How a cycle and hostel holiday from 85 years ago has inspired a Scottish sustainable tourism campaign
It was an epic summer cycling and hostelling holiday through the Highlands for a Scottish teenager 85 years ago.
After setting off from Glasgow, Mary Harvie and her older sisters notched up 558 miles during two weeks of adventures through some of the nation’s most dramatic landscapes.
At the end of each exhausting July day, 17-year-old Mary would painstakingly record the highs and lows of their journey - from the thrill of meeting new friends, taking in the scenery and and the generosity of strangers to battling wind, rain and midges, and coping with agonising sunburn, running out of food, accidents and flat tyres.
Now their two-week odyssey has inspired a new sustainable tourism campaign in Scotland after Mary’s holiday diary was unearthed by her son during lockdown.
Harvie Paterson transcribed extracts of the diaries and donated them to Hostelling Scotland, formerly the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, whose guide the three cyclists used for their holiday in 1936.
The organisation, which is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, is to honour the efforts of the Lanarkshire teenager, who had also kept photographs and postcards from her trip, by working with three endurance cyclists to recreate her journey.
The new campaign is hoped to highlight how hostels can be used as comfortable and affordable bases for cycling holidays in the Highlands, promote cycling as a form of sustainable tourism and raise awareness of the mental health benefits of outdoor adventure and activities.
Hostelling Scotland, which has published extracts of Mary’s diaries in its new handbook, has joined forces with an all-women collective, The Adventure Syndicate, to create a modern-day equivalent of Mary Harvie’s diaries for the social media-savvy generation.
Lee Craigie, Alice Lemkes, and Phillipa Battye will set out from Glasgow Youth Hostel on Thursday and head off on their own on and off-road adventure.
Their seven-day trip will be documented on social media, then turned into a promotional film for Hostelling Scotland, which will be launched early in 2022 to coincide with the start of Scotland’s first official Year of Storytelling.
Graham Sheach, marketing manager at Hostelling Scotland, said: “The project was born from a chance conversation between Mary’s son, Harvie Paterson, and Karl and Lorna Wollinger, who manage Hostelling Scotland’s Port Charlotte Youth Hostel on Islay.
“Harvie has been Hostelling for many years – and has made regular trips to Islay on his bike over the last 12 years.
“Last year he told Lorna that as a lockdown project he had transcribed the diary extracts from his mother’s bicycle touring of Scottish hostels from 1936, which she did with her older sisters when she was only 17.
“With the kind permission of Harvie, we’ve published the diary entries in the 90th anniversary issue of our members’ handbook. He was delighted to see his mother’s story being brought to life in print.
“What attracted us the most was the way they captured days gone by and the spirit of hostelling. We hope the extracts will help inspire and raise awareness of hostelling with today’s young and old adventurers.”
The original journey embarked on by the Harvie sisters, from Shotts in Lanarkshire, saw them travel to Skye, via Glencoe, Fort William, Glenfinnan, Lochailort and Mallaig. Their return journey took in Invergarry, Fort Augustus, Spean Bridge, Dalwhinnie and Pitlochry.
Mary’s diary entries described how “the sun burned holes through us” on a hike up Ben More, with a group of joiners they had met in Crianlarich, and how “the next morning we were like lobsters.”
Describing a search for food and water in Skye, Mary writes: “Where a bakers van stopped we bought a loaf. The first house we went to for water told us she did not have any. The next, one decent soul made us a tea pot of tea and refused to charge for it.”
Describing a trip through the Cuillins, she writes: “Back over mountain roads down and up some parts very hilly.
“Ella skidded on some loose gravel and was quite annoyed because her dignity was hurt although there were only sheep to see her.
"We went for miles with the Cuillins on the right and lochs on the left. What a peaceful country. But it would be very lonely in winter. The wind started to rise and worse the rain came on. We did look for a lorry but it was in vain.”
One diary entry recalling a hostel in Perthshire states: “Formerly a sanatorium, it looked very nice with a sensible warden, nice company, boiling kettles, nice accommodation, what more a reward than that."We enjoyed our supper and bed. Sleeping under glass roofs with the moon shining through. Riviera hadn’t a look in.”
The modern-day trip, which is also expected to cover more than 500 miles, has been designed so that Lee, Alice and Phillipa will be able to stay in the hostels at Crianlarich, Glencoe, Rattigan, Portree, Torridon, Gairloch and Aviemore.
Lee, founder of The Adventure Syndicate, said: “We're so excited to take the inspiration for our next challenge from a journey between Hostelling Scotland’s youth hostels, which was first made in the 1930's, and add our own modern day twist,
“Bike technology has evolved since the 1930's but the mentality of exploration and adventure has always been present.
“People have been using bikes to explore remote places for generations so now, with the increased traffic on our roads since this journal was first written, we're keen to explore the off-road alternatives where possible.
“Our ambitious route will take us to lots of remote places that cars can't access. It might mean slower going and wetter feet but that will just make arriving in the evenings at our warm, dry accommodation all the more welcome."