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

IMG_20180526_092254898

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.

IMG_20180526_100351185

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

IMG_20180526_102443962

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…

IMG_20180526_104553529

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

IMG_20180526_110923233

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…

IMG_20180526_112417037_HDR

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

IMG_20180526_114214102

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.

IMG_20180526_122122574

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

IMG_20180526_135118726

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!).

IMG_20180526_140231720

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.

Gorebridge to Tweedbank (volume 4: via Tweedsmuir)

Route out – Gorebridge to Eddleston to Stobo to Drumelzier to Tweedsmuir to Cappercleuch to Yarrow Feus to Yarrow to Yarrowford to Selkirk to Galashiels to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

Route back – Scotrail train from Tweedbank to Gorebridge.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Heavy rain (and some hail) for the first 15 miles, then mainly cloudy but dry with some glimpses of sun. Quite cold and annoyingly windy (and we were cycling straight into the wind) for the last 30 miles.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 69.3 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 37 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 30.2 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 3359 feet

Dad recently bought me a brilliant book called “Cycling Climbs of Scotland: a Road Cyclists Guide” by Simon Warren which details some of the best, and hardest hills you can possibly cycle up. One of the toughest climbs described in the book is known as the Wall of Talla. It has a 20% gradient according to the road sign and looked impossibly steep when we drove up it in the car a few weeks ago. We once cycled down it and I remember it being rather scary and very hard to stop yourself going too fast or even crashing. However, I like a challenge so was determined that this time we would climb up the “wall”. And just to make things more difficult, the route I had in mind would be one of the longest we’d ever attempted, with almost 40 miles to cycle before the 20% sign even came into view…

The weather didn’t look too promising when we left the house but the forecast said it was supposed to brighten up with just one or two showers later in the day. Well, my advice to you is never trust the weather forecast as just after leaving Gorebridge along the B6372, the rain really started coming down, interspersed with occasional bursts of hail. It really was foul and horrible to cycle in. Thank goodness we have decent lights because it was almost dark. It basically rained constantly for the first 20 miles of this route – “Showers my ar5e!” said Dad – but we decided we may as well keep plodding on, turning off the B road after a few miles and onto the minor road that skirts around the edge of Gladhouse Reservoir and then past Portmore Loch. The minor road is a lovely smooth road surface, perfect for cycling on – at least until you reach the signpost welcoming you to the Scottish Borders. After that it’s much rougher and full of potholes. Amazingly though, the awful section of potholes we spotted on our last route had been patched up. They didn’t do a very good job though as the filled in holes are almost a rough and bumpy as the potholes were! Just after Portmore, the road took us down a steep, twisting slope until the A703 road where we stopped for a drink before venturing out into the traffic…

IMG_20180428_113757219

It’s never particularly pleasant when you are cycling on a busy road and being overtaken all the time, but it’s even worse when it’s wet. We survived the 2 or 3 miles on the main road though and were soon in Eddleston where we turned right onto the minor road signposted for Lyne Station via Meldons. We were absolutely drenched by then, especially our gloves, and our hands were quite cold. We decided it would be a good idea to take off our gloves before carrying on. Bad idea. As we cycled up the gradual slope into the Meldon Hills the rain got even heavier and our hands just got even colder. So the wet gloves went back on soon enough! The Meldons road is one of the nicest you’ll ever cycle on – at least it is when the weather is decent. Today was just horrible as the road was extremely wet, flooded and muddy at times. Even on the downhills we had to go slow to avoid being constantly splashed by the water. At this stage we were so fed up that we were seriously considering aborting the planned route and just heading home. Thankfully, just as we reached the other side of the Meldons and we neared the junction with the A72, the rain suddenly stopped and skies brightened remarkably. In fact, it was almost sunny and just like that, despite the wet shoes and gloves, we both brightened up too…

IMG_20180428_121921176

After only a few metres on the A72 we turned left onto the B712. This section of the route is highly recommended, taking you into the Tweed Valley past Stobo Castle and Dawyck Botanic Garden, and is one of my favourite roads for cycling. It is mostly flat and has great views of the hills and the River Tweed (which it basically follows for about 8 miles). The road is relatively quiet and is very straight for long stretches too so it’s easy to go at a good speed. As we cycled along we were also amazed at the miles and miles of daffodils lining the road. Someone must have taken years to plant them all. Or maybe they are wild daffodils – who knows? Very beautiful anyway.

