So, what do you think of our Seven Spirits of Scotland (Determination, Fun, Guts, Humour, Soul, Spark, and Warmth) – introduced to the world as part of our new global marketing campaign? I've been thinking about them a lot and how they capture the heart and soul of Scotland. Last month, I feel I lived through every single one of them at an event that has captured the spirit of the Highlands for over a decade.
Over a weekend in January for the last 11 years hundreds of brilliant lunatics have been gathering in Torachilty Forest between Strathpeffer and Contin in the Highlands for 24 hours of winter mountain bike racing, known as the Strathpuffer. This year I joined them after signing up as a soloist on a whim in June, not really knowing what I was getting into!
The warmth of welcome from the locals early in the morning was a very positive way to start the day. We got to Contin at about 6.30am and the site was supposed to open at 7am. Thankfully the marshals around were happy to let us in and actually guided us to an excellent parking spot as near to the event centre as we could get. I chatted to a couple of them for a while and they were really excited about the 24-hours ahead. They’d been volunteering their time for as long as the event had been running and by all accounts, without them it would be impossible to deliver. Throughout the event, the warmth of everyone’s personalities and the cheers you receive from spectators and pit crew certainly keep your #ScotSpirit high.
At 3am when you’re cold, wet, shattered and about to give up the only thing that keeps you going (apart from limitless supplies of cake) is a bit of banter with the other competitors. At that time in the morning no one is racing too hard, you’re just trying to keep a decent time and not fall asleep on your handlebars. At one point, I crashed pretty hard down a rocky slab and landed face first in a puddle. This in itself was not at all funny at the time but the proceeding japes and larks with other competitors certainly brought my spirits back up.
This is quite easy really. For me, riding my bike at any time is fun but what’s more fun that battering about on a bicycle for 24 hours in the Highlands…? The event centre where riders come in every lap to check in and get their time was constantly buzzing for the entire 24 hours and there was an endless party atmosphere.
My idea of fun…
To come up with this event and keep it going for 11 years, all the while improving year-on-year and making it an integral part of the community’s calendar is in itself a spark of genius from organiser Steve Macdonald.
I was told that a chap whose 65th birthday it was that day had chosen to celebrate his retirement by doing a solo effort. And sure enough at 10 am he came rolling in after 24 hours of cycling to a huge cheer from the spectators and other riders. A huge achievement.
Everyone. It takes a special sort of person to put themselves through that amount of discomfort for 24 hours straight and then wash their bikes, pack up their kit, eat some porridge and drive home to normal life. The majority of them will be there again next year too (hopefully me included) and they’ll all have boundless determination to eke out even one more lap than they managed this year.
My ‘determination’ face…
This one goes to the venue itself. A majestic part of the Highlands in the shadow of Ben Wyvis was our theatre of battle and what a theatre it was. To watch the light and conditions change over a 24 hour period was sublime and we were lucky to have a full moon at night and some blue sky in the few hours of daylight. Despite almost 1000 competitors and what must have been over 1000 pit crew, marshals, spectators and staff around, you were still able to find moments of solitude to drink in the majestic surroundings.
The seven spirits of Scotland have been incredibly well received. The campaign and corresponding hashtag #ScotSpirit was trending number 2 on Twitter in the UK and 18 worldwide on launch day.
What spirit does your business or event identify with? Please get involved in the campaign by showing you’ve #ScotSpirit across social media and help us take this social movement and the Spirit of Scotland across the globe.