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Cycling through the Cateran Ecomuseum with adventurer and filmmaker Markus Stitz

Gayle pushing her bike up a steep section of the Hill of Alyth.
Gayle pushing her bike up a steep section of the Hill of Alyth.

Gayle cycles one of seven adventurous new trails created by Markus Stitz in the glorious Cateran Ecomuseum.

Yellow flowers whizz by at what seems like breakneck speed as I hurtle down the Hill of Alyth.

I’m on a cycling adventure with Markus Stitz and we’re checking out one of seven new trails he’s created in the Cateran Ecomuseum – a “museum with no walls”.

Thousands of gorse bushes pepper the hill and fill our nostrils with their coconutey aroma. Get too close and we risk being pricked by their sharp, unforgiving spikes, as I discover later.

Today’s cycle is, for me, a tough one. I’m not what you’d call a regular cyclist – the only bike I own is an ancient, rusting beast I was given aged 12.

Right now, it’s in Aberdeenshire and, despite having pimped it up at the start of lockdown amidst a flurry of good intentions to “get out cycling”, it’s been languishing in a shed ever since.

Luckily, Neil Tuer of Alyth Cycles is happy to lend me a state-of-the-art mountain bike and helmet for my afternoon ride with Markus.

Neil Tuer lends Gayle a bike.

The plan is to head up to the trig point at the top of the hill and head back to base via Alyth bike park and a patch of community woodland.

Within seconds of attempting to tackle a steep, stoney farm track – part of the Cateran Trail – I’m sweating profusely and my heart rate is through the roof.

Markus, aka “Mr Legs of Steel”, meanwhile is off like a shot. At a gate, the route leaves the Cateran Trail and follows a trail heading for the summit.

Gayle struggles to get going while Markus powers on up the hill.

The views across to the Sidlaw Hills, the Angus Glens and down into the Strathmore valley, are stunning.

It’s a great opportunity to pause here a while, take some photos and catch my breath.

Rolling grassy trails are in abundance and it’s fun to speed down them but not quite so fun to ride back up and on several occasions I admit defeat, dismounting and pushing my bike along. I may be fit, but I’m most definitely not bike-fit!

Enjoying the view from the summit of Hill of Alyth.

As we zip through thick forest, Markus gleefully informs me we’re almost at the bike park. I’m not the niftiest, so when faced with obstacles like ramps, exposed tree roots, rocks and berms (steeply banked corners), I freak out. It’s best to be relaxed and, in Markus’s words, “let the bike roll over them”.

Approaching one particularly scary-looking berm, I slow almost to a halt and then, to my shame, topple sideways into a dead gorse bush. I spend a while plucking out prickles and then jump back on my bike, hoping Markus hasn’t noticed. It’s then smooth riding as we join a gentle track leading back to Alyth.

Zipping through woodlands.

As someone who doesn’t cycle often, I find the experience a brilliant workout – I suspect I’ll feel a wee bit saddle sore the next morning. Certainly, it’s whetted my appetite for more cycle adventures around the Cateran Ecomuseum – and there are plenty to choose from.

Bike trails

All seven trails devised by Markus can be accessed by mountain, gravel, road and touring bikes, and downloaded for free at cateranecomuseum.co.uk/explore/

They range from 8.3km to 109km and feature a variety of points of interest including stone circles, standing stones, ancient burial mounds, strange geological features, historic churches and wildlife reserves.

There are easy loops, flat, family-friendly and beginner routes, expeditions taking in mountain ridges (The Monega Pass Mountain Bike Adventure) and a route linking Alyth, Coupar Angus and Blairgowrie.

Gayle rides through gorse bushes.

A gravel bike route from Kirkmichael passes an old curling pond, heads through Kindrogan Forest and offers an extension for more adventurous riders which passes the site of Bronze Age roundhouses.

Other itineraries include the Loch of Lintrathen road bike tour, a meander through Glenisla forest, a stravaig through Drimmie Woods, and a wildlife mountain bike tour through Bamff Estate with the chance to spot beavers!

Gayle descends the Hill of Alyth.

Basically, there’s a trail for everyone, whether novice cyclist, expert offroader or Danny MacAskill wannabe.

Markus – who is the first person to ride a single speed bike round the world – hopes the new itineraries will encourage more people to get on their bikes.

Free to access

Since launching Bikepacking Scotland in 2016, he’s created bikepacking and cycling routes across Scotland, all of which are free to access online.

During lockdown he teamed up with Blairgowrie-born cycling star Mark Beaumont to make a film about exploring their local area.

The pals created a collection of routes around Edinburgh, and followed this with 23 routes based around Scottish boundaries.

The idea of creating new cycling trails around the Cateran Ecomuseum – in tandem with a film titled Built to Last – occurred to Markus in 2019, when he first visited the area.

Gayle and Markus hanging out in woods near Alyth.

The stunning documentary features Bob Ellis, founder of the Cateran Trail, Neil Tuer, owner of Alyth Cycles and Jane Wilkinson, willow weaver at Special Branch Baskets.

It’s part of the Travel for All Our Tomorrows scheme which aims to develop “regenerative tourism” experiences in the Ecomuseum.

Gayle navigates Alyth bike park.

“Most of my projects have been driven by my interest in history and this one encourages people to think about how they travel,” says Markus.

“Climate change and the impact of my actions on future generations concerns me deeply. I’d like to offer positive alternatives to our car-focused culture.

“The joy of cycling depends on a connection with people and places, and the Ecomuseum has provided exactly that.

“Being able to share routes I enjoyed and portraying people like Bob, Jane and Neil, people that make the Cateran Ecomuseum such a special place, made this one of the most rewarding sustainable tourism projects I’ve worked on.”

Crossing a bridge in Alyth.

 

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