IMG_20180428_122644205

Eventually, we came to a junction with another main road, the A701. There is no way to avoid this one so we turned left and headed south. As it turned out the A701 is not very busy with traffic at all and it is also fairly flat with a reasonable surface for cycling on (well apart from the odd pothole to avoid). Like the B712, the scenery is stunning, with lovely hills all around and grand views of the River Tweed all along the 7 miles. Also, look out for several impressive-looking metal bridges crossing the river to farms and other private properties along the way. In this direction, we were heading in the opposite direction to the river flows so it should have felt as if we were cycling uphill. It felt more like we were going downhill though and in no time at all we’d arrived at the tiny hamlet of Tweedsmuir where we turned left onto the minor road and stopped at a nice old bridge and sat on some rocks at the river side and had our first proper rest of the day (after 35 miles unbelievably!). We were feeling rather peckish so ate some lunch of Parma Ham, oatcakes, grapes and celery sticks to give us an energy boost before tackling the big challenge ahead.

IMG_20180428_140543561

After lunch, the narrow road took us eastwards, gradually uphill and straight into an annoyingly strong and cold wind. Soon we came to the Talla Reservoir which looks rather impressive with the very steep sloped hills around it. We couldn’t see the “wall” just yet but after a flat mile or so along the water side, we rounded the end of the reservoir and then, if you looked closely, you could just make out the line of the road heading up the next hill at a stupidly steep angle. Well, there was no going back so we tried to ignore the 20% gradient sign and started up the hill in our lowest gear. Immediately we realised that this was by far the steepest and hardest hill we’d ever tried to cycle up. It was real struggle to even keep moving. Dad decided to zig-zag up the road to help cut down the gradient and this certainly helped. Thankfully, despite this being one of the quietest roads in Scotland, a few cars came along when we were going up so we had no choice but to stop and let them past. These rest breaks certainly helped (and allowed us to enjoy the view behind us back down to the reservoir below too) and we eventually managed to reach the top. We probably could have walked up the hill quicker but we had climbed 150m in a mile according to the book so we were just pleased we’d managed it without any pushing at all.

IMG_20180428_143103431

From the high point in the road you a get a great view through the hills towards the next reservoir, Megget Reservoir. We stopped at the top for a rather long rest before soldiering on into the cold wind. At least most of the next few miles was downhill with only some short ups and it really is a lovely road for cycling on – although I didn’t think so at the time as my legs were well and truly broken after climbing the wall… The area around Megget Reservoir is totally stunning and well worth stopping for a picnic on a good day. Today, we just sped past and free-wheeled down the long gradual hill for a few miles until we came to the junction with the A708 next to St Mary’s Loch.

IMG_20180428_154243056

I was feeling worn out and wasn’t looking forward to the final 25 miles or so. It would be mainly on the main road and in to the freezing wind but after re-fueling on a banana we turned left and headed for Selkirk along the A708. Thankfully, apart from a number of motor bikes, this is a fairly quiet road and as it follows the Yarrow Water, it is reasonably flat. After Talla, I was really glad of this fact but I still didn’t really enjoy this section much, despite the nice views along the valley because I was so tired. I was glad when we eventually made it to the town of Selkirk as I knew that meant there wasn’t far to go… In Selkirk we avoided climbing the steep hill into the town centre but instead took a back street that follows the river past a recycling centre and eventually takes you to the main A7 road on the outskirts of town. Here we were able to avoid the traffic by going on the shared use cycle path. After a mile or so we turned left at the cycle route signs, over a bridge across the Ettrick Water and then into the Sunderland Hall Estate. A short, flat

IMG_20180428_172829461

straight section of road then took us to another bridge over the River Tweed and then onto Cycle Route no.1. We followed the cycle route for the last few miles and it was really one of the nicest parts of the day, with a mixture of well-surfaced paths and quiet roads following the river. There was wild garlic everywhere and we got a great view of Abbotsford House across the water. Soon enough we arrived at Tweedbank Station, perfectly timed, just as the train from Edinburgh arrived. We’d had a rather challenging day and one I’ll never forget and if you feel like a bit of an adventure, I’d highly recommend to try and cycle up the Wall of Talla. You won’t regret it – even if your legs will at the time!

Ettrick Valley Circular Route

Route – Ettrickbridge to Ashkirk to Alemoor Reservoir to Tushielaw to Ettrickbridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Sunny and reasonably warm with only a slight breeze.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 31.74 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 42 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.2 mph
  • Average speed – 11.8 mph
  • Height climbed – 2116 feet

A while ago, Dad discovered a really nice cycle route in the Borders and he kept telling me it was his favourite route ever. Eventually I gave in to his pestering and agreed to try it out – and he was right, we had an amazing day out in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland.

