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What a way to spend a Wednesday…

What a way to spend a Wednesday…

Ulli – today is a special day we should do something to celebrate…
Me – Um, what is it?
Ulli – you remember…
Me – Um??
Ulli – no, begins with a W…
Me – Its Wednesday?
Ulli – No, try again!
Me – Oh, is it our wedding anniversary…?

Any excuse to go out for a cycle ride, well we do have two wedding anniversaries a year, this comes of having a cross cultural, cross border marriage, so we had two weddings, one in each country. Celebratory activities for us tend to involve getting out and doing something physical, such as skiing or cycling (depending on which anniversary).

Having gotten up late, the original plan of cycling around Glen Almond was out, Ulli didn’t want to spend 3 hours on the train going to Perth and back. So we changed the plan to a circuit involving Glen Carron, starting from Stirling. The easy bit was getting from Edinburgh to Stirling, or rather the bakers in Stirling. It was after that that we had a few route finding issues (only minor ones) and the story really begins. We were using Bike Scotland Book One, as we have done several times in the past, generally the route descriptions are very good. However, a book, as a map, is out of date as soon as the surveyor leaves the site. On this occasion we found our way from the station to the pedestrianised part of the town centre without problems, we then initially missed the right turn into King’s Park Road due to lack of attention, the “old style cinema” mentioned is now a Bingo hall. Then further up the road we took the wrong turning at the first sign for Cambusbarron. We stopped to consult a map (Ulli, being a geographer, always likes to have a map with her), realised our mistake and back tracked, turned on to Polmaise Rd, and this time after about 500m we found a second sign post to Cambusbarron (If we had looked at the map in the book rather than just read the text, we wouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place). After crossing the bridge over the M9 motorway, we turned left and left the town behind us.

It was a quiet road climbing gently through woods and fields before turning sharply to the right. The road then contours round the side of a wood before sweeping down to cross the Bannock Burn (if the name sounds familiar that may be because there was a famous battle on the banks of this wee burn in 1314, in which Rab the Bruce sent Eddie the Second back to England with his tail between his legs, and Scotland then enjoyed another 400 years of independence). The road then follows the burn through a wide gorge between Gillies Hill and Lewis Hill. Judging from the number of duns marked on the map this has long be a defensive line. Where the road turns away from the burn the proper climbing starts, gently at first but getting progressively steeper until it levels off again at the few houses that are Shieldbrae.

Just past Shieldbrae we forked left and started to climb again, with views opening up to the east over North Third Reservoir to the cliffs of Lewis Hill. The road then undulates as it passes by North Third, then runs gently downhill through some woods towards Loch Coulter Burn and a T junction. Here we turned right and started to climb yet again, it was about this time I began to realise that this ride was going to be all about hills. As we climbed across the flanks of Drummarnock Hill, we were treated to a view across Loch Coulter Reservoir. Then an easy spin down to Easter Buckieburn, I was starting to get the hang of this hill lark, it was like some shares which I have bought, they slowly go up, and then rapidly come down again.

After another sweeping decent, we came to the crossroads at Carron Bridge and turned right, there is a pub which looks cycle friendly. Well there were was cycle parking in the car park with a fair number of bikes parked, but it was a wee bit early for lunch and we were on a roll, so on we went. Looking back, I realise that was the only sign we saw of other cyclists outwith town we saw all day. We soon found ourselves cycling past the Carron Valley Reservoir, yes reservoirs seemed to be another theme for the day. About half way along the reservoir there was a wee island with a very noisy breeding colony of Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), but as we didn’t have bins with us we decided not to stop. Besides which the road was turning to the NE and the wind was now coming from behind us and the cycling was easy. We carried on to the end of the reservoir and almost turned down the wind farm road at Todholes, before realising we had missed the right turn just at the end of the forest plantation. So if you do decide to give this ride a go, remember if you pass the second dam on the Carron Valley Reservoir stop and turn round as you’ve missed the turning.

