Reviews, Trails, Video

Highland Trail – Video Kit Breakdown – Part 2

Having covered the equipment and technical side of things in my previous post, We’ll now explore what I decided to shoot and how I pieced it together.

My knowledge of good proportions of the route gave me a good mental picture of different sections I wanted to film. Devil’s Staircase (ascent and descent), Abhainn Rath and Corrieyarrick Pass were all on my list. Of course, I didn’t know whether I’d be solo or with someone at these points, so I made use of any opportunity to film another rider when I saw them to maintain a sense this was a race. I found myself solo on Day 1 more than I expected – partly owing to a torn sidewall on the Devil’s Staircase descent – and after the quick start and the sense that the tyre repair had cost me time early in the race, my mind was battling with the concept that I should be racing while my filming head was saying, ease up, there’s a good scene to shoot there. In a couple of places I passed up the opportunity to film off the bike because I could see other riders back down the trail behind me and didn’t want to get caught. In the end I had quite a good selection of various bits of the route from Day 1, but the challenge of editing into a reasonably concise sequence and keeping with the flow of the music meant a lot wasn’t used.

Abhainn Rath Crossing Sequence
Abhainn Rath Crossing Sequence

The bothy sequence at the start of Day 2 came out much better than I expected. As soon as I woke, I set the camera rolling, using the chest harness as a make-shift tripod. Being in such a cramped space, I wasn’t sure what I’d end up with, but thankfully there was enough light from my headtorch to illuminate my kit as I rolled it up and put it in dry bags. Being first out of the bothy – intentionally for the filming – I was able to also capture the others getting their kit together in the same way.

GoPro on improvised chest-harness “tripod”

The lack of sleep overnight did cause me some problems though. I couldn’t quite engage my brain to think to film, and after the monologue that appears in the film, there was quite a lot that I didn’t record.  This part of the route is also fairly bland, as illustrated with the short sequence along Strath Rannoch and over to Loch Vaich. The rain didn’t help here either. At Croick, I made a special effort to get off the bike and film myself passing through the gate in an attempt to wake me up a bit. This did appear to work, but I took little footage for the rest of the day, until I got into Glen Golly.

Day 3 was all new territory. Lochan Sgeireach actually came a few miles into the day, but the change of atmosphere made it a good place to re-start the story to a different music track, suited to the environment (more on this later). I recorded a lot of footage through here, mainly because the trail was so amazing. This gave me a lot of choice to build the sequence up to the top of the Bealach Horn descent. I realised from my GPS that I was at the top of the descent and figured that at some point I would emerge from in the clouds, so set the camera rolling. The descent started on firm slightly loamy track, and suddenly changes to loose white granite as I came out of the cloud, which was quite a shock in terms of bike handling, but the transition from cloud to view (timed with the music) produced the desired effect.

Bealach Horn - just before the loose granite
Bealach Horn – just before the loose granite

Day 4 was the most difficult to film. When I left the bothy in the morning my mood was low. I carried on up the valley with the Suilven ridge line bathed in morning sunshine. I figured this was a good place to declare the predicament of my Achilles. Speaking to the camera when off the bike is something that is harder than it perhaps looks. Finding the words to adequately explain the situation without lots of umm’s and err’s is also difficult, when – if I’m really honest – I would rather not have bothered. But I figured the film couldn’t end with some scrolling text explaining I’d scratched. It needed statements of circumstance and the emotion that goes with these decisions. It is as much part of racing as all the rest of the film. After that section, I didn’t shoot any riding footage. In a way I didn’t see any point – though some of the riding was very technical, it would have been interesting to record. I was glad I made the last few panning shots of Glen Canisp, as these close the movie effectively and balance the monologue of my scratching the race, particularly where the closing parts of the music track complement this wild landscape I find in.

Glen Cannisp
Glen Cannisp

When I got home, I downloaded all the film footage. 40Gb. I had a quick skim through the footage. Always a tentative moment, but thankfully all was well. Overall I was pleased with the individual clips – well over 2 hours worth of footage, some long, some short. Some not at all usable, but mostly they were OK. Those that weren’t didn’t leave a gaping whole in my story, so it was case of loading all 125 clips into iMovie.

iMovie - Clip Viewer
iMovie – Clip Viewer

Prior to going to Scotland, Bryan Dawson (featured in the video driving the van on the way up to Tyndrum) had lent me a lot of Scottish music to listen to. A real good selection, but Peatbog Faeries stood out as the type of music I wanted to use, and two or three tracks in particular presented themselves in different ways in terms of pace and mood when I overlaid what I imagined the film would look like. Having a mental picture like this was certainly helpful, and something that I had a greater sense of with this project than any of my previous ones. When selecting tracks, I’m listening for some variation in the music as this provides a good opportunity to portray the ups and downs of the race – physically and mentally.

With all the clips loaded and the music chosen, the time-consuming part of the project is piecing it all together. The key area of focus for this one was timing with the music, and the length of the movie is partially dictated by the duration of the tracks, though the first one is cut short slightly. The image below, taken mid-way through day 3, shows where several clips are cut on the beat, where the change in clips correspond with a peak in the audio profile.

Cutting on the Beat
Cutting on the Beat

On the opening sequence for Day 3, the change of clip occurs with the beat of the snare drum. This required a sequence of 3.5 second clips, the duration of which suited the intricate nature of the trail. To avoid too much monotony, I elected to break the riding shots up with some non-riding activities, some scenery, a panning-selfie shot and the unusual angle of the river crossing. Once over the Beallach Horn, and after the pipes cut in, I adopt a pattern of cutting on every other beat of the snare drum which suits the increased speed of the riding. In cutting on the beat, you create a certain flow to the movie where the viewer comes to expect a change. But so as not to make it too predictable, I did break the pattern briefly in the middle with the panning shot of An Dubh Loch, which allows the viewer to appreciate the mood created by the bass guitar during this 10 second clip, as well as closing off the intricate single track sequence before I began the Bealach Horn descent.

In all, I expect there’s been 12-15 hours work in dealing with all the processing of footage – which in itself took over two hours – followed by the editing, tweaking, nudging, cropping, grading, adjusting audio and more. Painstaking sometimes, but when the final result comes together as it did, its very satisfying.

I have to say I’m amazed by the number of views this video has had. At the time of writing, it’s been watched over 3,500 times in over 50 countries all around the world. So, thanks to everyone who watched it – you’ve made it all worthwhile. A special thanks to some very important people who without their help wouldn’t have allowed me to get to Scotland in the first place to make it:

Steven Shand and Russel Stout at Shand Cycles for producing an absolutely flippin’ brilliant frame at such short notice.

My wife Beth at Wildcat Gear for making a frame bag for it at even shorter notice, not to mention for putting up with me for the preceding months (well, over two decades actually), while I pursue these various cycling challenges.

Shona Oldfield at Keep Pedalling for coming up with a Jones Loop H-Bar and meeting me off the train at Manchester Piccadilly at less than two hours notice the day before the race, as I made my way to Scotland.

Bryan Dawson who contributed in so many more ways than are apparent here. He did a lot more than “just drive the van”.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is again:


  • Good stuff Ian, made for a good read.

    I had been thinking about offering an article to Stu for the bearbones blog about tips on making videos as he is running that competition. I’m struggling to keep up with my own blog and all the editing I have lined up of past trips though let alone writing one for someone else. :s

    Maybe we could put something together as a joint piece?

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