Tour de Galloway day 2 (mountain stage): Glen Trool Forest and South Ayrshire Alps

Route – Newton Stewart to Glentrool to Straiton to Loch Trool to Glentrool to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Cloudy and cool to start with but hot and sunny after lunch. Not much wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 77.67 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 51 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 4898 feet

On the second day of our summer holidays Dad and I were up nice and early and after a breakfast of Aldi’s version of Special K (surprisingly tasty and very cheap), we were out on our bikes before 9am. Before going to bed the night before, I had planned a very long route for us which turned out to be rather more hilly than expected. But I really like hills so we had a cracking day out in some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of Scotland.

To start with we took the cycle path alongside the River Cree into Newton Stewart where we saw a heron creeping around in the shallow water looking for its fishy breakfast. Then, after a brief spell on the main street and a quick cycle over the grand-looking bridge across the river, we turned left onto a minor road, following the Cycle Route no.7 sign – we were going to follow route 7 for most of the day. This quiet single track road soon took us out into the countryside, basically following the River Cree northwards, going in and out of the trees for quite a number of miles. This area is called Wood of Cree and looked like a nice place to go for a walk. Although it looked mainly flat, it actually felt very slightly uphill as we cycled along the deserted road. Eventually we came to a junction and turned right and here the landscape changed as we entered the Glen Trool

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Forest. Here the trees are mainly conifers and there’s lots of evidence of forestry operations (ie. trees being chopped down!) and signs warning to watch out for forestry lorries. It was Sunday though so we didn’t see any lorries at all, or even any cars as we had the lovely smooth, narrow road all to ourselves. Soon we reached Glentrool village but instead of turning left into the village, we went right, heading into some even more remote countryside of the Glen Trool Forest.

From this point on, the road starts to climb more noticably uphill, not enough to have to use any low gears but enough so that your legs really do start to complain – especially as it goes on like this for a long long time (10 miles or so I think). Sometimes the road was lined with spruce trees on both sides but sometimes we had great views over to the Galloway Hills on the right as we cycled along, in and out of the trees. This area has the most wild blueberries I’ve ever seen – and they were very tasty! At some point we passed 2 signs: one was warning that from this point on the road is only gritted during daylight hours; the other was warning that we were about to enter Ayrshire!

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The warning signs weren’t necessary though as Ayrshire turned out to be perfectly lovely and at this point the road really did start climbing much more steeply as it wound its way quickly up to the high point of the so called Nick of the Balloch climb at around 400m high. We stopped at the top for a blueberry feast before speeding down the north side of the Balloch as fast as we dared. There are crash barriers on the left side to protect you from a very steep drop if you were to lose control on one of the twisting corners, but thankfully we made it down the steep hill safely enough. We passed a large group of cyclists heading up the other way. It looks like it would be a very impressive, but hard, climb from that side so I think I will go back there another day to give it a go.

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After a very brief flat bit at the bottom of the Balloch, we immediatly began climbing up the next steep hill of the “Ayrshire Alps”. This hill is known as The Pilot for some unknown reason and it was quite a hard slog up to the top of the single track road but we did spot an ancient stone signpost which told us we were 10 miles from a place called Maybole and 24 miles from Newton Stewart. The descent down the other side of the hill gave us a grand view over the Ayrshire countryside and some wind farms in the distance and we enjoyed speeding down the hill into the valley below. Well, at least I enjoyed it – Dad was unfortunate enough to be stung on the elbow by a wasp whilst travelling at over 30 mph! At the bottom of the hill, the sun finally came out and we turned right onto a rather bumpy single track road for a few easy miles past fields of sheep and cows until we arrived at the village of Straiton where we decided to stop for lunch. It was our usual fare: crisps, oatcakes, salad, apples and (for Dad) cheapo Aldi chocolate.

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After lunch we cycled through Straiton (which seemed like a nice little place) and then turned right at the sign pointing to Newton Stewart and we began our long journey home. At first the road was quite flat with 2 lanes, though it wasn’t all that busy. The views of the valley and the hills in the distance were quite nice in the sunshine. After a while the road narrowed and began to climb upwards into the hills. It was long but quite a gradual climb which took us back into the Galloway Forest again. At one point we crossed a bridge over the oddly named River Stinchar and then the road began to climb

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ever more steepy until we finally reached the top – the highest point of the day at well over 400m. From there we had a great view over to the Balloch hill we’d cycled over a couple of hours before, as well as the road ahead, disappearing off down the hill in front of us. It looked like a fun and fast descent – and it was! Soon enough we were back onto the same road we had cycled up this morning. In this direction, heading south towards Glen Trool, it was really great fun. It was nearly all slightly downhill and smooth tarmac with hardly any traffic to be seen as we said goodbye to Ayrshire and sped back into Galloway. The fast fun seemed to go on for endless miles and with the sunshine and blue skies replacing this morning’s grey, low cloud, the views of the hills and the forest were much more impressive.

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It wasn’t long before we reached the sign welcoming us back to Glentrool village. But again, we avoided the village and turned left and decided to cycle the 4 miles or so right into the heart of the Glen Trool Forest and the stunning hills surrounding the picturesque Loch Trool. The road was fairly flat apart from a couple of short but very steep climbs right at the end, just before we got the end of the tarmac at the parking area for Bruce’s Stone. Bruce’s Stone is a monument that was errected to commemorate Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Glen Trool in 1307. The stone is just a big boulder with nothing historic about it so is not really worth looking at, despite all the tourists that flock there to get their picture taken. The views of the hills and the loch are grand though.

