Hitting the great outdoors – 1936 and modern style

The diaries of a 17-year-old epic 500-mile cycle and hostelling holiday in 1936 were the inspiration for a new cycle adventure film.

‘What would Mary do?’ from Hostelling Scotland and The Adventure Syndicate is based on the experiences of Mary Harvie.

Hostelling Scotland and The Adventure Syndicate premiered their new off-road biking and adventure tourism film, ‘What would Mary do?’, at the Biking Night of the Fort William Mountain Festival on Saturday 19 February 2022.

‘What would Mary do?’, a cycling film that beautifully captures Scotland’s majestic and remote landscapes, environment and natural heritage together with the true spirit of hostelling, was created by Maciek Tomiczek.

It follows Lee Craigie, Philippa Battye and Alice Lemkes from The Adventure Syndicate, a group of female adventurers and storytellers who promote mental and physical wellbeing through their outdoor endeavours, as they take on a five-day, 300-mile, cycling and Hostelpacking journey, from Glasgow to the Highlands and Skye.

The Adventure Syndicate on their cycling trip (Photo: Maciek Tomiczek)

The film, commissioned by Hostelling Scotland as part of their 90th anniversary celebrations (February 2021/22) and in support of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022, was inspired by the poignant and insightful diaries written by 17-year-old Mary Harvie, from Shotts, Lanarkshire, in the summer of 1936, and published in Hostelling Scotland’s Members Handbook, after her son Harvie Paterson transcribed them during lockdown.

The diary recounts Mary’s epic two-week 500-mile cycle and hostelling holiday she took with her two sisters Ella and Jean, exploring the North West Highlands, Skye, Highland Perthshire, and Stirlingshire, both on and off the bike. Her journal encapsulated the true spirit of active adventure and sustainable tourism that, to this day, comes from exploring Scotland on a bike, while accessing affordable, flexible and welcoming hostel accommodation.

You can watch the film HERE.

Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate said: ‘Our respect and admiration for Mary Harvie’s spirit grew and grew the more we thought about the trip she made with her sisters in 1936. In her diaries Mary comes across as someone totally up for a challenge, really curious, full of energy and above all, humble and understated about the things she did.

‘Mary’s willingness to stay in each moment and make the very best of every situation became our guiding mantra. If we were cold, lacking enthusiasm or looking for the easy way out we asked ourselves, ‘What would Mary do?’. She developed superhuman attributes by the end of our trip.’

The Adventure Syndicate’s reimagined and ambitious route had to embrace and commemorate the Harvie sisters’ original route. However, to avoid the busy traffic they were keen to explore the off-road alternatives, while taking into account winter light and weather conditions, as well as the locations of today’s Youth Hostel network.

It made use of old drove roads and forgotten singletrack, while also encompassing sections of gruelling mountainous ‘hike a bike’ and bog trotting. Wild swimming, hitching rides on a Model T Ford, a ferry and a bus, and brewing coffee in the most incredibly scenic spots were all features of the trip. They also made the most of the time and space at the seven Youth Hostels they stayed at to stretch, enjoy each other’s company, read, sketch, play cards, cook for each other, and even some singing!

You can hear the Adventure Syndicate talking about their experiences with the Scottish Field podcast HERE.

Stunning sights in What Would Mary Do (Photo: Maciek Tomiczek)

Margo Paterson, CEO of Hostelling Scotland, said: ‘The great thing about hostelling is the sense of community and the unique relationships our members and guests have with our hostel teams. This adventure was born from a chance conversation between Mary’s son Harvie Paterson and Karl and Lorna who manage our Port Charlotte Youth Hostel on Islay. Harvie told them that he had transcribed his mother’s diaries during lockdown and wondered if we would be interested in adding them to our archives, but Mary’s story was far too exciting to be hidden away.

‘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. 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!).’

In recognition of VisitScotland’s Year of Stories, The Adventure Syndicate documented their expedition through daily social media posts, mobile phone photography, and a travel journal, together with their 18-minute film, their own 20th Century diary.

Find out more at https://www.hostellingscotland.org.uk