The route starts in the village of Ettickbridge, about 5 miles from Selkirk, one of the main towns in the Scottish Borders. As the name suggests, it is located right next to the Ettrick Water and we immediately crossed a bridge over the river and headed East along the Ettrick Valley. The valley is extremely picturesque and the views got even better as the quiet road climbed gradually uphill for a mile or so. Soon enough, we turned right off the “main” road and onto a very narrow minor road (signposted for Ashkirk). As we approached the turn off, the minor road appeared impossibly steep but Dad told me that it looks a lot worse than it is – and he was right. I even sped away ahead of Dad at this point, stopping only so we could get a photo of the view behind us. The road flattens out for a short distance before climbing steeply again after another right turn, heading up and up and up, with the views of the hills all around getting better all the time. There were even some snow patches next to the roadside, that’s how high up this road was and Dad was convinced he spotted a Golden Eagle as well (I’m sure it was just a Buzzard though…). We actually cycled this way around the same time last year when we stopped here to roll our Easter eggs. This time, we stopped at the cattle grid right at the highest point on the road and had a quick snack – not boiled eggs this time but carrot sticks and celery!

IMG_20180324_105200374

The next few miles are basically all downhill until the village of Ashkirk. The road has a nice smooth surface and is very quiet but there are quite a few sharp corners and it is quite steep so we had to be careful not to go too fast at times. Along the way, we had a nice view as far as the snow covered Cheviot Hills just over the border in England. We turned right in Ashkirk and cycled along the side of a river, through the trees and past a golf course for a couple of easy miles before the next steep hill of the day. It was quite a long but reasonably gradual climb which took us up to a very high and remote part of the Borders. After crossing another cattle grid, the views of the hills and the valley below really open up and the cycling was also brilliant: along here you get a few miles of easy, fast, slightly up and down high level riding. It’s probably one of my favourite sections of road anywhere. At the end of the high section, there’s yet another cattle grid so we stopped here for an early lunch. This time we did have some boiled eggs, along with oatcakes, cheese and Parma ham…

IMG_20180324_115143117

After the cattle grid the road forks into two. We chose the right option and sped down the long gradual hill for ages, enjoying the amazing scenery all around us. We saw some amazing Beech trees and some lovely horses ran over to see us at one point. Soon enough we got to the bottom of the hill at the junction with the B711 road near Roberton. We turned right and then almost immediately turned right once more, staying on the B711. This road goes steeply uphill straight away but it was worth it as the views behind us to the South were incredible. The Cheviot (the highest of the Cheviot Hills) could clearly be seen from here. From the top of the hill, the next 10 miles or so are fairly easy, mainly quite flat and the road has a nice new surface in places. It takes you through some of the remotest parts of the Borders, following a small river through the hills, with really no settlements along the way apart from a couple of farms. I bet it is very bleak in a snow storm (and there were many remnants of snow drifts to be seen today) but on a warm sunny day like today it was extremely nice. Alemoor Reservoir is particularly peaceful and well worth stopping to enjoy the view. Also, as you cycle along, keep your eye open for the ancient stone signpost which tells you it is 9 miles to Hawick.

IMG_20180324_125659092_BURST001

Eventually, we reached the end of the road and reached the Ettrick Valley once more, crossing another bridge over the Ettrick Water at Tushielaw (which is little more than a couple of houses, a hotel and a farm) and turning right onto the B709. After a few hundred yards the B709 turns left and heads uphill, heading for the Yarrow Valley. We went straight on though, onto the B7009 which took us through the Ettrick Valley for the final 8 miles or so back to the car in Etrrickbridge. It’s possible that this is my favourite road for cycling on ever (even better than the high road earlier on today). It is so pleasant for cycling on: the views of the hills and valley are stunning; the road surface is good; there are no real hills, just a few undulations and it is mainly slightly downhill and very fast; and incredibly, the road is almost completely traffic free. If you think this route might be too long and hilly for you, you should at least make sure you cycle along some of the Ettrick Valley on the B7009 – it is amazing and you won’t be disappointed.

