Teenage girl’s epic 1930s cycle trek through Highlands recreated in new film

It records a modern day epic that commemorates the 500-mile Highlands cycling adventure by a teenage girl and her sisters in the 1930s.

A new film released today charts the exploits of a group of three women who have retraced the youngsters’ ride between youth hostels from Glasgow to Skye, 85 years ago.

The six-day trek last October was staged by the Adventure Syndicate trio to mark Hostelling Scotland‘s 90th birthday and Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

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It was inspired by the discovery of a diary by 17-year-old Mary Harvie, who set off on the two-week trip with her two older sisters Ella and Jean from Shotts in Lanarkshire in 1936, by her son, Harvie Paterson.

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However, the Adventure Syndicate trio opted instead for a largely off-road 300-mile route, including challenging rocky sections where they had to carry their bikes, because the roads Harvie and her sisters used are much busier than in their day.

The 19-minute film, What would Mary do?, was premiered at the Fort William Mountain Festival yesterday.

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The cyclists – former mountain bike champion Lee Craigie, who is also the Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland, Philippa Battye and Alice Lemkes – are using the project to promote mental health through outdoor activity and cycling, as well as cycling as an accessible form of sustainable tourism.

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How a cycle and hostel holiday from 85 years ago has inspired a Scottish sustain...
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Adventure Syndicate members Alice Lemkes, Philippa Battye and Lee Craigie en route in the film. Picture: Maciek Tomiczek

They stayed at youth hostels – like their forebears – in Crianlarich, Glencoe, Ratagan, near Shiel Bridge, and Portree.

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Craigie said: “Our respect and admiration for Mary Harvie’s spirit grew the more we thought about the trip she made with her sisters.

“Mary's willingness to make the very best of every situation became our guiding mantra.

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"If we were cold, lacking enthusiasm or looking for the easy way out, we asked ourselves, 'What would Mary do?’.

Mary Harvie cycling with her sisters Ella and Jean
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Craigie told Cycling Scotland’s annual conference, weeks after the trip: “The three of us were living our best lives.

“For those six days of journeying together, my friends and I were wet and cold and often hungry, and yet happier and more content than we remembered being in ages.

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"While I rode, I found myself wondering if travelling by bike might be akin to travelling back in time – back to when pleasures were less complicated and a person didn’t have to switch their phone off first before remembering what it is that makes them happy.

"I wondered if what I was feeling out here was exactly what Mary had felt, and what someone doing the exact same thing in 100 years time would feel: joy, contentment, connection."

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Bikes had to be carried up sections of the route. Picture: Maciek Tomiczek

Lemkes said: “The film sends the message to women and girls that holidaying in the way we did, on the move and out in the wilds, is a brilliant, fun and nourishing thing to do.

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"Lots of adventure films are very serious – all about challenge. You won’t get much of that in this film.”

Hostelling Scotland chief executive Margo Paterson said: “We were delighted that Lee, Philippa and Alice shared our vision, and at a time when sustainable, active travel has never been more relevant, they have created a fantastic story of their own.

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"This has been brilliantly captured on film by Maciek Tomiczek, who has managed to tell a fantastic adventure story showcasing the outstanding beauty of Scotland, no matter what the weather.”

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