Having made the right turn, the climbing starts again, gently at first as it goes through the forest. As it starts to come out of the forest, splendid views of the Hart Hill wind farm open up, the majestically turning turbine blades are an impressive sight. Coming out of the Cairnoch Hill forest, you also get to cross the first of a series of cattle grids, humm another theme of this multi layer ride? The road then climbs towards Easter Cringate, along this section there plenty of good picnicking spots for a spot of lunch, if you don’t mind the hum and swoosh of the wind turbines. Further on the road swooped down again, giving the opportunity for a bit of high speed cattle grid crossing practice, shortly followed by a narrow bridge across a burn. If you come out the other side, you do so with a big grin on your face. Just to add to the fun, as I crossed the bridge two sheep appeared, one from either parapet, onto the road. I grabbed the brakes and ripped my feet from the cleats, narrowly avoiding both sheep and a clip less moment.

Turning turbines

Another wee climb and we passed the Earls Hill communication masts, this was the highest point on the ride with great views once again across North Third Reservoir, over Stirling, to the Ochills and the Pentlands. This is the start of a long and lovely series of descents which just keep getting better and better. However it wasn’t all good news, the road surface wasn’t of the best, in places there was a washboard effect and there was also a lot of loose gravel about, so I wasn’t going at full blast.

Setting off down Earl's Hill

This was perhaps just as well, coming down one section at about 50 km/h, I experienced a sudden deflation of the rear tyre. I stopped as quickly as I could to avoid doing damage to the tyre and rim, and found a safe place at the side of the road to up end the bike. Tyre removed, I could find no sign of damage or penetration, a quick inspection of the inner tube showed two small parallel splits, a classic snake bite puncture. This is normally caused by riding on an under-inflated tyre, and came as a surprise to me, as the night before I had inflated both tyres to the recommended pressure of 95 psi (6.5 bar), but evidently this wasn’t enough. Maybe the roughness of the road combined with the speed and the 7 kg pannier was just too much, and I should have pumped them to the full 120 psi (8.3 bar). Fresh tube in place, brisk pumping with a mini-pump brought the pressure back up to about 40 psi (2.8 bar), which obviously wasn’t going to be enough. So a quick squirt from a CO2 inflator was applied, this brought the pressure up to a satisfying 110 psi (7.6 Bar).

Passing Shieldbrae again, we faced the steepest hill of the day, this time going down, the odd thing was that neither of us remembered it being quite as steep on the way up. Approaching the Bannock Burn I saw a roe deer standing in the road, but as soon as it saw me it scampered off into the woods. What a great way to spend a Wednesday…

To follow the route see the map here.

A short pedal in the Trossachs

A short pedal in the Trossachs

9am Wednesday: isn’t this toil great, I suppose we really should get up now!

With Easter come up and the weather set fine, Ulli and I decided a little toil was in order, if you are a little confused, I should explain that T.O.I.L is short for Time Off In Lieu. Working in science, it is rare to be paid overtime for working beyond contracted hours, instead you are offered T.O.I.L, mainly in the hope that you won’t have time to take it (or am I being a wee bit too cynical?). Anyway the sky was blue, the sun was shining and wind light, so it was obviously a great day for a cycle trip, but where to go? The first reaction was to reach for Fergal MacErlean’s excellent wee book, Bike Scotland Book One, which lists 40 great routes accessible from central Scotland. One of the things which I particularly like about this book is that all the route descriptions start and finish at railway stations and not, as with some others, at car parks. Where does this notion come from, that in order to go on a cycle tour, the first thing you should do is stick your bike on a car and drive to the starting point?

We decided on the Trossachs as a suitable location for a day out, so it was off to Haymarket and catch the train to Dunblane as a starting point. From here we took the main road towards Callander (A820), which was reasonably quiet, but could get busy at weekends and the height of the tourist season. On reaching Doune we turned off to take the back road (B8032) on the south side of the river Teith. This is a quite undulating road with fine views of Ben Vorlich, Stuc a’ Chroin Ben Ledi and in the distance Ben Lomond. The turbines at the wind farm on the hills NW of Doune were turning lazily in the light westerly breeze.