IMG_20180324_134941888

 

Cycling in the Snow

Route – Gorebridge to Crichton to Tynehead to Heriot to Middleton to Carrington to Gorebridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Dry, reasonably mild, some sun, some cloud, some mist and no wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 27.54 miles
  • Riding time – 2 hours 26 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 27.1 mph
  • Average speed – 11.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 1887 feet

In my previous blog I mentioned how difficult it had been to get out on our bikes this winter due to the constantly cold, icy and snowy weather. Well, at the end of February and the start of March we had a week of very heavy snow and all the roads that we normally cycle on were blocked with snow drifts higher than me. It was brilliant fun! Apart from the fact that cycling was impossible… Finally, by last Sunday, the roads had been cleared and the snow had thawed enough to allow us to go out for a ride. And with a fair bit of snow still on the hills and at the roadside, it made for one of the most scenic cycle rides we’ve ever had.

IMG_20180311_082536181

We started from the house as usual and headed out of Gorebridge along Vogrie Road, heading up the minor road to Fushiebridge. Just before Fushie the road forks in two so we took the left option and tackled our first steep hill of the day. I raced Dad up the hill and left him for dead (he claims he was admiring the remains of the snow drifts so that’s why he was so slow). At the top of the hill we got some fine views over to the Moorfoot hills on the right, still covered in large patches of snow. Then we sped down the other side to the Borthwick crossroads where we headed straight over and onto one of the smoothest roads around, heading for Crichton. The melting snow had caused a bit of flooding so we had to take it easy at times. Soon enough we were heading down the stupidly steep road into the gorge near Crichton Castle. Because of all the blind corners and the fact that the road was wet, Dad made us go as slow as possible so that we didn’t crash. I thought he was going stupidly slow though and found it hard not to crash into him… Then it was on to the 2nd steep hill of the day, the endless climb up through the ancient Beech trees until we finally reached the hamlet of Crichton at the top. We’d only gone about 5 miles but I was knackered already!

Next we turned right onto the B6367. This is a lovely road, very quiet for a B road, only a few short hilly bits and quite a nice surface to cycle on. It’s also got some nice views of the Midlothian countryside with the hills in the distance. After a couple of miles we reached Tynehead and turned right along another lovely smooth section of fairly flat road for a mile or so until we came to the junction with the main A7 road at Fala Hill. As we have discovered previously, the A7 really isn’t too bad to cycle on as it’s reasonably quiet and is nice and wide so it’s easy for cars to overtake. Today, we were only on the road for a mile or 2 and it was almost all downhill and we soon came to the village of Heriot where we turned right onto the B709. We stopped here for a quick snack of carrot sticks and crisps before heading onto one of the best cycling roads in the world. This section of the B709 is quite flat and follows a river along the valley as it twists and turns, with hills on either side. The views are amazing, especially so today with all the snow around. There were quite a few flooded parts along the way but the water wasn’t too deep and it was safe enough as long you went slow. At one point Dad also spotted a dead stoat or ferret (he’s not sure which – see picture below) lying in the middle of the road. It looked like it had quite recently been run down by a car judging by the blood that was trickling out of its mouth.

IMG_20180311_094930992

After a few miles of perfect cycling, we came to the junction with the B7007 and turned right and cycled up the gradual hill as the road took us up and over the top of the Moorfoot Hills. Although the road takes you up over 400m, it’s not steep at all, yet Dad was going so slow at one point that I had to tell him to speed up! There was still a lot of snow piled at the side of the road near the top and we saw one of the most amazing giant snow drifts as well. Thankfully the road was perfectly clear though so there was no problems getting over the hill to the other side. In fact, we saw many other cyclists on this road today – it was probably the first time any of them had managed to get out on their bikes for weeks as well.

IMG_20180311_101108531

After zooming down the other side of the hill with grand views of East and Mid-Lothian in the distance, we turned left onto the very bumpy and muddy narrow road to Middleton. There was much less snow remaining here but there is a snow gate on the road so we stopped to photograph it before having another snack (apple and Yorkie bars). At the crossroads next to the farm we turned left and skirted around the back of the Limeworks. This road was badly flooded in places and there were quite a few pot holes to avoid so we had to keep our speed down. A mile or so further along, next to Castleton Farm, the road was in a similar state so be careful if you cycle this way in the near future. After turning left for a short section along the B6372, we then turned right at the bridge and sped along the very nice, quiet and relatively flat road to Carrington. It’s the quietest village in the world – you never seem to see any people or vehicles apart from other cyclists passing through. After that it was a couple of miles downhill along the minor road to Gore Glen (watch out for pot holes here as well), an annoyingly steep hill to climb out of the glen and then another steep climb back to Gorebridge via the new Kirkhill View housing estate and Arniston Park.

As is often the case, we were home in time for lunch – carrot and corriander soup and crusty bread. Despite all the hills, it had been one of the best cycle runs I’ve ever been on and I’d highly recommend it – especially in the snow!