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We then cycled back along the narrow road and this time turned left and finally did go along the road through Glentrool Village and after a mile of two we came to the junction with the A714 road. It would have been a nice easy 5 or 6 mile ride downhill from here to Newton Stewart. But I was still feeling full of energy so after a brief time on the main road we turned right onto the narrowest, and possibly the nicest, road of the day. As usual it was suspiciously uphill but this was made up for by the increadible views behind us back to the hills of the Galloway Forest where we’d been only half an hour before. The

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road took us past Loch Ochiltree as we climbed up and around a small grassy hill. From the high point we had a lovely long and straight slightly downhill stretch which took us quickly to the junction with the B7027. Here we turned left onto the smoothest road in the world. It was such a pleasure to cycle on it as it took us through areas of the Galloway Forest that had recently been cut down. It was also mostly downhill and very fast and before long we came to another junction with the A714 once more. We could have been there much quicker if we hadn’t taken our long cut, but we’d have missed out on some of the best views of the day so I was glad we’d gone the long and hilly way. After that we turned right and sped down the hill for a mile or so to Newton Stewart where we stopped at the Co-op to buy ice lollies to try and cool ourselves down! Then it was only a half mile or so back to our accomodation at Nether Barr where we arrived just in time for tea (mushroom risotto) – so that was well timed. It had been a bit of an epic adventure through some beautiful countryside and definitely one of the highlights of our holiday in Dumfries and Galloway.

Tour de Galloway day 1: Newton Stewart to Wigtown Loop

Route – Newton Stewart to Wigtown to Challoch to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Sunny at first, then clouding over. Warm with light winds.
  • Bike Type – Road bike
  • Distance travelled – 23.27 miles
  • Riding time – 1 hour 31 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 27.7 mph
  • Average speed – 15.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 832 feet

For our summer holidays this year we went to Dumfries and Galloway in the south-west of Scotland. We stayed in very nice self-catering accomodation at Nether Barr just outside the town of Newton Stewart and since the weather forecast looked good for the whole week, we decided to bring our bikes. There’s lots of other things to do in Dumfries and Galloway apart from riding a bike (going to the beach was my favourite activity!) but I was still determined to make sure I got out cycling everyday of the holidays, even if just for a short ride. Dad came up with the suggestion that since the Tour de France had just started, we should have our very own “Tour de Galloway”, so after tea on our first evening we headed rode off into the sunshine to begin the first stage of the Tour…

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National Cycle Route no.73 goes right past Nether Barr so we followed that south all the way to Wigtown. At first you have a choice of the A714 road or a shared use path. The path looked a bit gravelly is places and the road seemed fairly quiet so we chose that for the first half mile or so. We then turned left onto a very narrow, virtually traffic-free road which took us down very close to the River Cree estuary and then the Sound of Fleet. Along the way we enjoyed great views of the impressive looking hill called Cairnsmore of Fleet on the other side of the water, as well as a view of the higher mountains in the Galloway Forest Park behind us. The road was very straight and almost completely flat so we were able to go very fast along here. However, the surface varied from nice and smooth to very bumpy with grass growing down the middle of the road. This was pretty typical of most of the roads we cycled on in the area – they were either brilliant or horrendous, with nothing in between! Anyway, after 5 or 6 flat miles we came to our first hill of the day, a rather steep but short climb which took us up into the town of Wigtown.

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Wigtown is famous for being Scotland’s book town. There’s loads of nice book shops here – even all the cafes sell books too – but they were all closed for the day so we just cycled through the town centre and then out into the countryside again on the B733 road. This road was very quiet, was mainly quite flat with just a few short ups and downs and took us past countless fields of cows (there seem to be cows everywhere down here!). After a while, we came to a sign for Newton Stewart and followed it, turning right onto a very narrow back road which took us through some rather remote land (and more cow fields), climbing relatively high up at first and then gradually descending down the other side of the small hill. The views to the hills in the north were very nice as we sped down the hill. This road had been covered in loose chippings not to long ago so although it wasn’t bumpy, it wasn’t really the nicest road to cycle on with a road bike.

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Before too long we reached a junction with the busiest main road in the area, the A75. We could have turned right and taken the main road a mile or so back to our accomodation. But we like a long cut so we crossed straight over onto what Google Maps says is an old military road. The road surface was certainly old and worn out with very poorly filled in pot holes all along the way. The line of grass along the middle was at times wider than the remaining tarmac! This road was long and straight and totally flat (apart from the bumps…) and it seemed like the road to nowhere as there’s no places along the way, just trees and fields and millions of rabbits. At one point we began to wonder if the road would ever end. Eventually it did though and we turned right onto the B7027, speeding down the hill for the short distance until we joined the A714 once more. This road took us mostly downhill the last mile or so to Newton Stewart. It was especially fast just as we entered the town and speed sensor warned us that we were going 30 mph. Then we had an unexpectedly steep hill to climb through the town centre before heading back out of the town. At the outskirts we had to cross the roundabout on the A75 road which we could have passed through much earlier if we hadn’t taken the long, wacky, bumpy back road. A long, wacky, bumpy back road way is always much more enjoyable than a mile of a busy road though – don’t you agree?

So after one last little sprint south along the A714, we arrived back at Nether Barr. Our first impressions of Galloway is that it’s a lot less hilly than Midlothian and the Borders but it was still a very pleasant, extremely quiet and scenic place to place to cycle. Once the bikes were packed away, I immediately got out my map to start planning the route for day 2 of the Tour de Galloway…

Highland Perthshire Adventure vol 2: Tay Valley, Glen Quaich, Sma’ Glen, Glen Almond, Little Glenshee

Route – Bankfoot to Dunkeld to Dalguise to Strathtay to Kenmore to Amulree to Buchanty to Tullybelton to Bankfoot. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – hot and sunny with only a gentle breeze.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 66.15 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 6 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.0 mph
  • Height climbed – 4284 feet

The weather in Scotland has been unbelievably dry and sunny for the past few months so Dad and I have been taking advantage of it and going out cycling as much as we possibly can. One of my favourite routes we have done this summer was when we cycled around beautiful Glen Lyon and Loch Tay at the end of May and I have been desparate to go back to the area ever since. So it was on a sunny sunday afternoon near the end of June that we returned to the valleys and hills of Perthshire for an amazing day out on our bikes.

