Here at Marloe, we are big fans of Great British adventure - you might have noticed.
It’s something which permeates our everyday life; our designs, our content, the way we do business, and our lives outside of work. We’re also hugely enamoured with the natural world; and none more so than the stupendous display which Mother Nature puts on right on our doorstep, here in Scotland. Come rain or shine, snow or gales, or a bit of all of them at once - as is Scotland’s speciality - we believe in getting outdoors and savouring the delights of our natural surroundings.
So when we caught wind of a chap with intentions to cycle around the 4,000+ miles worth of British coastline this winter, our interest was piqued. James Wragg is a father of two young boys, a husband, an outdoor instructor, and, I assumed, a cyclist. The latter term doesn't sit particularly comfortably with him.
“I’d never call myself a cyclist. I’ve always had bikes since I was kid - I did paper rounds on a bike, I had a BMX, and we used to live at the top of a hill, so I’ve always been quite good at cycling up and down hills. I’ve commuted to work on a bike whenever I can. I feel completely comfortable looking after a bike and I have a lifelong affinity with cycling, but I’ve always seen it as just going out to play, or as a mode of transport - I wouldn’t go on a road bike for the sake of going fast and doing time trials. I just love the freedom of it. The bike I got for my paper round was the first thing I ever bought that was a lot of money - it was £200. It taught me so much; my dad bought it so I had to pay him back every month, and that was my first step into managing finances. I saved up for parts and repairs, and I had that bike until I was in my twenties; by the end of it everything had been replaced apart from the main frame, so it wasn’t even the same bike really.”
I’d certainly call James a cyclist, but I understand his point. He is an outdoorsman, an adventurer at heart. From a very young age, James was more often than not found outside; mountain biking, surfing, climbing, roaming the hills and having little adventures everywhere he went. Whether on a bike or off it, it’s all about connecting with the outdoors and experiencing the many thrills that Mother Nature provides.
“I’ve always had a thing with the outdoors, from being a member of Cubs and Scouts and my family taking me up hills to my job now as an outdoor instructor and youth educator. I love teaching outdoors and passing my knowledge and experience onto young people. I want to give something back to and protect the thing that's given me so much enjoyment over the years. I’ve always wanted to do something for our natural world, but I’ve never had the funding to do a massive trip; for example, I’ve dreamed about doing a polar expedition or going somewhere like Patagonia or Alaska, but by the time I got to a point where I felt skilled enough and understood how to do that, I had a family; and that put an end to those exotic dreams, for now.
But that forced me to think closer to home, and that’s how this adventure was born. I try to get this across to my kids - the word ‘adventure’ doesn't have to mean crossing an ice cap or going on a huge expedition. A kid with a glass jar with tadpoles in it, that's an adventure. Going somewhere unknown and immersing yourself in the outdoors and having a great time, that’s an adventure. Maybe if there’s a little element of risk, like climbing a tree, but you’re learning how to do it safely, that’s an adventure. So even though I’m doing a long journey in challenging conditions, I'm still here in the UK - and that doesn’t make it any less of a challenge. I’m hoping that by downscaling things a bit, I will inspire others to take on their own challenges and have their own adventures.”
It may be a downscaled adventure for James, but for the average person, it’s quite huge. James is attempting to cycle around the entire coastline of Britain - some 4,000 miles - in the winter, which means freezing temperatures, wind, ice, snow and rain - and any combination of the above.
He’s going to wild camp, or camp in people’s gardens, and will only accept the offer of a warm sofa for the night when it’s required; such as when he’s in real danger of hypothermia, or when he needs to charge his phone, to ensure he is traceable and able to call for help when he’s a long way away from civilisation. The weather is perhaps the most daunting part of this journey for James; slippery roads, reduced visibility and keeping warm and dry in potentially sub-zero conditions are all going to be making his daily cycles, on which he aims to cover on average around 60 miles, challenging. “I do worry about what would happen if I get hurt or fall ill when I’m far away from the nearest town - I do need to be very careful, but in a way I want to experience all the weather. I’m sure I won’t be saying it at the time, but I do. And if I make it all the way round, I think I might be able to reflect and say that we shouldn’t have this kind of weather at this time of year, and I shouldn’t have been able to do this challenge on a bike. This wet, mild weather is wrong, I should have been snowed in and unable to continue - and that’s climate change. Now we have extremes - no snow in the winter, a massive blizzard in February or March, then we have floods and heatwaves, then more September heatwaves, and we don’t de-ice our cars until January. That’s all changed since we were children. I want to prove a point; and in a way, I’ll be upset if I’m able to do it, as it’ll be a stark sign of how significantly climate change is affecting Great Britain.” With immaculate timing, James set off around 48 hours ago, straight into Storm Arwen, which has been devastating swathes of the UK and leaving entire towns without power or water for days on end. It has been a baptism of fire, and a stark reminder of the increasing severity of our weather systems.
