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The New Local




THE NEW LOCAL



By Markus Stitz

My life has brought me to Scotland in different phases. At the beginning, in 2003, I used trips on the train from Newcastle upon Tyne to Edinburgh and Glasgow to enjoy either a weekend or an extended weekend away from Sunderland, where I spent a semester studying as an exchange student. My first contact with Scotland, although from a very tourist perspective, left a lasting impact.







After the short stint two years before I came back to Edinburgh to work at the Festivals for each summer from 2005 - 2008. When I had the choice to either spend a month in Germany or to find a temp job at the Edinburgh Fringe, I opted for the latter one. Fresh back from an internship in New York City, the Scottish capital provided a welcome change. With only a few days to find a place to live and a flight to Edinburgh (both challenging tasks in ‘normal’ times), I was thrown into the deep end, but I learned my lessons quickly. Back then my experience of Edinburgh was mainly shaped by its buzz every August, when every corner in town becomes a performance space and the streets are humming with people. Although my job didn’t allow for much time off, the few hours I had were used to walk towards the north of the city, away from the crowds.



Looking towards Edinburgh from Musselburgh Beach



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In 2009 I came back for good. At first I worked for the Edinburgh International Festival, located in one of the best office spaces on the Royal Mile. My commute to work was a 30 minute walk each day. My weekends were spent away from home whenever I could. I didn’t bring my bike over for the first summer, so hillwalking dominated my weekends. A year later I accepted a job in Stirling, and finally decided to move my bikes to Scotland too. From September 2010 until September 2015 I spent up to five hours each day commuting between my home in the New Town and Stirling, either by train or by bike. While this was a great opportunity to explore the countryside between Edinburgh and Stirling, my exploration of the town itself was still very limited.



Arthur’s Seat dominates the Scottish capital from all directions



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Before setting off on my round the world trip on a singlespeed bike, I finally started to explore in and around Edinburgh. Inspired by Cameron McNeish’s Scottish National Trail from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath, I was amazed how much good cycling there is in the city and the regions around it, and how little I knew about it. I started stitching all the good bits I found to a continuous route, which is now widely known as The Capital Trail. When I set off on my 34,000 km long round the world journey from Portobello Beach, I joked that it was just an ‘extended’ Capital Trail.



Portobello Beach



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My plans for 2020 were vastly different. After three years working extensively on route planning and filming projects in Scotland, I was keen to venture further afield again and let filmmaking become my main focus to do so. I started the year in Morocco with the Atlas Mountain Race. I was planning to spend an extended time in Malawi and a trip to Australia. I had great plans and projects lined up, but then the lockdown came. While it was a huge relief that daily exercise was still allowed and bike shops could stay open, I knew that radar of activity suddenly had shrunk to the few miles around my flat.



Cammo Tower



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In the first weeks I was rather reluctant to accept that change. I spent most of my time inside, working in new gravel trails and a bikepacking route in Highland Perthshire. I dug out footage from an adventure last year and produced a new film to understand the difference between physical and social distancing, and used the time to reflect on my experience at the Atlas Mountain Race by writing my memories down.



Prestongrange Museum



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As the weeks went on and an end to lockdown wasn’t in sight, I started looking for books to make the most of time reading. While the weather was unseasonably good in Edinburgh, I was still reluctant to spend too much time outside. New additions to the book shelf, like ‘The Unremembered Places’ by Patrick Baker and ‘The Drove Roads of Scotland’ by A. R. B. Haldane provided fantastic inspiration for upcoming bikepacking adventures, while stalwarts like ‘Nothing To See Here’ by Anne Ward and ‘Secret Edinburgh - An Unusual Guide’ by Hannah Robinson provided me with fresh inspiration to explore Edinburgh.



Newhailes Estate



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Slowly but surely I accepted my lockdown fate and as the weeks went on, I explored my home town in a different light. I actively looked out for the places I had overlooked for so many years. Getting to try the Kinesis RANGE e-bike encouraged me to ride from my front door to places that I hadn’t discovered yet. Testing a new Lezyne Mega C GPS (and the fancy mounts it comes with) gave me the ability to record my rides easily without being glued to my mobile (which was left at home). Some of the places I almost ‘stumbled’ upon while cycling through or past. Others I discovered while simply stopping to capture a moment in a picture. Places like the Prestongrange Open-Air Museum or the Prestonpans Battlefield reminded me of the rich history of Scotland and inspired me to buy more books to read. I discovered the 1722 Tranent - Cockenzie Waggonway, Scotland's first railway, which now provides a great path for off-road cycling.



Murals in Leith



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Then there were places like Starbank Park. I can’t remember how many times I must have cycled past Edinburgh’s most beautiful park before, but it took me more than a decade to finally stop and explore it. While other parks filled up with people during lockdown, I was almost alone in this small haven in Granton, watching the cherry blossom falling from the trees like big snowflakes in winter. I didn’t know anything about David Wilkinson’s murals, like the wonderful ‘Carpet Lane Traders’ mural between Bernard Street and Carpet Lane. When stopping and looking up, I found another mural, and hidden in the surroundings I discovered a vast amount of other interesting sculptures and paintings, all telling their own unique story.



Faucheldean Bing



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Hundreds of times I had cycled past the oil-shale bings in the west of the city. When I finally started to explore them, I found a landscape that reminded me of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. In the far west of the city Binny Craig provided me with a panoramic view of Edinburgh which is second to none, while the Hermitage in the south had me daydreaming about my times in the dense rainforests I had experienced much further away from home.



Binny Craig



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First I simply recorded my small adventures, then I started picking the best bits out to stitch them together and share them. While I had used Komoot as one of the tools to plan my own routes already, it was very beneficial that the Lezyne GPS computer provided me with the ability to seamlessly send a Komoot tour to the device and follow it while my phone was still hidden away in the backpack in the later stages of lockdown.



On the River Almond near Cramond



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While exploring my hometown gave me a new perspective of Edinburgh, using the Kinesis Range gave me a new and different perspective on cycling. While riding singlespeed bikes has always been, and as long as physically possible always will be, my trademark, it was interesting to use an e-bike. Even without assistance switched on, the bike still rides like a bike. If the battery would run flat before the end of the ride, I still had plenty of gears and a rather lightweight bike (compared to other e-bikes I had ridden before) to get me home. When time was tight, the various levels of assistance got me up the hills a bit faster and a bit less sweaty than usual.



Perfect for exploring the city: Kinesis Range e-Bike with Fend-Off mudguards







But I was still riding a bike, with all the freedom it provides. The same way as I was still exploring, even very locally, during lockdown.



Markus Stitz



A collection of local rides, carefully curated by Markus, can be found on Komoot.




Markus Stitz has cycled around the world on a singlespeed bike in 2015/2016, and has since written, photographed and filmed cycling in many shapes. He is the founder of Bikepacking Scotland, runs Dirt Dash events and enjoys adventures around the globe.



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