The Cape Wrath Challenge at the northern tip of Scotland was dreamed up by a postwar cycling enthusiast who thought that bike touring clubs were turning soft
At the north-western tip of Scotland, cut off from the mainland by a tidal inlet that can be treacherous to cross, is a single-track road that winds for 11 miles through desolate moorland to a squat Victorian lighthouse at the edge of Cape Wrath. The road has barely been touched since it was first built in 1826 to bring in the materials to build the lighthouse. It would otherwise have gone unnoticed were it not for an adventurous bike enthusiast who founded one of Britain’s oldest ongoing cycling challenges here in 1949.
The Cape Wrath Fellowship was started by Rex Coley, a cycling journalist who wrote under the pseudonym “Ragged Staff’ – in honour of the crest of his native Warwickshire. Rex wrote for a magazine called Cycling (the predecessor to Cycling Weekly) and edited The Bicycle at a time when, like now, cycling was enjoying a period of widespread popularity. According to cycling historian Sheila Hanlon: “When safety bicycles became more affordable after the turn of the [20th] century, touring the countryside served as a means of escape from the polluted city air and stress of modern life for working-class men and women.” Club rides saw hundreds of cyclists take to the roads to enjoy “the socially transformative power of an open-air experience in the countryside”.