And that is what is at the heart of this challenge for James. “My kids and I watched one of Attenborough’s documentaries and I sat there, looking at my sons, and thinking their children will never see a rhino; they might just see one in a zoo, if they're lucky, but they’ll never see one in the wild. Same with elephants, lions, tigers, all kinds of animals. They will be gone. The thought of it is just devastating. It’s so difficult to grasp how different the planet will be for them. If, by doing this challenge, I can open someone's eyes, to encourage people to make a difference and look at what they can do to slow climate change, it’s worthwhile. I’ve gone plant based for this challenge, and I hope that others might do the same - because when everyone starts to make small changes, it adds up, and it makes a huge difference. Veganism and plant based diets can be divisive, but it was almost a disappointment how easy it was - I just stopped eating meat one day and I don’t miss it, I don’t crave it, I don’t want it and I’m perfectly fit and healthy. But the social element of making a change like that is huge; you go to a BBQ or out with your friends and people are so shocked. You can feel a bit outcast initially, but by doing it yourself, other people get curious and they might do something similar. I’ll be away from my young children and wife for all of December, including Christmas, so it might be a BBQ on the beach for me alone on Christmas Day, but it’ll be more than worth it. This isn’t just about raising money - it’s about having an adventure, and inspiring people to make changes and re-engage with the natural world. We need to act now to do our bit.”
Every penny raised by James will go to the Laguna Grande Reserve in Guatemala, part of the World Land Trust, who - at the time of writing - have been instrumental in the purchase and protection of more than 2,351,350 hectares of tropical forest and other threatened habitats, and have ensured that a further 4 million acres of land are managed under active protection worldwide. Originally founded to raise funds to purchase acres of threatened tropical rainforest in Belize, World Land Trust was the first organisation to use land purchase as a means to raise money. The concept of directly saving real acres in real places was so successful that it is continued around the world today. In areas where land is more expensive, WLT has been extremely successful in funding smaller, strategic land purchases to create vital wildlife corridors. The corridors connect one protected reserve with another, allowing species to roam safely. Connected corridors have helped species such as the Asian Elephant, tigers and orangutans to increase their gene pools, improving their chances of survival while reducing the chance of human-animal conflict. WLT also work hard to empower local people, using their expertise and knowledge and entrusting them with local projects. All reserves, once the land is purchased, must be managed and protected from on-going threats such as illegal hunting and deforestation. To tackle this, WLT launched the Keepers of the Wild appeal in 2011 to provide funds for partners to employ local people to help protect the reserves, which includes running education programmes and raising environmental awareness in local communities.
It’s a preservation model which is built to last; and you won’t often see adverts for the World Land Trust, nor will you receive charity envelopes or pens in the post. That’s because every penny raised is sent directly to the places which need it most; and it’s an approach which James is echoing as he undertakes this challenge. Trying to keep costs to a minimum, paying for all of his equipment himself and ensuring that his trip is entirely carbon-neutral are all elements which James is very firm that he is going to stick to, so that he knows every single penny donated will go straight to WLT, and will be converted into physical, safely owned and preserved wild land.