After parking the car on the main street in the village of Bankfoot, which is just off the main A9 road about 10 miles north of Perth, we got on our bikes and headed north out of the village. This was on the B867 road which forms part of National Cycle Route no.77. It is a fairly quiet and flat road that takes you through peaceful countryside made up of woodlands and fields of sheep, cows and barley, with rolling hills in the distance. Before too long, the road ended at a junction onto the very busy A9 trunk road. It’s not a road you really want to cycle on if you have any sense. Thankfully, we didn’t have to brave the traffic though and we followed the Route 77 signs onto a nice tarmac cycle path. The path took us the last mile or 2 to Dunkeld, passing right through the car park of the train station, before going through an underpass to the other side of the main road and into the town. Here we cycled over a grand bridge over the River Tay and then right through the town centre which was hoaching with tourists enjoying the weather and the ice cream. It was too early for us to stop for a 2 scoop cone (although Dad wanted to of course…) so we carried on and turned left at the next cycle route 77 sign, through an amazing old archway, out of the town and into what appeared to be a private country estate.

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The cycle route took us into the woods and then right along the side of the River Tay. Due to the long period of dry weather, the water level was really low and there were some little beaches visible at the sides. We didn’t have time to stop and paddle or build a sandcastle though… Somewhere along the way the nice smooth tarmac path turned into a bumpy, gravelly track which was very hard to cycle on with skinny road bike tyres. I almost wished we’d gone on the A9 instead (!), it was that horrible to ride on. Better with a mountain bike on this path so take note. After a slow couple of miles, we emerged unscathed from the trees and up a ramp until we came out onto a shared use path right along the side of the A9 road. Heading againsts the flow of the fast traffic, the few hundred metres on this rather narrow pavement was not pleasant at all but at least it didn’t last long and it did take us back over to the other side of the river and to the junction with the B898 road where we followed the cycle route signs pointing right. Soon we were away from the speeding cars and lorries of the A9.

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The B898 basically follows the River Tay for 9 miles and is one of the nicest cycling roads you can imagine. It’s a good surface, has very little in the way of traffic, it’s very flat with only a few small hills and the views along the Tay Valley are great. You can even see some of the high mountains away in the distance at some points. Eventually, the B road runs out and becomes the A827 heading for Aberfeldy on the south side of the Tay. However, our route was to follow the north side of the river so we turned right over a bridge to the other side and then took the next left turn onto the back road which was part of National Cycle Route no.7.

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This road was even quieter than the B898 and was equally flat and nice to cycle on as it follows the River Tay upstream. The road passes in and out of the trees so we got some welcome shade from the strong sun. We also got some really nice views of the river at times and passed a nice looking little golf course at Strathtay. Before too long we caught sight of the strange-looking bridge that leads you across the river into Aberfeldy. Dad remembered that there was a brilliant ice cream shop there and suggested making a short detour to get some. It had been rather good but I told him I wanted to keep going so we headed straight onto the B846 with Dad mutterering away to himself (something about being a bit peckish I believe…). The B846 heads for Glen Lyon and we cycled on it last time we were here. It’s nice and flat and fast going, and the further along it you go the better the views of the hills and mountains become. Just after the River Lyon meets the River Tay, we turned off the B road and onto a narrow road and followed the Tay a few more miles until we reached the A827 again at Kenmore on the shores of Loch Tay. We turned left and sped downhill through the village. Dad spotted yet another ice cream place but I said “no” again. I didn’t want to stop now because I was too excited about the massive challenge facing us next – the climb up Kenmore Hill, one of the longest and steepest hill climbs in Scotland!

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So we turned right off the A road onto the minor road on the south side of Loch Tay. But after only a few metres, we turned left onto a very narrow but smooth road and the start of Kenmore Hill. This is a really seriously hard climb as it takes you up to well over 500m high, climbing nearly 1400 feet in 3 miles. The first section is by far the hardest though (well over 20% gradient in places) and with some really steep, sharp corners to negociate. I managed fine though and pedalled up through the trees at a reasonable speed, leaving Dad flagging behind (no doubt wishing he’d been allowed to have his ice cream). After what seemed like ages, I emerged from the trees and the hills on the left and behind us really started to come into view and it was obvious that I’d climbed a long way up already in quite a short distance.

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After crossing a cattle grid overgrown with weeds, there was a brief slightly downhill section (or at least it felt downhill compared to the previous mile!). At the end of the “downhill” I passed a house on the corner of the road and then it became very steep once again, through the trees at first and then finally out onto the open moorland. From there, the climb gets quite a bit easier thankfully. This is good because if you have made it this far without stopping, your legs will be pretty broken by now. Well, Dad’s were – I was still remarkably fine… The gradual climb seemed to go on and on and on forever, passing a tiny lochan on the left and if you look behind, there are increadible views of the high mountains, including Schiehallion, which seem much closer than they really are.

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It is a very bare and bleak, heathery landscape this high up and you can imagine it’s not the best place to get caught in a blizzard… It was lovely today though in the warm sun with hardly any wind at all. It isn’t that obvious when you have actually reached the top of the hill but when I was sure I was definitley heading down the other side, I stopped to wait for Dad. After 10 minutes enjoying the most stunning views down into Glen Quaich below, Dad finally showed up. As usual he told me he’d stopped to take lots of photos so that’s why he was so slow…

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The descent down the hill into Glen Quaich was extremely fast (this side of the hill is possibly even steeper than the one we’d come up and I reckon it will be amazing to cycle up it) but there’s quite a few hairpin bends to watch out for so we were braking hard and trying to go as safely as possible around those corners. In a matter of minutes we were right down into one of the nicest glens you will ever see, cycling on one of the quietest

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roads you’ll ever ride on. Loch Freuchie looked lovely as we approached it and we could see more hills and mountains off in the distance, getting closer and closer as we cycled along the side of the loch. The road is mainly flat or slightly downhill through the glen so it is quite a fast ride. At one point a couple of sheep decided to race us along the road before giving up and diving through a gap in the fence and into a field. Soon we arrived in the tiny village of Amulree, where the narrow road ends. We’d done more than 40 miles by now so I finally agreed to stop for a break and we sat in the sun, enjoying a feast of oatcakes, salad, Parma Ham, cheese, blueberries and crisps. Sadly, there was no ice cream shop anywhere to be seen so Dad had to make do with a Yorkie bar…

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Next we turned right onto the A822. This is one of the quietest A main roads I’ve cycled on and also one of the most scenic. It takes you through the Sma’ Glen where steep mountains tower above you on both sides of the narrow valley as the road follows the River Almond for a few miles. The sun was quite low in the sky by now so this made the views even more impressive. Eventually, we came to a junction on the left and turned off onto the B8063, following the river into Glen Almond. This narrow road was the quietest of all and took us into some of the most peaceful countryside in Perthshire, travelling in and out of the trees, passing endless fields and giving us fine views down the valley to the east. We could even see the Lomond Hills a long way away in the distance.

