We had returned home from a week’s holiday in Croatia, soaking up the sun and supping a on beer and wine while stuffing our faces with top quality seafood. Now it was time to get back on the saddle. Back to the daily routine of cycling, eating and sleeping just like on my pan European cycle of 2011. Well not quite…for this as my wife would remind over the next 4 days me was a holiday not one of my silly adventures!! And she cared little for average speed, but did enjoy the QOM activity on Strava…. (The Q stands for Queen….you know like we get KOM…King)
My wife was a new and enthusiastic cyclist having purchased a nice shiny new bike only months earlier. She rode that bike daily and was addicted. I would return home from work to see the bike was gone and there was no sign of my normally perfectly timed dinner waiting for me upon my arrival home. Hungry and confused I would need to fend for myself, delving into the array of foods on offer in the fridge I threw something together and devoured it before I lost consciousness. A while later my wife would return home beaming with delight at her mini adventure on the new bike telling me all about it. By now I had fully gained my strength after eating and listened with great joy as this was something we both enjoyed and maybe I could convince her in a few years to cycle around the world with me. Well maybe France for a couple of weeks next year.
We rolled the bikes out onto the street and headed in the very familiar direction of the cycle network towards the forth road bridge. A cycle we had already completed a few times together. We stopped for a quick coffee at our regular spot before heading over the bridge and into new territory. This was the adventure starting for real I thought as we free wheeled over the bridge taking in the sights. 4 days of this would do me alright, 4 days of escapism, 4 days reliving the excitement of crossing Europe with nothing more than a horribly badly scaled map…but what’s wrong here, why are we only averaging only 7mph when I had planned for at least 10mph!! Well as my wife reminded me she only has little legs unlike me, and she is new to cycling unlike me, and THIS IS A HOLIDAY not one of your stupid adventures.
What lay ahead was 60 miles of fairly tough cycling for a novice carrying a pannier for the first time, and someone who had only cycled about 25 miles in one go. I tried to explain that going 7mph for the next 60 miles would mean it will take us around 9 hours to complete today’s cycle. We had booked a B&B for the night so had no option but to stay there as it was already paid for. Trying to explain this without sounding like I was having a go was tough, but the thought of spending 9 hours on the bike spurred us on and we would complete the day in just less than 7 hours on the bike. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the cycle network we followed that day. I have cycled lots in and around Edinburgh but this was my first exposure to the cycle network further north. There was a fantastic section on the 764 route (one that connects routes 76 and 1) from Dunfermline to Alloa, it was around 18km long and followed an old railway track. There was no sign of traffic just wide open tarmac and fantastic scenery. After Alloa we make our way along towards Stirling, Bridge of Allan, Doune and finally home for the night in Callander. If you have cycled into Callander this way you will know it’s not the flattest of routes, so you can imagine how much my wife was enjoying our holiday by then.
The pain and tiredness subsided in an instant as I pointed out our b&b for the night merely 100 meters ahead of us to the right (As my wife didn’t have a cycle computer I would often tell her we had covered fewer miles than we actually had so the end would come along much quicker). We got into the room and laughed and smiled as the day was complete. I was proud of my wife for cycling such a long way and over some fairly decent hills. I gave her a high 5 and told her so. We drank some tea, got cleaned up and stuffed our faces with well earned burgers and chips, before falling asleep ready to do it again tomorrow.
Now for the avid or even less than avid cyclist out there, the mention of one thing strikes fear into your heart….saddle sore!! I have been very lucky to never have really had a bad case but I have cycled seeing the discomfort in others and it’s not a pretty sight. However it had been a while since I had put in that long a shift on the saddle so I felt slightly tender in the morning as I gently lowered my body onto the saddle. My wife, before setting off was not up for buying or wearing padded cycling tights, on the morning of day 2 as she grimiest with disbelief at how tender her tiny little bum was on such a lovely cushioned saddle, told me around 79 times how glad she was to have got padded tights. I had tried to warn her and explain she would be sore the next morning and she would just have to try not adjusting her sitting position and just take the pain for the first hour or so before it would become acceptable. The natural thing to do is of course try to adjust your sitting position and change the main impact point so as to minimize the pain. This can cause you to adjust your pedaling stroke and increase risk of a knee injury due to the awkward cycling style you now have, especially when clipped in. It also looks really silly when you see someone sitting almost sideways shuffling around on the saddle, silly and quite funny.
So after a hearty cooked breakfast (obviously) we set of straight onto a cycle path heading north around the west bank of Loch Lubnaig, past the eastern tip of Loch Voil, through the Strathyre Forrest towards and round the north side of Loch Earn heading west through Comrie towards the end of day 2 in the lovely town of Crieff . In light of last nights mileage “we” had decided to make today’s route slightly shorter and enjoy the holiday. Most of the morning was spent uncomfortably bouncing around our saddles on a fantastic off-road forest trail. When visible, to our right stood Ben Vorlich, a 985 meter mountain that we would be slowly circling around most if not all of the day. Early on we met a young cyclist and his older but equally keen father from Newcastle who were up for a cycling holiday much similar to ours. We traded first day stories as we had followed some of the same route up from Edinburgh as they had from Glasgow, and took a short banana munching break from a fairly technical uphill section on a very narrow and overgrown path at the north tip of Loch Lubnaig. After saying goodbye we headed north following the winding path that itself followed the bendy stream that ran free from the Loch north (or south from) to Loch Voil. It was at the eastern side of this loch that we crossed over the river and swung sharply to the right back towards the A84 and our route north after the trail. As we approached the exit of the trail and the start of our road section, and with our bellies now rumbling, we noticed a fantastic hotel/bar open for business. We swiftly dismounted and walked inside to a roaring fire and the aroma of freshly cooked soup and coffee, as well as an array of other goodies for the weary travellers.