Even James’ bike, which he has nicknamed his Noble Steed, is included in this carbon-neutral, make-do-and-mend ethos. “The bike is 30 years old, so it’s had a nice life. It’s a British bike made of British steel in British racing green. I like that side of it - it was so tempting to go to a bike shop and spend loads of money but I enjoy the concept of reusing and recycling an old bike, and stopping something new from coming into the system. It all makes it a bit more of an eccentric, British challenge and a bit more fun.” The Noble Steed is a 1992 Dawes Super-Galaxy; a classic, Reynolds 531 steel-framed British touring bike in a very British shade of racing green, with a traditional brown leather saddle. It was bought on a budget and James has been lovingly restoring and adapting it, as he did with his very first bike, to ensure that it’s ready to carry him on their monumental journey.
James was quietly confident ahead of his adventure; because he knows it’s not all about whether he completes it or not. “I’ve only got 2 months off work to complete this challenge. If I don’t make it all the way round, due to the weather, or injury, or anything else unavoidable, I’m not going to see it as a failure - the challenge is to go as far as I possibly can. The starting of the challenge is the part which is the biggest challenge; the beginning and the doing are the adventures, not the glorious finish. Many of the greatest adventurers on Earth didn’t have a successful conclusion to their expeditions - just look at Scott and co on the Haskell strait! - but they are remembered for trying, for taking on the challenge. I just want to get as far as I can, and to encourage other people to really think about our impact on the environment. If I can hit my fundraising target, we can save 300 acres of crucial land from deforestation and poaching. If I can surpass that, brilliant, but this is as much about raising awareness as it is about raising money; encouraging people to love and re-engage with our natural world.”
To give you an idea of how far your donation to the World Land Trust could go, here are some statistics;
If you are able to donate, every £100 worth of donations buys an entire acre of land, in beautiful locations such as the Maya Forest in Belize, where jaguars, pumas and tapirs roam and 13 million metric carbon tonnes have been prevented from being released into our atmosphere via deforestation. Preserving these lands is not just crucial for the biodiversity of the planet, it’s essential for our very survival.
It is estimated that 150 species go extinct every day - many of them which were never known to us, and never will be. We are in the midst of the greatest extinction event since the end of the dinosaurs, and it’s one entirely of our own making. Human emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide from households, cars, flights and habitat destruction are leading to global temperature rise and anthropogenic climate change. This has a severe impact on human systems; including increased flooding, landslides, threats to food and water security, and health. Every year, the average consumer adds about 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. An acre of trees can capture around 2.6 tonnes of carbon per year - so, to offset our existence and limit our own personal effect on the world, each individual would need to purchase a few acres of mature forest land each year- and while WLT would welcome such donations, and for some it wouldn’t be too much of a big ask, we appreciate that that’s not viable for everyone. What we can do, regardless of economic situation, is make small changes to limit our contributions to climate change. Consider, as James has done, trialling a plant-based diet for a while and see if it sticks - you may be pleasantly surprised with the wide array of convenient, tasty meat and dairy substitutes on sale in every supermarket, and at the affordability of fresh produce. Try to limit usage of cars, and opt for cycling or public transport. Reduce or eliminate the use of single-use plastics in your home, and above all, support and encourage those around you who are fighting for a brighter future for our planet.
“I’m thankful to be partnering with Marloe Watch Company on this - Great British adventure is our shared passion, and I’m from Marlow, so it seems it was meant to be. Then I saw what Marloe are trying to do as a company, how they’re moving towards a more sustainable model and bringing awareness to climate change issues, the affinity was obvious. I’m excited to take on this challenge; to see more of Scotland as I pass through, to take it all in, and to hopefully make a difference. I might go a bit mad by myself day after day, but it’ll be worth it.”
James may not identify as a cyclist, but he will have to forgive me for giving him a different title; James Wragg is, as much as he won’t like the fanfare, a true adventurer, and we are proud to partner with him on this very British challenge. As you read this, he is cycling somewhere in England, cold, probably wet, and definitely tired. If you can donate, please do; every pound buys crucial natural land which helps to preserve the very earth we stand upon. We know our Marloe community are a helpful bunch, so if you live near the coast and can offer up a garden to camp in or a warm sofa for the night, or if you know of any coast-dwelling physiotherapists who could offer some maintenance physio to James’ sore muscles, or any bike maintenance aficionados who could give his Noble Steed a once over, please get in touch; any and all assistance, especially while in the grips of this vicious winter storm, will be greatly appreciated.