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.

Bathgate to Glasgow (via the Falkirk Wheel)

Route out – Bathgate to Linlithgow to Falkirk Wheel to Kirkintilloch to Bishopbriggs to Glasgow. For route map click here.

Route back – Glasgow to Uddingston to Coatbridge to Airdie to Plains to Caldercruix to Blackridge to Bathgate. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – dull at first then much brighter but with 1 horrible heavy shower around midday. Mainly sunny and warm later in the afternoon.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 80.62 miles
  • Riding time – 6 hours 42 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.6 mph
  • Average speed – 11.9 mph
  • Height climbed – 1958 feet

It seems like Dad and I have cycled everywhere in the south of Scotland. But last Saturday I woke up and suddenly realised that we’ve never been to the largest city in Scotland – Glagow. So I decided at 6:30am that morning that that was where we’d be cycling to that day. Unfortunately, to get to Glasgow and back from Gorebridge in a day would be basically impossible so we loaded up the car and travelled to the West Lothian town of Bathgate and by about 9:15am we were on our bikes…

We left the car on Kirkton Avenue in Bathgate and started by cycling straight up a really steep and long hill (14% gradient according to the sign) heading north for Linlithgow. It didn’t actually seem that hard a climb and soon we were out into the countryside going up and down (mostly up) for a while until we reached the top of the narrow road near Cairnpapple Hill where, despite the grey and overcast sky, we got a fine view across to the 3 bridges crossing the Firth of Forth away in the distance. From there, it was mainly downhill all the way for the few miles to Linlithgow on a relatively busy “C” class road which passes by Beecraigs Country Park on the way. The is road has a lovely smooth surface but has lots of very sharp bends on the steepest downhill sections so be careful…

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Not far into the town of Linlithgow, we turned left off the main road onto the Union Canal, cycle route 754. We’ve cycled on the canal before from Edinburgh to Linlithgow but had never gone further until today. The surface of the path was much better than I remembered, fairly smooth and with a hard-packed covering of fine stone chips, so it was perfectly OK for the road bikes. The gradient is totally flat so you have to keep pedaling pretty much constantly so it is a bit of a slog at times. You have to pass beneath many bridges and the turns here are very tight and bumpy so you have to slow to a crawl at times. You’ll also find that the path is used by millions of dog walkers (we even passed someone skiing on rollerblades!) so you have to pay attention and slow down a lot – we didn’t notice much in the way of dog dirt on the path though amazingly! Don’t expect many good views from the path either because you are always low down. The exception to this is when you cross the Avon Aqueduct (you have to push along here in case you fall in…) which gives you a stunning view down into the Avon Gorge.

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Before too long, we had reached the Falkirk Tunnel. I normally like tunnels but this one was very dark, bumpy and wet, with water leaking down from above in many places. It was too dangerous to cycle through it so we pushed our bikes for what seemed like about a mile in the darkness. It wasn’t much fun and really ruined our average speed. Thankfully, we made it safely to the other side and were greeted by a much more pleasant sight – the Falkirk Wheel. It is a rather clever mechanical contraption which joins onto the end of the Union Canal and lowers a barge down into the Forth and Clyde Canal about 50m below and at the same time raises a barge up into the Union Canal. We stopped here for an early lunch of boiled eggs, Parma Ham, cheese and oatcakes whilst we watched the barges move slowly from one canal to the other. Luckily, we didn’t require the assistance of the Falkirk Wheel to reach the Forth and Clyde Canal – we just freewheeled down the hill and turned left onto our second canal path of the day.

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Compared to the Union Canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal seemed much more “open” and you get much better views all along the way, especially of the Hills on the right hand side. The path surface is similarly decent, though perhaps a bit more gravelly in places. We saw fewer pedestrians and dogs on this path but many more cyclists, most heading the opposite way than us. Perhaps they were escaping Glasgow…? Interestingly, unlike the Union Canal, you don’t pass under many bridges on this canal, you tend to have to cycle up the slope until you meet the road and then cross over and down to the canal path again. This was quite annoying as there never seemed to be any pedestrian crossings and most of the roads were busy and hard to get across. On the plus side, there were loads of brambles growing along the canal-side so we managed to stop and fill our faces a couple of times. By about 1:30pm Dad spotted some high-rise flats on the other side of the water so he said we must be nearly there. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we came upon a signpost pointing to Firhill Stadium 1 mile away. This is Partick Thistle’s football stadium and funnily enough Dad’s favourite team Aberdeen (OK, I quite like them too) was playing there today with a 3pm kick off. We could have stopped for a few hours to watch the game but we’d never have had enough time to cycle back to Bathgate in daylight so we cycled on. Luckily, the path took us right around the edge of the stadium and we were able to sneak a photo of the Aberdeen FC team bus. We also made note of the fact that because Firhill only has 3 stands, you get a great view of around 90% of the pitch if you are standing on the cycle path. That bit of knowledge will save you £25 next time your team are playing Partick Thistle…

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From Firhill it was a short ride along the riverside path, down a steep hill, under the M8 motorway and then right into Glasgow city centre at Cowcaddens. We thought it would be sensible to push our bikes along the pavement in the city centre but as it turned out, pushing along the crowded pedestrianised Sauchiehall Street was the worst (and slowest) thing in the world. So we decided it would be best to brave the bus lanes and one way streets, cycling around George Square and then south towards the River Clyde. It was actually easy enough, and relatively safe, and soon we were on the pavement again, heading east along the river side path of Cycle Route no.75.

