Over the weekend my colleagues in the UK released a new Rapha Continental film called ‘Assynt’. As horrible as the weather appears, I’ve watched this film a dozen times and am mesmerised by the stunning scenery and twisting narrow roads. To me, one of the most intriguing pieces of the film is the “shipping forecast” narrative. I asked James Fairbank, Marketing Manager and rider in the film, to explain these foreign words and their meaning.
Assynt is a film telling the story of the inaugural UK Rapha Continental ride. Following on from the series of features about rides in the States that started the Continental in 2007 and the stellar Van Diemen’s Land, the Rapha Continental is the story of the road less travelled. Although the UK is a small island crammed with 63 million people, NW Scotland is one of the most sparsely populated places in Western Europe. I first travelled there as a geology student over a decade ago and fell in love with it’s the elemental scenery and rolling roads.
Like many children of middle-class British parents, the largely current affairs orientated BBC Radio 4 has been a constant in my life as long as I can remember. At the end of every day at 00.48 Radio 4’s programming closes with the Shipping Forecast. Described by the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy as the radio’s prayer, the shipping forecast is issued four times a day to shipping around the British coastline. A jumble of seemingly incongruous phrases it’s delivered in a calm, measured manner that’s at odds with the violence it often describes.
To this day I have no idea how to decode the information conveyed in the forecast but I always find the rhythm of its delivery and abstract nature almost dreamlike. We spent four days in Assynt being battered by the best that NW Scotland could throw at us, force 8 gales, sleet, snow and driving rain. It’s a raw place to ride but the severity of the weather means that the beauty of a still, dry day is all the more welcomed. When it came to developing a soundscape for the feature we knew that the shipping forecast had to be the backbone of it, nothing else evokes the British Isles better to me.
There’s a wonderful book produced by the Magnum photographer Mark Power called the Shipping Forecast and there’s a map of the areas used below. A link to the forecasts that were issued when we were in Scotland that provided the basis for the narration also follows.