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Shortly after passing Logiealmond Primary School we turned left onto a single track road, heading for the hills again and the interestingly named Little Glenshee. I’ve never been to “big” Glenshee, high up in the mountains south of Braemar, but I imagine someone must have thought this glen looked like a miniature version of it. There was no sign of a ski centre here though but it did have one of the most unusual pieces of road ever. At the head of the glen, just before reaching a farm, the road passes through a ford

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in the river and just after that it has a 180 degree bend. You literally turn right around and cycle back in the opposite direction for a hundred metres. It was almost like a mini dual cariageway with grass for the central reservation! From there we had the most fun, slightly downhill stretch of road to cycle on for most of the 6 miles back to Bankfoot. We were going so fast at one stage that a tractor in front of us had to pull into the side to let us past! Soon we arrived back at the car and by now it was quite late and even I was feeling peckish. Too late for ice cream but we managed to find a really good chip shop in Dunkeld so we stopped there to fill our faces. We’d had a brilliant day out in the sunshine in Highland Perthshire and I’m already planning my next cycle route up there. Perhaps I’ll cycle up the hill from Glen Quaich and over to Kenmore this time – who knows?!

Tour o the Borders

Route – Peebles to Lyne Station to Stobo to Drumelzier to Tweedsmuir to Cappercleuch to Crosslee to Yarrow to Traquair to Peebles. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – rather windy, cool and cloudy.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 74.95 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 31 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 34.7 mph
  • Average speed – 13.6 mph
  • Height climbed – 4364 feet

One of the most well known road cycling events in Scotland is the Tour o the Borders which takes place every September. It takes in the beautiful Tweed, Ettrick and Yarrow valleys and to make it even more enjoyable for the cyclists, the roads are completely closed to traffic during the event. I have wanted to take part in the “tour” for a couple of years now but unfortunately, you have to be at least 16 years old to enter so I will not be allowed for another 5 years! Dad and I have ridden most parts of the route before (sometimes in reverse) during various cycles runs we’ve had in the area, but we had never ridden the complete 75 mile circuit in one go. So, about 4 weeks ago, since I’m not able to enter in September, we set off on a sunday morning to have our own tour of the Borders.

We started off from the car park next to the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles and cycled right through the town centre, turning left at the mini-roundabout and over the bridge to the other side of the River Tweed. We then immediately turned right off the main road, right again soon after and then a quick left onto Bonnington Road. This road soon took us out of the residential zone and into the lovely Borders coutryside, passing Cademuir Hill on the right, cycling right around the hill into the Tweed Valley, following the Manor Water to the point where it meets the River Tweed. The grand old bridge is a fine point for a scenic photo so we stopped there briefly before tackling a short but very steep climb up to the junction with the A72.

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The A72 is relatively quiet as far as “A” roads go so we went left and basically followed the course of the Tweed for quite a while. We weren’t on the main road for long before we reached Lyne Station, and turned off onto a single track road which quickly took us to the B712. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this is one of the nicest roads you can cycle on. It’s mostly straight, smooth and slightly downhill, with very little traffic and amazing views of the River Tweed, the woodlands, fields and hills all around. After a wee while, we turned right onto a much narrower road and immediately started going uphill. This hill is known as the Dreva climb and is the first of 5 main climbs on the route. It’s a

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relatively easy gradient and doesn’t last too long. On the way up you get some of the best views of the Tweed Valley, so Dad took quite a few photos as I raced ahead. At the top, we turned left at a junction and sped down the hill into the valley once more and soon came to a junction with the B712 once again. It would have been much easier to just stay on the B712 all the way, but the Dreva climb was really nice so I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I’m starting to really enjoy going up long steep hills so this one barely even made me break sweat…!

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The B712 soon took us to the junction with our 2nd main road of the day, the A701. This road doesn’t have a very nice surface for cycling as it’s rather worn out and bumpy and there’s a lot of pot holes to avoid along the way. However, the scenery is stunning and it’s not all that busy really. It’s also mainly quite flat with only a few short, easy hills along the way as it follows the ever narrowing River Tweed through the Border hills towards its source about 15 miles to the south. We were only going about 7 miles though and turned off into the village of Tweedsmuir. It was here, as we crossed a hump-backed bridge over the Tweed, that we first spotted a yellow Cycle Event sign pointing in the direction we were travelling. It wasn’t the Tour o the Borders but perhaps we’d accidentally found ourselves in some other cycling sportive – who knew?! We hadn’t seen any other cyclists though so perhaps we were even in the lead!

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Anyway, we followed the yellow sign along the single track road into the hills, climbing gradually up to the Talla Reservoir. With the steep slopes of the hills going straight down into the water, it almost looks like a Norwegian Fjord – so Dad said. I’m sure he must be right (he usually is!). After and easy mile or 2 of flat riding along the water side, we turned the corner around the head of the reservoir and immediately saw the 20% sign which told us of the steep climb coming up – the infamous Wall of Talla. We did this climb a few weeks before and I’d found it very hard but this time, possibly because I knew what to expect, the very steep slopes didn’t seem too bad and I managed to keep cycling at a reasonable speed all that way to the top, leaving Dad floundering miles behind

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(stopping to enjoy the view of the Talla Reservoir down below no doubt). About halfway up, the first group of cyclists from the event caught us up. One of them commented that this was “brutal” as he pedalled slowly past, not going that much quicker that I was. The second half of the climb was much easier than the first and before too long, I had made it to the top where I had to wait for quite a long time until Dad eventually appeared (with his phone full of pictures no doubt). I’d already had my rest so after allowing him a quick drink, I made Dad keep going and we sped down the long gradual hill for a few miles to

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the Megget Reservoir which looks like it would be a nice place to stop for a picnic on a sunny day. We kept going though and after a few short ups and downs, we enjoyed a magnificent, long and fast descent all the way down to Cappercleuch on the shores of St Mary’s Loch.

