Interview: Muckmedden’s Aaron Gray.

Last week, web editor Pete Scullion headed over to Comrie Croft to see what was in store for one of the most exciting events in the Scottish calendar.

Cream of the Croft should be on everyone’s list, whether you’re a rider, racer or not even a cyclist.

Pete sat down with Muckmedden‘s chief mucker Aaron Gray to find out more.

Aaron Gray Muckmedden Comrie Croft Cream of the Croft Ian Potter PK Perspective
Photo by Ian Potter/PK Perspective.

1. Who is Aaron Gray?

42 year old father of two, ex-floorlayer-turned event organiser who loves cake and going fast on anything with a set of wheels.

2. What’s your background in cycling?

I wouldn’t consider myself as having a “background” in cycling as such, but ever since I can remember, my mates and I were always building jumps for our bikes, seeing how far we could wheelie, all that kind of thing. When BMX came to the UK in the eighties I was totally obsessed with it and was never away from the local BMX track throughout my early teenage years. Then when I left school, I passed my driving test, discovered “adult things” and didn’t look at a pedal bike for about ten years.

When I moved back to Scotland in the mid-nineties I bought a cheap mountain bike and headed up the nearest “mountain” (Kinnoull Hill in Perth). I had no helmet or riding gear and absolutely fell in love with biking all over again! Then a couple of years later I decided to sell everything and travel the world and that was the beginning of another 7 years away from push bikes.

3. How did Muckmedden come about?

In 2008 a couple of my old school pals were coming to Scotland for a week of mountain biking, so I bought myself a Trek Fuel and we toured the trail centres – until one of them came off on a jump and broke his collarbone! It felt like the old BMX days were back and over the next couple of years I entered a few XC races and became hooked on the whole buzz of mountain biking again.

I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be if there was a mountain bike race on my local trails in Pitmedden Forest, so I spent months talking to landowners, bike clubs and asking for advice from Graeme McLean at DMBinS and before I knew it I was half-way to organising a mountain bike race. People kept telling me how hard it would be to organise so I knew I had to see it through to the bitter end just to prove to myself I could do it. I’m a stubborn wee bugger.

Aaron Gray Muckmedden Comrie Croft Cream of the Croft Ian Potter PK Perspective
Photo by Ian Potter/PK Perspective.

4. How did you choose the name?

The first race was to be held in Pitmedden, so I thought about calling it Mudmedden as it’s always so muddy up there, but then I thought Muckmedden sounds more Scottish so I went with that instead.

5. What was your first event?

The first event was the “Muckmedden MTB Event” on April 22nd 2012. It turned out to be the wettest April on record and it rained solidly for three weeks running up to the event. Riders could do either one or two laps of a fairly brutal 9 mile XC course made almost entirely of singletrack. I have never been so terrified in my life than I was in the run up to that race. I swore I’d never do it again. Some people never learn.

6. What’s the story behind Cream of the Croft?

Comrie Croft Bikes and Muckmedden are two of the founding businesses of The Scottish Mountain Bike Consortium (SMBC) which is a group of mountain bike businesses who all work collaboratively together on various projects from trail building to events. We had talked about having a Muckmedden event at The Croft for a while. It finally came to fruition a couple of years back when Comrie Croft were in the process of having 17kms of new mountain bike trails installed. They were looking for a way to launch them once they were finished. They asked me if I would be interested in organising a launch event and I jumped at the chance, I always thought The Croft would be the perfect venue for a mountain bike festival.

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Hansen’s Kitchen who own and run the local deli in Comrie were already talking about hosting a local Beer Festival at The Croft, so after a few meetings we all agreed we could create something really special if we put all of our ideas together and that’s when the idea for COTC was born.

Aaron Gray Muckmedden Comrie Croft Cream of the Croft Ian Potter PK Perspective
Aaron catching flies. Photo by Eva Kupska.

7. What can people expect from COTC?

That’s a difficult question to answer without sounding a bit cheesy, so apologies in advance! People can expect great facilities at a fantastic venue, the laid-back vibe of a music festival, the food of a top restaurant, the fun of a beer festival and the excitement of a mountain bike Enduro. Cheesy enough?

In all seriousness, we know that a lot of mountain bikers have partners, parents or kids that aren’t really into bikes and that even the most obsessed mountain bikers enjoy other things like music, good food and spending quality time with friends and family. So at COTC, while the mountain bikers are off shredding the trails, the non-bikers can be having a beer and enjoying some live music, sliding down a hill on a li-lo, or taking part in one of our fun activities and workshops.

No matter what time of day or night, there’s always something going on at COTC and as all of the attractions are included in the entry price, people don’t have to reach into their pocket every five minutes.

8. How has organising this event affected your other events?

I’d say that COTC has generally had a very positive effect on our other events for a number of reasons. We are now reaching a wider audience than before as the event appeals to a broader spectrum of people, not just mountain bikers, which is great. We also picked up a number of fantastic volunteers at Comrie who have been a huge help at our other events ever since.

9. What’s the end strategy for COTC?

We want COTC to be seen as a cool little bike, beer and food festival, where mountain bikers of every age can get their shred on, knowing that their non-biking friends and family are also having a great time doing non-biking stuff.

Aaron Gray Muckmedden Comrie Croft Cream of the Croft Ian Potter PK Perspective
Photo by Ian Potter/PK Perspective.

10. Did you have to sacrifice anything to get the festival up and running?

I would say my hair and my sanity but those disappeared a while back. No, I probably didn’t appreciate just how much time it would take to organise the festival last year, so 2015 was crazy with another five events on top of COTC. This year we’ve cut down from six events to four, to allow us enough time to make improvements to each event and plan ahead for 2017 and beyond.
11. Is Muckmedden your only job?

I used to run my own design flooring business, but as Muckmedden grew arms and legs it became obvious I couldn’t do both. So I merged my flooring business with another and tried to do both jobs part-time, but again it was just too much. In October 2014 I took the plunge and went for it full-time. I just couldn’t give up without giving it 100%. If it doesn’t work out in the end, as much as I’d be disappointed, I know I’ve given it my best shot and that’s all you can do.

12. Any pleases and thank yous?

So many people, not enough space! Thank yous would have to start with the lovely Rachel, “Lady Muck”, for supporting me throughout this mad idea and for not chucking me out of the house… yet. Thanks to our many fantastic Sponsors for their belief in the events and to The SMBC, DMBinS, MTBCoS, Perth and Kinross Council and Forestry Commission Scotland for their advice and support. Thanks of course to our fantastic entrants for creating such a fun-filled atmosphere at each event with their banter and warmth. Last but certainly not least, to every single volunteer, friend and family member who “mucks in”. You are worth your weight in gold and I can’t thank you enough for everything you bring to the events.

Pleases? Please can you all keep doing what you’re doing?!

Interested in Cream of the Croft? Head to the dedicated event website for more. You can find out even more by heading to the three founding members, Muckmedden, Comrie Croft and Hansen’s Kitchen.

Aaron Gray Muckmedden Comrie Croft Cream of the Croft Ian Potter PK Perspective
Photo by Ian Potter/PK Perspective.