After about 10km we met the main road coming up from Aberfoyle (A81), where we turned right towards Callander. Here there is a long straight with a gentle downhill gradient which makes for a good blast sprint (if so desired). At the outskirts of Callander, we turned left to join the NCN Route 7 towards Invertrossachs. This is a dead end for motorised traffic and so a quiet road, or it would have been if it wasn’t for the car park at the head of Loch Venachar, watch out for mini-bus loads of tourists from the likes of Timberbush Travel.

The Intrepid Cyclist views Loch Venachar

Once past the car park, there was very little traffic as we followed an estate road. Then turned onto a Sustrans cycle track through the woods along the loch side, very scenic with plenty places to stop for a picnic.

If you are thinking of following this section of the route, a word of caution here, there are a couple of cycle hire places nearby. So expect large groups of inexperienced cyclists with little knowledge of etiquette, i.e. when meeting other cyclists heading in the opposite direction keep to the left and don’t try to force them off the path. The cycle path gives way to a forest road, which is a bit wider, but do watch out for large timber lorries and guys with chainsaws, no not really. Forest Enterprise (FE) close the road if they are doing that sort of thing. The surfaces on these cycle tracks and forest roads are surprisingly good. There was only one moment on a downhill section where I thought that doing this speed on a hybrid with 700 x28 Ultra GatorSkins was not such a good idea (a MTB and knobbly tyres would be a much better idea), as it would have been a long walk back to Callander with a ripped sidewall.

At the end of the loch we had a choice of route, we could have turned south towards Aberfoyle, or carried on to Loch Achray which FE have sign posted as the Three Lochs Cycle Route, but we choose to turn north towards Brig o’ Turk passed an old farmhouse. MacErlean’s book says that you have to lift your bike over a stile on this path, but we didn’t find it, just a few cattle grids which were no problem to cycle across. Then we crossed the Black Water on an old stone bridge to the charming Byre Inn where we stopped for lunch, I can recommend the steak and sausage pie. When we first arrived, we thought the place was closed as there was no one sitting outside despite the warm sunshine.

Lunch over, we decided rather than head back to Callander as the book suggested, we would carry on to Loch Katrine. We followed the main road (A821) along the north side of Loch Achray and then up trough the trees to Loch Katrine itself. The public road ends in a large car park, here there is the inevitable gift shop, and the landing stage for the SS Sir Walter Scott, which has been plying the waters between the Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar since 1900. There is a road along the north side of the loch which goes all the way round to Stronachlachar, this is popular with family groups, many of whom have hired bikes at one end and are planning on take the steamer back (you can also take your own bike, but advanced booking is advised). We cycled as far as the Silver Strand and took some photos, before turning and heading homeward.

For the return journey we followed the main road (A821) through Brig o’ Turk and along the north side of Loch Venachar, which has fine views of the Menteith Hills to the south. The traffic wasn’t too bad so we were able to enjoy the scenery, although as always there were a few idiots looking for a place to have an accident,. Just past the end of the loch we turned right down a wee road across the Eas Goghain and back onto our outward track. At Doune we tried to stop for tea but found the village tea shop is closed on Wednesdays, so it was on to Dunblane, where we were lucky to get an ice cream just before the shop shut at 5 o’clock. Then the train home to Edinburgh, taking up the only two bike spaces, which caused a wee bit of a problem for the commuters. ScotRail has been improving its bike carrying capacity, but the Dunblane line definitely needs more. As we were getting off at Haymarket this caused some congestion as we dug our bikes out.

Overall it was a great day out, the stats for anyone who is interested were:

  • Distance: 79.3 Km
  • Ride time: 3h 38m
  • Max speed: 50.5 Km/h
  • Ave speed: 21.8 Km/h

and there is a map here.

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