There we turned left onto the A708, still following the cycle event signs. Just around the corner we discovered a feeding station for the event cyclists, and for a minute we considered chancing our arm and stopping for a free feed. In the Tour o the Borders, they apparently supply the riders with quality macaroni pies (my favourite!) but today, the feed stop looked rather more basic and there were no pies to be seen so we decided to give it a miss… After a quick ride along the side of the loch and then a short uphill then downhill section on the quiet main road, we arrived at a crossroads next to the Gordon Arms hotel. In the “Tour”, the short route turns left here and heads back to Peebles, but the long route turns right, and takes you through some of the most scenic (and hilly) parts of the Borders. After a quick lunch of oatcakes and crisps we took the long way and so did today’s cycle event. This section of the B709 is extremely nice, with basically no traffic, and it climbs very gradually up to well over 300 m so the views are great. It is known as the Berry Bush climb, possibly because of all the wild blueberry bushes growing along the side of the road. Along this section we actually caught up with one of the slower cyclists taking part in the event and she told us it was a 100 mile sportive starting and finishing in Langholm – so she still had a long way to go to get to the finish but at least it would be more downhill than up for the rest of the day…

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After a fast descent down the other side of Berry Bush, we soon arrived in the Ettrick Valley where we turned left onto the B7007, leaving the yellow signs of the cycle event behind at last. This is one of my favourite roads and was one of the easiest parts of the day. It’s a nice surface for cycling on, mainly flat or slightly downhill and the views of the hills and the river valley are lovely. You rarely see any cars on this road either so it’s

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pretty much perfect. After about 8 or so easy miles, we turned left onto a minor road which leads away from the valley and up into the hills again. This hill is known as Witchy Knowe and the road soon starts climbing quite steeply as it twists and turns its way upwards. There are crash barriers along the roadside which really emphasises how steep some of the corners are and the views back down to the Ettrick Valley are amazing. As is becoming the norm on hill climbs, Dad was starting to struggle so I left him behind and headed up the hill as fast as I could. I think I waited at the top for 5 minutes before he finally got there, gasping for a Yorkie bar… The view down the other side of the hill to the Yarrow Valley is even better than the views on the side we had cycled up and the descent down the hill was, despite the cattle grids, very fast and a lot of fun.

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At the bottom of the hill we turned left onto the A708 once again and cycled back along the Yarrow valley towards the Gordon Arms. It was only slightly uphill but all into the strong wind so we found these 4 or 5 miles quite hard and it was slow going for while. But after a quick banana beside the hotel, we felt re-energised and set off up the last big hill of the day, the Mount Benger climb on the B709. This is a road we’d cycled on lots of times but always in the other direction. Today, the climb seemed rather easy. It was only about 2% gradient and we were able to go at well over 10mph most of the way up in quite a high gear. We spotted a lot of wild blueberry bushes along the side of the road once again – sadly none ready to east though. After a quick photo at the top, we then had a great time freewheeling all the way down the other side to Traquair. Be careful on the way down though as the road surface isn’t the best and you’ll need to stay near the middle of the road to avoid the pot holes. At least we didn’t have very many cars to avoid though…

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At Traquair, we turned left onto the B7062 for the last 7 miles back to Peebles. This is mainly flat or slightly downhill, following the River Tweed all the way, in and out of the trees. A mile or 2 outside Peebles however, there was one last sting in the tail with a rather steep and unexpected uphill section. It was the last thing we needed after over 70 miles but at least it wasn’t uphill for too long. It was though, possibly the hardest hill of the day! Or maybe we were just tired… Whatever, we were soon back in Peebles filling our faces with ice cream (2 scoops of course). The perfect end to a perfect tour of the Borders.

Grand Tour of the Lammermuir Hills

Route Out – Gorebridge to Newlandrig to Ford to Pathhead to West Saltoun to East Saltoun to Gifford to Garvald to Whiteadder Reservoir to Ellemford to Longformacus. For route map click here.

Route Back – Longformacus to Longyester to Longnewton to Humbie to Fala to Fala Dam to Tynehead to Middleton to Gladhouse Reservoir to Gorebridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – warm and sunny and hardly even any breeze, clouding over later in the afternoon but stayed dry all day.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 82.08 miles
  • Riding time – 6 hours 36 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 35.1 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 5877 feet

Dad and I have more or less cycled all over the Lothians and Borders the past couple of years. But one area we have never really explored properly is the Lammermuir Hills which more or less mark the boundary between East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. Well, that is at least until a few weeks ago when I decided we would embark on our longest and hilliest route so far…

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After leaving Gorebridge along Vogrie Road we were soon climbing up the steep hill on the narrow road that takes you over to the Borthwick crossroads. Once you emerge from the trees the gradient eases and you also get an amaing view on your right over to the Moorfoot Hills and Fala Moor. Then, after reaching the top of the hill, the views of East Lothian, including North Berwick Law and Traprain Law came into view, as did our destination – the Lammermuirs. At the crossroads we went straight over onto the smoothest single track road in the world, speeding our way for a mile or so down to Newlandrig right next to Vogrie Country Park. There we turned right onto the B6372 and after a few yards of very bumpy road, the surface became lovely and smooth again and we had an enjoyable couple of miles of fast, slightly downhill cycling until we turned right again and down a steep hill into Ford, where we stopped for a quick photo of the

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Lothian Bridge viaduct before heading up an equally steep but reasonably short hill into the village of Pathhead. Here you have to cross over the busy A68 road and you often have to wait for a long time for a suitable gap in the traffic, so take care at this point. Once across, we headed downhill on a rather bumpy road with glimpses of the viaduct to be seen through the trees on our left. At the bottom of the hill there’s a grand archway with lions on it leading into the Oxenfoord Estate but we didn’t bother going in today and stayed on the deserted country road. After going straight through another crossroads, we had a mile or so of really flat, speedy cycling and soon we went past a sign welcoming us to East Lothian. Oddly, on the other side of the sign there is no sign welcoming people travelling in the opposite direction into Midlothian. Perhaps East Lothian people are just a nicer bunch…!

