Interview with British adventurer Mark Beaumont
British adventurer Mark Beaumont cycled Scotland's North Coast 500 (NC500) non-stop in 37 hours and completed a record-breaking 18,000 mile cycle around the world. Carys Matthews caught up with Mark to find out how the wild Scottish landscape inspired him as an athlete.
You’ve achieved some incredible feats across the world, but what’s been your greatest experience outdoors in Britain?
Recently I did a non-stop ride around the North Coast 500, which is actually a 520 mile loop from Inverness Castle, west to Applecross, up to Durness, over to John O’Groats and back down again. It is a phenomenal route and over 10,000m of ascent.
Photo credit: Road to Glencarron - ©GMG Galleries
I set a fastest time on that which was 37hrs 55mins, I had never gone for over 500 miles non-stop before, but what really touched me about that route was it being the least inhabited corner of the British Isles, yet the support from locals was absolutely phenomenal. Every town and village came out to support the ride and it gathered momentum with loads of people getting on their bikes and joining me for sections.
It is a beautiful part of the British Isles which is often overlooked; I loved exploring and I am taking that as inspiration to get back this year and explore more of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Over the years, I have had lots of opportunities to explore Scotland, I grew up on a farm in Perthshire and I did not got to school until I was twelve; so from a very early age I was in the hills adventuring, and this is what gave me the inspiration to build a career in adventure sports.
How did you find riding the NC500? Any tips for people who want to ride it?
My greatest advice for the North Coast 500 is to not do it non-stop!
I did it very much as a publicity stunt to get people inspired and interested in the North of Scotland and to get people out on their bikes. It is a very safe part of the UK to cycle as the roads are so quiet, but it is very, very hilly. I would advise people to plan ahead and book ahead if they are planning to stay in hotels or hostels, as there are not so many options up there.
To really enjoy the route, do no more than 100 miles a day, so you are looking at five to seven days and you can have a wonderful journey around the North of Scotland. I'd also recommend going with friends.
It is an amazing route to explore: the seafood on the West Coast, the scenery, there are amazing art galleries and wildlife to see around the summer isles too.
You were very young when you first cycled across Scotland – any tips for aspiring young adventurers? How was the experience for you?
I certainly never planned to make a career doing big expeditions like this. It very much came from one ambition leading onto the next and getting bigger and bigger over the years.
Even when I set out to cycle around the world, I had no idea that it would open the doors to actually make a career out of this. Just get out there, if you have got an idea for a journey and for sharing a journey, then get out there and make it happen.
Photo credit: Mark Beaumont
We have all got great ideas, we have always got big ambitions, but very few people actually have the willpower to get to the start line; I always say that the hardest bit is to get to the start of these big expeditions. Starting young is also key if you can, as after education you then go onto professional life and it gets harder and harder to take on big ambitions like this. I am now 33-years-old and if I were now to try and make it with a young family, mortgage and all the responsibilities of adult life it would be a lot more difficult.
Starting as a teenager or early in your twenties definitely gives you a head start building experience, so that over the years you can get better at not just doing these journeys, but then sharing them; that is what gives you the means to make a career out of doing these things.
A tough one, but what do you think is the most beautiful sight in Britain?
For me, it is always going to be the great outdoors, whether it is the South-West with the coastline around Cornwall and Devon, North Wales and the mountains of Snowdonia or The Lake District across to The Peak District; then of course the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
I think the best of that would be the West coast; Argyll and up around the Isle of Skye and Applecross. Often it is about taking yourself to these wild places and exploring them in a different way, so by foot or by bike; or waking up in a tent in a wild spot and just creating these memories that last an absolute lifetime. I always try to pack my trainers, or if I can, take my bike so I can explore different parts of the UK - I am always surprised by what I find.
Choosing an absolute favourite, I am always going to choose Scotland, and it would have to be the Applecross peninsula.
Photo credit: Applecross peninsula, Scotland/iStock
Favourite journey in Britain?
When it comes to talking about the bike, people get very hung up on Lands End to John O’Groats, and do not get me wrong that is a fantastic cycle. It is a wonderful end-to-end route, which gives you a cross-section of the whole of England, Scotland and Wales.
However in my opinion, there are more interesting cycle routes. I am always going to be biased and come back to the bike, as it is a way to see a lot in incredible detail, as opposed to walking where you obviously cannot cover so much ground. I love the fact that you are so tuned in to the world around you when you’re on a bike.
A shorter route that is breathtaking is the Great Glen in Scotland, which is only 60-70 miles long, but passes Fort Augustus, via Fort William, up to Inverness. It is fairly flat following the banks of Loch Ness and you have got three great lochs there too. It is beautiful and you can do it over a day or two; I have cycled that and I have taken a rowing boat the length of the Lochs and canals.
You go from the East to the West coast in a staggeringly beautiful and interesting way; so again, spoilt for choice, but as my favourite journey in Britain, I would choose the Great Glen.
If you were a British wild animal, what would you be?
I enjoy flying, so seeing Britain from the air would have to be on my wish list. Once again, being biased and being Scottish, we are spoilt for birds of prey.
To see Britain from above I would be some sort of a Falcon or Eagle. The question is a wild animal, but if we can broaden that out to include birds, I choose to see Britain from the air.
What one thing would you change about the British countryside?
I would open out the right to roam. I would allow horse riders, cyclists, walkers, following the country code of course, to get out and explore all of the natural beauty we have.
Of course it is harder in more heavily farmed and industrial areas, but the ability to get out and enjoy our great outdoors is a national treasure and something we should all have access to.
We need to have the opportunity to connect to the landscape and wild places, and we must do everything we can to promote that. The Scandinavian model really works and in Scotland we have some of those freedoms, but it needs to be opened out to the whole of the UK so that people in Wales and England can really enjoy wild places and not be restricted to bridle ways and walkers’ paths.
Mountain or Ocean?
A very easy one for me; always the mountains. I have done my fair share of ocean rowing and sailing, had some big accidents out there as well, but I have always really been a real land lover; and the more I have gone off shore, the more I have realised that it is the change in every day that is massively important to my motivation on journeys - changing landscapes, people, places, cultures.
The challenge with the oceans is there is nothing out there, it is just big waves and little waves, mariners take refuge in that; they love that space, but for me it is not why I go on journeys.
Photo credit: Mark Beaumount
I grew up in the foothills of the highlands of Scotland and that is definitely where I feel most at home.
Are you a pasty or pie lover?
I do not really have a strong preference on pasty or pie, but I guess typically in Scotland it is a pie opposed to a pasty. Pie and gravy, though it does not often happen!
What’s your next challenge and will it be on the bike or something else…?
I am firmly back on the bike, having kind of gone full circle and I am back where I started with life on two wheels. Having tried so many different sports and endurance challenges, it is quite nice to come back to what I think I am best at and what I enjoy most.
For 2015 it was all about the Africa World record, setting that at 160 miles a day and taking 18 days off the old world record.
I hope that over the next three or four years we will look back and see that as another building block or training ride towards what I think is possible. I feel like I am becoming a better bike rider and as long as that carries on, I will have the fire in my belly to keep pushing these ambitions.
In terms of the specifics of what those expeditions are, you will have to watch this space, but they are in planning. It has been great to get back to being a full-time athlete after being a TV presenter ahead of the Commonwealth Games for the BBC.
It is a journey I really enjoy sharing with my young family and pushing my abilities in the next couple of years as a bike rider is a huge part of what I am about.
Mark Beaumont was speaking at the Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show taking place at the London ExCeL from February 11-14. For more information: telegraphoutdoorshow.co.uk
For more infomation on Mark, visit: markbeaumontonline.com