Some visitors to the Hebridean Celtic Festival travel thousands of miles to get to Stornoway, but none could match the lengths – or heights – Charlie Bilsland has gone to recently.
Charlie, who is one of the 150-strong volunteer team at this year’s HebCelt, is just back from a six-month cycle from Venice to Xi’an in China, tracing one of the oldest trade routes in the world.
He set off with a friend on 1 January and the incredibly demanding journey saw them cycle through deserts, across mountain ranges and through some of the most isolated countries in the world – over 10,000km in all and following the route of the old Silk Road.
From Italy, the pair travelled through Albania, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before arriving in China.
Charlie, from Bridge of Cally in Perthshire, was raising money for Macmillan Cancer, HebCelt’s chosen charity, having lost his mother, uncle and a close friend to cancer.
He said: “The trip went really well. My objective, plain and simple, was to travel from Venice to Xi’an and I achieved that. I made loads of friends, inspired people along the way and saw some incredible things, so it would be difficult to say it anything less than a total success.
“There were plenty of difficult times, such as waking up to a frozen tent every night for a week in Italy, being chased by packs of dogs in Greece, getting robbed by the Mafia in Georgia or sweating my way through the desert in China, but these just served to highlight the amazing times I had.
“I think the biggest highlight of my trip was crossing the Pamir mountain range in Kyrgyzstan. We met two Dutch girls who cycled with us for a week while we made the crossing - the first other cyclists we’d seen in months - and one night we camped with two German guys coming from the other direction. It turned out to be the 70th anniversary of WWII, and what better way to celebrate than two Brits, two Dutch and two Germans camping together in the middle of a mountain range on the other side of the world.
“Another highlight was cycling down the Datong River valley in China. It took me two days to climb to the top of the Qinling mountains, topping out at 3743m, and then it was a beautiful ride alongside a winding river, passing ancient Chinese villages and Buddhist temples, before arriving at the ancient Silk Road city of Lanzhou.”
He has volunteered to work at HebCelt during the festival which runs until this evening (Saturday).
“I’m volunteering at HebCelt this year for a couple reasons. I first volunteered at the festival a few years ago and made a bunch of friends - this is way for me to catch up with them as well as get back to my Scottish roots after a long time away.”