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At the next junction, we went right onto yet another really smooth, flat and quiet road, passing endless fields of barley and oil seed rape as we cycled past Templehall farm and skirted around Glenkinchie Distillery on our way to the lovely villages of first West Saltoun and then up a short but steep hill into East Saltoun. There we joined the B6355 road and after a few easy miles with only one short hill on a very straight road, we soon reached Gifford, zooming down the hill on brand new tarmac into the village, possibly breaking the 30 mph speed limit – who knows?! Gifford is a really nice place and we normally stop there for a snack, but recently, I have been managing to cycle for long periods without stopping and we’d only gone about 20 miles so I decided – even though Dad was feeling peckish – that we should press on… Unfortunately for my hungry companion, pressing on meant continuing on the B6355 out of the village, heading up a very steep tree-lined road for a mile or so before turning left onto the B6370, which was thankfully (for Dad!) much flatter. We started to get some closer up views of the Lammermuir Hills on the right as we cycled the 4 miles or so to the village of Garvald. Garvald is located right at the foot of the Lammermuirs and as we left the village the minor road suddenly became very steep as it took us slowly, twisting and turning through the trees. This is a very long and challenging climb into (and right over) the hills. The narrow road is at times rather bumpy but at least it is very quiet, with lots of corners and some extremely steep bits. Dad was really running low on energy by now and was

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finding it hard going as I left him for dead, going as fast as I could manage until I was sure I was definitely at the top of the climb. I waited for about 5 minutes until Dad finally panted his way to the top and I allowed him to have a short rest and a bag of crisps to help him get an energy boost before the next section of the route… Along the top of the hill, the road surface suddenly improves and you get some brilliant easy downhill riding for a while on very smooth tarmac and you really get a chance to take in the views of the rounded, patchwork, heathery hills all around. Even though it’s not particularly high (about 345 m) you almost feel as though you are riding on the top of the world along

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here. The road goes down and then steeply up again several times along the way and it’s quite fun to cycle with virtually no traffic to be seen. At one point, the road got unexpectedly steep straight after one of the dips into a ford (which was dry today) and we both almost got stuck in too high a gear on the way back up. Luckily neither of us fell off and eventually, after several seconds of barely travelling about 0.5 mph, we managed to get going again…

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After a short while, the road descends down to meet up with the B6355 once again. Here we went left, passing by the picturesque Whiteadder Reservoir before tackling a short but steep section of road (15% according to the sign). What followed was a very pleasant, relatively flat 5 or 6 miles of cycling along the valley. It was the complete opposite of the previous 5 miles and we made good progress along what was, other than a few motor bikes, a susprisingly quiet road. After crossing an impressive old bridge, we reached the village of Ellemford where we saw a sign for Longformacus pointing right so that’s where we decided to go. This turned out to be my favourite 3 miles of the entire route. It began with another long 15% gradient climb straight up out of the village but after that it was either flat or downhill all the way to Longformacus and we didn’t see another person during that time. We got an amazing view down over the valley we’d just cycled along minutes earlier and at one point, a buzzard flew from its perch in a tree and almost crashed right into Dad’s head as he cycled along. That would have been quite a spectacular accident but thankfully the bird missed by a few inches…

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Longformacus seemed like a pleasant enough place so, after 40 miles, I finally agreed to stop for lunch, much to Dad’s relief as he was about to pass out (so he said anyway…). Fuelled by Parma Ham, cheese, oatcakes and salad, we set off again, heading north-west and along a tree-lined minor road, going back uphill once more, though fairly gradually. The mostly gradually uphill theme continued for a while as we climbed back up high into the Lammermuirs. At one point we got a view across to Whiteadder Reservoir far away on the right, as well as views across to Soutra wind farm on the left. This road seemed very quiet once again (we saw 1 other cyclist and only about 2 cars in 10 miles) and it climbed up to well over 400 m. It’s quite a challenge as it has a few long, steep downhill

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sections immediately followed by incredibly steep long uphills. Needless to say, Dad was struggling to keep up and I found myself having to wait for several minutes for him at the top of each of the long climbs. By the time we reached the junction with the B6355 yet again, we almost felt as though we had cycled over the Lammermuirs about 5 times in a row. When you see the Lammermuir hills from a distance they look rather low and rounded and fairly gentle. However, when you are cycling over/through them, you quickly find out that that is nothing like the truth. These hills provide some of the toughest cycling in southern Scotland.

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The B6355 gave us with a very enjoyable and fast descent for a few miles – a well deserved rest almost… Rather than head all the way down the hill to Gifford again, we turned left at a crossroads and headed onto some really quiet back roads that skirt around the edge of the hills, heading vaguely westwards. These roads are quite bumpy at times but it was a pleasure to cycle on as, compared to the previous hour of so, it was mainly quite flat and easy going. We passed through tiny settlements such as Longyester and Longnewton, in and out of the trees and dodging sheep and horses at times. Before

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long we came to a juntion with the B6368 where we turned left on to the slightly busier but lovely and smooth road. By now even I was starting to feel a bit peckish and in need of an energy boost. Luckily, after a mile or 2 we came to the village of Humbie where there’s a nice community run  cafe/shop called the Humbie Hub. We decided to stop there and get some ice cream – a tub of strawberry for me and 2 tubs (chocolate and vanilla) for greedy Dad!

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After filling our faces we continued on and soon turned right onto the B6457 for a couple of miles up the hill to Fala Village before turning right onto a minor road for a short time, speeding down the steep hill into Fala Dam and then crawling back up the even steeper hill out of the other side of the village and up to the junction with the main A68 road. Thankfully, there is actually no need to cycle in the busy traffic as there’s a path along the side of the road which we cycled on for a few hundred yards. We then waited for a gap in the traffic before crossing over onto the B6458 road. This is a quiet road with a reasonably good surface, slightly uphill at first and then flat for a few miles with the Fala Moor hill high up on your left side, before going downhill again until the village of Tynehead. Here the road goes across a bridge over the Borders Railway line before it starts to climb gradually once again for the last mile or 2 until it reaches the junction with the A7 road near its high point at Fala Hill. After such a long cycle so far, the gradual climb certainly felt a lot steeper than the road actually looks… The A7 road is quite busy at times but compared to the A68, it perfectly safe to cycle on. We turned right and sped downhill along the main road for about 2 miles, enjoying the views of the Pentland Hills in the distance. Next, we turned off onto a minor road that took us a short distance uphill to the collection of houses and farms known as Middleton.

