused in the van as soon as we started using the Isaw. It’s easier to use, has a better image quality and comes with all the mounts straight out of the box. Even better, it uses the same mounting system as the GoPro, so we could use it with all of our existing GoPro mounts. We would highly recommend an Isaw.
The Hedcamz is tiny and is so easy to use. It has one button and can be mounted almost anywhere. It is very rugged and versatile, we were putting it in pools of water to film tough trials lines on the rocks. The mounts it comes with are simple and effective. We used the Hedcamz to strap to our unicycles and we never even noticed it there.
You can check out both these cameras and more on Hedcamz website: http://www.hedcamz.com/
Beard Askew Productions
Last but by no means least, we’d like to thanks Tim and Beard Askew productions. He came with us on the trip to shoot the video and put up with living in a van with us for a week. Tim knew exactly what he was doing and worked in an extremely professional manner. He was patient when it took us 100 tries at a line and never complained. Huge thanks to Tim and Beard Askew Productions. We’re looking forward to the video. You can check out their website here: http://www.beardaskew.com/