Unhurried: Scotland Coast to Coast on the John Muir Way (Film)
Unhurried is a film by Edinburgh-based filmmaker and adventurer Markus Stitz that documents his experience crossing Scotland from coast to coast on the John Muir Way. He put together a reflection on the film, accompanied by a set of photos captured along the way. Check it all out here…
One of Scotland’s Great Trails, the John Muir Way, is a 215km coast-to-coast route used by hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. The route passes through Scotland’s first national park, passing through various green spaces, small villages, and several UNESCO World Heritage sites. Unhurried, a film shot by Markus Stitz and Gavin Morton, documents Markus’ experience riding the John Muir Way after being quarantined in his flat in Edinburgh during the height of COVID-19. Watch the full film below, followed by a reflection from Markus on the project and photos from Gavin Morton.
Words by Markus Stitz, photos by Markus Stitz and Gavin Morton
In many ways, 2020 has been a special year for most of us. I had ambitious plans this year to develop my filmmaking skills after I really enjoyed working on No Stone Unturned, which portrayed my bikepacking trip in Kyrgyzstan before the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2019. After a long time off from the bikepacking racing circuit, I finished the Highland Trail 550 last year, then the Silk Road Mountain Race, and after a shoulder operation in September, the Atlas Mountain Race. I was hungry for more, but shortly after I returned from Morocco the world rapidly changed. Instead of living in the fast lane I was grounded in Edinburgh for a few months, locked away in a small one-bedroom flat.
It soon became obvious that my plans to travel to Malawi to develop a new bikepacking route and document the project and to work on a documentary in Australia would not happen this year, but I was still very keen to advance my filmmaking, even in lockdown. What I also realised very quickly is that the forced break gave me the ability to take more time for projects that would have otherwise been rushed, like developing the gravel routes in Highland Perthshire and researching the history of the cattle drovers in Scotland.
As a direct response to the new situation most of us were in, I used old footage from a year ago to produce Distance, set to a very slow and relaxing soundtrack of Aphex Twin’s #3. The film was a follow up to Wild About Argyll, my first self-produced feature in 2017, but I wanted to create something that, in rapidly changing times, takes people on a journey and calms them down. Looking at the feedback for the film, I was encouraged to develop more ideas. I was thankful to be approached by Gavin Morton from the John Muir Way about developing a bikepacking version of the existing walking and cycling route, and also a film to showcase the beauty and contrasts.
I had read quotes from John Muir and had a rough idea of the man himself, but I wanted to understand more about him and his thinking. His name is less known in Scotland than I thought, but Mary Colwell’s John Muir: The Scotsman who Saved America’s Wild Places was a great starting point for understanding him a bit more. I didn’t have time to read all of Muir’s writing, but with the help of Mary’s book I started understanding his life a bit better, although I think he is a pretty complex character. Before starting to film I became aware that some of the remarks that Muir made about Indigenous peoples were and are not acceptable, and those remarks were far removed from my values. However, I still thought that his focus on protecting nature for the health of the planet and all its inhabitants is more relevant now than ever. I decided to change direction with the film, not making it about John Muir, but about the very practical things I had taken away from my research so far, and that was the desire for slowing down to appreciate nature.
The John Muir Way is an interesting route for bikepacking, and a stark contrast to the gnarly nature of the Capital Trail and Highland Trail 550. I’m not sure if describing it as a beginner’s route does it justice, as it is equally enjoyable by novices and seasoned riders alike. What I liked about the route was the stark contrasts, being high up on Gouk Hill or sleeping under the stars at Burncrooks Reservoir, which both feel very remote, while at the same time passing by the Falkirk Wheel, the Avon Aqueduct, and Forth Rail Bridge, iconic buildings that document human development.
For me, the route shows that we can and must find a good balance between civilisation and wilderness. There are very few really wild areas left in Scotland, and I would love to see rewilding become much more prominent in the future. Sometimes it isn’t that obvious, but the more I stopped, the more wild bits I found along the route, and it quickly became clear what the mood of the film would be.
I wanted to portray cycling as a means of reconnecting with our environment. I created a film that is deliberately slow and pays attention to the finer details. When selecting the music, I was also inspired by the simplicity of Satie’s Gymnopédie, written during John Muir’s lifetime, and I think the film is the perfect antidote to my initial plans I had for 2020. Instead of venturing far afield, my most memorable bikepacking experience of 2020 so far has been on a route that almost passes my front door in Edinburgh.
About Markus Stitz
Markus Stitz has made Scotland his home for more than ten years now, where he develops cycling routes and creative content to encourage people to live more adventurously. He cycled around the world on a singlespeed bike in 2015/16 and now runs BikepackingScotland.com and Dirt Dash events, and works as independent filmmaker, photographer, and writer. You can find more of his work on YouTube and Instagram (@reizkultur).