After demolishing lunch and another intense caffeine hit we were ready to hit the road. If ready was a full tummy, sitting half asleep on what was now easily the comfiest seat I had ever sat on, then yes we were ready! The road north was busy and less impressive than the mornings cycle, but I knew once we turned right onto the quieter A85 that run right across the top of Loch Earn (around 10km) we would be back to the serenity of the mornings cycle, and I was right. We slowly worked our way eastwards towards St Fillans, the mountain slowly slipping away behind us, then to Comrie and before we knew it and much earlier than the previous day (a late 7pm finish), and enjoyably mainly downhill all the way to our home for the night in Crieff.
I woke on day 3 knowing that it was going to be a cold and wet day. So far we had been lucky with the weather but that was changing today for sure. I was apprehensive as I knew like most of us fair weather cyclists how different it is cycling in a glorious sunny day compared to a wet and cold Scottish (insert any month really). For me this wouldn’t be a problem but I was worried about what my darling wife would make of cycling all day in these conditions! To my great and possibly more so my wife’s even greater surprise this would be the day we both enjoyed the most. Straight after leaving Crieff we got on a very quiet B road for a good couple of hours. It was one of those perfect back roads for cycling on, barely a car in sight, surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful Scottish farmland. We made our way south to Auchterarder and stopped for lunch and coffee before slowly rolling towards the town of Dunning. It was then we started to climb into the hills and further south towards Kinross (our final stop over before home). To get up into the hills we started an assent up what turned out to have an average gradient of 13.4%…an AVERAGE of 13.4% people. But boy it was worth it, once up in the hills we were rewarded with some great cycling through Scotland at its best. Short steep climbs were rewarded with beautifully fast yet scenic downhills that lasted long enough to forget the pain in the legs getting to the top of these roller coasters. It was on the last downhill that my wife hit 35mph. I think I got close to 45mph, tapping on the brakes trying not to get to far in front just in case anything happened. I pulled over eventually after rolling for what could have easily been 2 miles, my wife kept on going grinning as she flew past me. After we caught up another mile or so down the road I could tell my wife was on a proper adrenaline high, this was the fastest she had ever gone on 2 wheels and she loved it! If you have ever gone downhill on a bike at speed you will know exactly how it feels, slowly working up to the big gear and grinding away until you reach that speed where you know its time to steady the bike, hold on and enjoy. And if you haven’t, go get on a bike, climb a big hill and cycle down it as fast as you dare, cycle down it like you used to do as a kid, when you had no fear, its one of the best feelings and one that evokes great memories.
Day 4 was the final day of our mini adventure, the final day of our holiday and a proper holiday cycle was in store. It was mainly flat or slightly downhill all the way home and we only had about 30 miles to cover. After our usual lazy morning packing up, eating the B&B breakfast and getting the bikes ready for the road we set off from the banks of Loch Leven and headed south along yet another lovely quiet B road to the cosmopolitan town of Cowdenbeath. After being spoilt with B roads, quiet back roads and off-road cycle paths, it was strange but somewhat a jolt back to reality to once again be tooted at by cars who clearly had to get somewhere quickly and didn’t realize I was I was on a bloody holiday here! The car beeping its horn was strange as I was cycling behind my wife and we were clearly both not blocking the car from going round us. I turned round looked in the car to see a sheepish looking woman staring back at me blankly, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled as to say “good day, may I assist you in any way”, this was met with further blankness. The car noticing a small 50 foot gap in the road and clearly in the wrong gear, roared past and off to whatever important (no)thing lay ahead that day. Further south we headed and closer to home with every pedal stroke. After stopping in Inverkeithing for lunch we headed in the wrong direction completely and back the way we had just cycled. Luckily my wife was more alert than me and announced that we had just cycled on this road, but the other way. I looked around and in all honesty didn’t recognize a thing. I hesitated and asked if she was sure as I didn’t recognize a thing, I was clearly informed we had JUST cycled this was moments ago and we had to go back. I hate going the wrong way if I’m walking, running or cycling, it’s so infuriating going back over old ground!! So back we headed and…Ah yes, now I recognise this road, clearly it looks totally different going the other way.
From Inverkeithing it was a lovely cycle back towards the forth bridges and back to Edinburgh. Back on the familiar cycle paths and rolling hills. As we cycled home thoughts turned to, well a cup of tea first, but then the overall experience of our first mini cycling holiday. On a personal note it was great to be doing this with my wife, not something I would have imagined we would be doing together a few years ago. For my wife it was different, this was all new, this was a step into the unknown, her first cycling adventure, 4 days cycling round the country all on her own steam, something that gives you great satisfaction upon completion. As you head for home at the end of any trip big or small, there is a great sense of achievement and for different reasons I think we both felt it as we turned left into our street, hopped off the bikes hobbled upstairs and put the kettle on.
For my money you will be hard pushed to find a better country to cycle in. You may get a country more tolerant to the humble cyclist than our own, but maybe that’s all part of the charm cycling in this great country, we get to have that little moan about that driver who blankly stares back at you after they toot their horn and you shrug your shoulders, look at them and think………what an arsehole!