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From there, it should have been a short, downhill spin back home. But I checked our current mileage (72 miles by then!) and realised that if we managed another 10 miles or so, we’d break our distance record. Dad wasn’t too keen but reluctantly followed me as I headed along National Cycle Route no.1, skirting around the back of the Middleton quarry (lots of potholes, bumps and gravel on the road so be careful here) before turning left to head uphill towards Gladhouse Reservoir in the shadow of the Moorfoot Hills. No way would we be climbing over those hils though so we skirted around the reservoir and headed back to Gorebridge along the ups and downs of the rollercoaster ride that is the B6372. Home just in time for tea – a well deserved fish cake supper for me and a scampi supper for Dad. It had been an epic adventure: the longest, hilliest and possibly the best route I’ve ever cycled.

Stow to Galashiels (the hilliest way possible)

Route – Stow to Lauder to Blainslie to Langshaw to Galashiels to Clovenfords to Stow. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Mainly sunny and a bit hazy later on. Quite warm and a light breeze.
  • Bike type – Road bike
  • Distance travelled – 29.54 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 27 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32 mph
  • Average speed – 12.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2741 feet

Dad and I have been going out cycling in the evenings quite a lot recently as the weather has been really good (mostly anyway). One day we had an early tea and then drove down the road to Stow in the Scottish Borders to attempt one of the hilliest routes you could possibly imagine…

We parked the car at the train station and cycled down the hill, over the Gala Water where we got a lovely view of the church, crossed over the main A7 road and on to the B6362. Straight away we passed a sign warning of a 15% gradient ahead and as we turned the corner to leave the village behind, the road really did start to climb steeply. By the time we’d reached a patch of trees a few hundred yards up the hill, it really did start to feel like 15%. Dad, as usual, kept stopping for photos and I soon left him far behind as I pedalled as fast as I could in gear 1, around another bend and then out of the trees and back into the sunshine. From there onwards, the climb wasn’t nearly so steep and in fact, seemed quite easy as I sped up the gradual slope into what is known locally as Lauder Common. The road really does go right over the top of the hill so you get an incredible view in all directions. We could see the Eildon Hills on the right and the Lammermuirs straight ahead. I waited at the top for a few minutes until Dad finally appeared (too many photos obviously). Then we took off down the other side of the hill, a very fast and fun couple of miles down to the town of Lauder.

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In Lauder we turned right and had to negotiate the rather busy A68 road for about half a mile. Thankfully most of this was through the town so was in a 30 mph zone and it was perfectly safe. Just after leaving town, we turned right onto a minor road to escape the traffic. Just there, dad spotted a rather nice looking cycle path with a good surface that appeared to go all the way back to Lauder, so it looks as though we could have avoided the main road. We will have to investigate this another day. Anyway, the minor road was quiet and took us through some peaceful Borders countryside with lots of trees and fields. There were lots of long straight sections, quite a few short uphills and some long downhills so it was quite a pleasant and interesting road to cycle on. What made it even more interesting is that it passed through several small settlements, all of which contain the word Blainslie in their name…

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After passing through all the Blainslie’s we turned right at a signpost for Langshaw. This took us onto an unexpectedly steep narrow road which seemed to go straight up for ages. It seemed much harder than the 15% hill we climbed going out of Stow but at least the view back down to the valley below was quite nice. At the top we passed some signs for the Southern Upland Way (which is a long distance walking route through the Borders) and we enjoyed some lovely views of the hills in the distance. The road then went very steeply downhill. It was very fast for a mile or 2 and there were a few sharp corners to negotiate so we had to be very careful. We also had to try and avoid a group of cyclists puffing their way up the hill – it actually looked much harder than the other side that we had climbed!

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At the bottom of the hill we came to Langshaw which is little more than a few houses and a farm. There we turned right and after a few hundred yards we took the next left onto another single track road. It was uphill once again but this time it was a much more gradual climb along the deserted and very scenic road. Soon enough we were speeding back down the other side of the hill, past some farms again and taking care not to go too fast on the sharp bends. This road came out at the main A7 road where we went left. There was no way to avoid the half mile or so in the traffic  but it was downhill and very fast all the way to (and through) Galashiels. The road was a bit bumpy though so it was not the most pleasant road to cycle so fast. When we came to a mini roundabout just before the train station, we went right around the roundabout and headed back in the same direction we had come from – only this time we joined onto a very nice new cycle path called the Clovenfords Link. Apart from a short section, it was all off road for the 4 miles or so to Clovenfords and was a very pleasant ride. Unlike the rest of this route, it was mostly quite flat and for the last 2 miles or so it made use of a shared use path along the side of the main A72 road. As we neared the village, it became slightly downhill and we free-wheeled the rest of the way there.

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We turned right at the roundabout and headed straight up yet another long and steep hill on the B710 as we left Clovenfords behind. Although steep, it was much easier than some of the other hills we’d cycled up so far. At the top of the hill we turned left onto a very narrow, very quiet back road that took us through some on the nicest scenery in the Borders. It was mostly uphill of course but quite gradual for once, and the view of the setting sun shining onto a small reservoir near the top of the hill was very nice. We met some horses on the way up and then on the way back down the hill we ended up chasing a hare along the road at about 30 mph. We were too fast for the hare so before being overtaken, it decided to get out of the way and jumped straight off the road and up and over a 5 foot high wall. It was really quite an impressive leap for a small animal. For a minute there Dad was almost convinced it was a kangaroo…! After that we had an amazingly fast descent (be careful on the corners though), then had to slow down to a crawl because some sheep were blocking the road and refusing to move. Eventually, some ladies came out from a nearby house and rounded them up into a field and we were able to cycle the last mile or 2 back to the car in Stow in peace.

It had been less than 30 miles, but with nearly 3000 feet of climbing (as much as you’d expect to do in 50 or 60 miles), this was by far our hardest cycle route to date. It was definitely one of my favourites though and I’d highly recommend it.