Route 75 starts off as a lovely path (watch out for dogs and children though) which follows the River Clyde for quite a long way, passing Glasgow Green and at one point giving us a glimpse of another football stadium, Celtic Park. Although the path has a mainly good surface, there are places where tree roots are growing close to the surface and this makes lots of mini speed bumps which are annoying (for Dad) or fun (for me) to cycle over. Near the outskirts of Glasgow we found a ginormous patch of brambles so stopped for quite a while to fill up. The outskirts of Glasgow basically never end as the city joins on to the fairly grim-looking towns of North Lanarkshire and around these parts there was a lot of broken glass on the path to try and avoid. At one point between Uddingston and Coatbridge, the cycle route directs you to go along a very narrow, muddy path that’s overgrown with nettles – not fun at all, especially on road bikes.

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There’s also quite a number of sections where cycle route no.75 makes you go on the pavement alongside some busy main roads – this does not make for a fun cycling experience. You keep having to stop and start again, cross over roads at junctions and traffic lights so it’s hard to go a decent speed. We would have been better just going on the road and braving the traffic. It also seems to take a rather long and winding route. I reckon there must be a more direct and/or pleasant route that takes you through the country roads instead of the town so I will need to check the map later. Anyway, when we reached Airdrie, the route took us right past our 3rd football stadium of the day, the Excelsior Stadium, home of Airdie FC, so that was quite nice. After Airdrie we came to another rather grim place called Plains, where again route no.75 suggest cycling on the pavement alongside the main A89 road. At one point, we had no choice but to divert onto the road as a McGills bus had crashed into car at a junction and was blocking the way. We found the road to be much nicer to cycle on so we stayed on it for a short distance until the cycle route sign pointed to the left and we left the grim towns behind…

The 12 mile section of cycle route 75 from just outside Plains all the way to Bathgate is one of the nicest cycling paths ever. If you ignore the brief visits to Caldercruix and Blackridge, this section is almost all on a very quiet path with an amazingly smooth surface which makes you speed along nicely, especially on the long, slightly downhill sections. The views of the countryside are remarkably good too, including the beautiful Hillend Loch which the path skirts right around the edge of. You also get some very close up views of a wind farm which Dad and I both liked. The path follows the same route as the railway line as well, so we were lucky enough to spot about 10 trains before we made it back to Bathgate…

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By the time we reached Bathgate it was about 6:30pm and we were both starving. Luckily, even though he doesn’t know the town at all, Dad has a strange homing instinct and somehow managed to direct us straight to a Dominoes Pizza. So we stopped there for tea, eating outside in the sun before cycling back to the car. It was our longest cycle route so far, our first ride over 80 miles, but it didn’t actually seem that hard as there were very few hills to climb all day. Both of us commented that we felt we could have gone for another 20 miles! Apart from cycling through the grim towns of North Lanarkshire for an hour or 2, we’d had a really great day.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Aberdeen won 4-3 to go top of the league so Dad was happy…

Callander to Killin and Back Again

Route out – Callander to Loch Lubnaig to Strathyre to Lochearnhead to Glen Ogle to Killin (via National Cycle Route no.7). For route map click here. Note: Google Maps suggests going onto the A84 for 2.1 miles after Strathyre but there is a new section of cycle route no.7 next to the main road that you can use instead – that’s what we did and it’s much safer.

Route back – same as the route out but in reverse.

  • Weather –  hot and sunny with almost no wind.
  • Distance travelled – 44.41 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 48 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 27.1 mph
  • Average speed – 9.2 mph

On sunday, Dad and I drove to Callander in Stirlingshire with our bikes to try out National Cycle Route no.7 for the first time. We parked in the car park next to the river and followed the sign saying Killin 22 miles which took us onto the route no.7 cycle path. I was thinking about only going as far as Strathyre which is 9 miles from Callander but amazingly, we managed to go all the way to Killin and back (over 44 miles) and this was a world record for us!

The route is almost completely off road and the cycle path is mostly a nice smooth surface and appears to be quite flat. It is actually slightly uphill most of the way out but you don’t notice this and we managed to go quite fast. There’s loads of really nice scenery to look at on the way including the mountain Ben Ledi and Loch Lubnaig where we stopped for a photo and an oatcake. Just before the village of Strathyre there is a very steep winding section where the path is very rough – I got stuck once on the way up. Just outside the village, we stopped for our lunch on a bench overlooking the loch. My cheese sandwich, celery sticks and rocket must have given me an energy boost so I decided to keep going rather than turn back.

From Strathyre there is a new section of cycle path which is a short cut and avoids either going on the main road or the much longer alternative route on the minor road via Balquidder. It was here that we discovered some wildlife – well actually Dad did, when a wasp flew inside his helmet and buzzed around for a minute or two. Thankfully for him, it managed to escape without stinging him on the head! Anyway, in no time, we had reached Lochearnhead but we didn’t bother going in to the village. Instead we started up the extremely steep and windy section which leads into Glen Ogle. I got stuck here once more so we stopped for a photo of Loch Earn and also filled up our water bottles at a waterfall. Eventually we reached the top and cycled the few miles to the impressive railway viaduct. I love steam trains so this was my favourite part of the route.

The last section to Killin is steeply downhill for 4 miles and that was where I reached my fastest speed of the day. In Killin we got a good view of the mountains near Loch Tay and ate a Magnum choc ice at the Falls of Dochart before heading back the way we had come.

On the way back from Killin to Glen Ogle, I got stuck once again. It really did seem quite a steep plod for those few miles. After that though, it was almost all downhill back to Callander. We stopped at Loch Lubnaig again and this time I went for a paddle in the shallow water at the edge. Then we sped that last few miles back to Callander where I had a fish cake supper for my tea.