Highland Perthshire Adventure: Glen Lyon, Ben Lawers and Loch Tay

Route – Aberfeldy to Dull to Fortingall to Bridge of Balgie to Killin to Kenmore to Aberfeldy. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – very warm and sunny with light winds at first but quite a bit windier after lunchtime.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 57.08 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 35 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 31.5 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 3751 feet

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that Dad and I spend most of our time cycling in the Scottish Borders. We really love the beautiful scenery and the fact that there are lots of very quiet roads to cycle on down there. It’s also easy to get to from our house in Midlothian. This week though, I decided that with the weather forecast looking good, it would be nice to travel a bit further afield and go for a ride through an even more spectacular part of the country – Highland Perthshire.

After a 100 minute car journey, listening to Sounds of the Sixties on the radio on the way up the M90 and the A9, we eventually arrived in the lovely Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. I’ve been here before when walking in the mountains but had never cycled in this area – until today. We parked near the river close to the play park and immediately cycled over an unusual looking bridge with traffic lights which took us onto the north side of the River Tay. Even at 9am it was already quite hot as we sped along the nice, flat road surface of the B846 past such interestingly named places as Weem and Dull. As we cycled

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along, the views started to get better and better and at one point we could see the impressive mountain Schiehallion in the distance (I climbed up it when I was only 5 believe it or not). After a few easy miles we turned left onto a minor road signposted for Glen Lyon. It was on this road that we spotted a sign warning of a cycle event but we saw no cyclists around so we continued on through the pleasant countryside on the mainly flat road. Soon we came to a village called Fortingall which had some strange old houses with thatched roofs and shortly after that we turned right at the signpost onto the narrow road that would take us through Glen Lyon.

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Dad had told me in the car on the way up that Glen Lyon was the most beautiful glen in Scotland, and I would have to say that he was not wrong. It has a bit of everything: lovely woodlands, narrow gorges, waterfalls and rivers at first and then a more open river valley with amazing mountains all around further down the glen. The road is great to cycle on too with little traffic. It is mainly slightly uphill in this direction but with lots of short ups and long downs and corners to keep things fun. We cycled right around the back side of Ben Lawers (the 5th highest mountain in Scotland I believe) which I climbed with Dad and my sister Isla last summer. Despite all the fine warm weather recently, there were still quite a few patches of snow high up in the hills. About halfway along

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Glen Lyon, we started to see groups of cyclists racing towards us. There were literally hundreds of people cycling east down the glen and we were the only ones heading west. As we found out later they were taking part in what must have been an amazing cycle event called the Tour of the Highlands, a 3 day event covering 300 miles and all the steepest hills (and all the ski centres) in Scotland and we appeared to be tackling about 30 miles of their Day 1 route – only in reverse! After about 10 miles of the most enjoyable cycling through the glen we came to a small village called Bridge of Balgie. Here we turned left, over a small bridge (strangely enough) and onto a very narrow road that would even closer to the mountain Ben Lawers…

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This road is another of the best cycling climbs in Scotland according to my current favourite book. It is about a 4.5 mile climb to the high point in the road at almost 600m, quite gradually uphill at first but then much steeper for a long long time as the road winds its way upwards into the mountains. It’s a really spectacular ride and the stunning views more than make up for the tired legs as you pedal ever upwards. The view of the

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Tarmachan ridge was amazing and looks so close to the road. Streams of cyclists were still passing us on this road, flying down the steep hill towards Glen Lyon. The road surface wasn’t the best, rather gravelly in places so I bet it was a bit of a tricky descent for them – much easier going up (well sort of…). There’s a reservoir just past the top of the pass and I waited here for about 3 minutes until Dad finally arrived! I thought it was quite an easy hill but he obviously found it much harder. He claims he kept stopping to take photos…

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On the way back down the other side of the hill the road surface is much smoother and although steeper and quite bendy, looked like a safer descent to me. The parking area for Ben Lawers was totally mobbed today because of the good weather and there were loads of cars parked on the grass verges too. We got some fine views of the mountains, including Beinn Ghlas which you climb on the way up to Ben Lawers, as we free-wheeled

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down the hill. We also got our first view of Loch Tay far down below. In a couple of minutes, we’d reached the bottom and turned right onto the A827 road, heading for Killin. Although a main road, this is fairly quiet, has a good surface for cycling and is fairly flat so we were able to go at a good speed. The view of the loch and the mountains in the distance was very nice too. A few miles later we’d left Perthshire and entered Stirlingshire and soon we arrived in the town of Killin (which was crowded with tourists). Here, after about 33 miles, we had our first stop of the day and ate our lunch (sausage rolls, crisps and grapes) sitting on a rock next to the lovely Falls of Dochart.

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After our tasty lunch we followed the sign for Cycle Route no.7 which is just opposite the Falls. This is a minor road which basically follows along the side of Loch Tay for 17 miles to the town of Kenmore. This road has a 40 mph speed limit to encourage walkers and cyclists and you would think that a road following a loch would be a nice easy flat ride (which would also encourage cyclists you would imagine). Well, don’t be fooled. This road is a hard cycle as there are virtually no flat sections and it is all short ups and

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downs (with a few longer, steeper ups and downs as well). After our efforts of cycling over the Ben Lawers road we found this road to be the hardest part of the day strangely enough and we made slow progress. It was a very nice road though and after a few miles cycling in the trees, eventually the views of the loch and the high mountains on the other side of the water come in to view. In fact some of the best views of the day were of the five mountains of the Ben Lawers ridge about halfway along this road so it’s well worth stopping for a photo (and a rest!).

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When we got to Kenmore (by now back in Perthsire again by the way), there were loads of people paddling in the loch, playing on the beach and sun bathing. We decided not to join them though and after a bit of decision making, decided to take the shortest route back to Aberfeldy, 6 miles along the A827. The first mile or so was rather steep (about 7.5% gradient) but after that it was all downhill and then flat along the side of the River Tay all the way back to the car. As usual, we decided to seek out an ice cream shop and within seconds, we found one. “Cones” in Aberfeldy is highly recommended as the amount of ice cream they gave us in a 2 scoop tub or cone was about as much as 4 scoops at any other ice cream shop! It was the perfect end to one of the best days ever. It was my first time cycling in Highland Perthshire and it certainly won’t be my last.