I’m back! I survived a cycle ride from Inverness to Glasgow with only wet shoes, and eventually a flat rear tyre, to show for it.
The trip was a fantastic experience, with even heavy rain on Day 4 (the second day I failed to cover as it happened in this blog) failing to, er, dampen my spirits. Indeed, Day 4 was probably the most spectacular in terms of scenery, but I should cover the trip in chronological order. And that means going way back to the first day I descended into radio silence, the day I travelled from Pitlochry to Killin near Loch Tay.
Pitlochry to Killin
Pitlochry is a lovely little town, not far from another famous battleground at Killiecrankie, with a picturesque town centre that isn’t too busy. There’s a large hydroelectric dam nearby, with a salmon ladder running alongside – the idea is that the fishies can still jump between the concrete tanks to swim upstream. It must be a spectacular sight in the breeding season, but I suspect this isn’t it! (And perhaps the salmon would have been in bed by the time I wandered down there anyway…)
Sadly, the route out of Pitlochry is not particularly thrilling. It’s largely flat – good for a rest on the bike – but runs along quiet country lanes for most of its length. At one point it crosses an ex-railway bridge across a stretch of river, now a privately owned road, but even that isn’t particularly inspiring. Eventually you reach the town of Kenmore at one end of Loch Tay, where the heavens opened and I sought refuge in a cafe.
Several (several!) cups of tea and a light lunch later, the rain had cleared up and I was ready to get on the move again. The view from Kenmore is beautiful as you climb up above the loch, with the water seeming to stretch out endlessly into the distance. What rather sours the panorama is the fact that you know from your Sustrans map that the other end of the loch, 17 miles away at the town of Killin, is where the cycle route is leading you.
Cycling alongside a loch may be lovely, but 17 miles later even the prettiest view is going to get old. Add to that an constantly undulating route (none of the hills severe, but each less welcome than the last), and you feel rather glad when you reach your destination. As it happens, you tumble into Killin quite unexpectedly – one minute you’re barrelling down one of the many downhill sections, the next you turn a corner and encounter a group of old biddies from a coach tour standing around in the middle of the road. Good job I was braking already!
Killin’s location on the River Dochart, with its miniature waterfalls tumbling under the town’s bridge, makes it a great place to spend the night. I fell asleep to the sound of running water. Sadly, I awoke to the sound of water falling from the sky…
Yes, before I’d gone to bed I’d stolen a look at the weather forecast and was dismayed by what I saw! There was an unseasonable low pressure coming in from the Atlantic, bringing with it heavy rain and, later in the day, high winds from the southwest – headwinds for me, in other words. Not really what I wanted to hear. As Sunday dawned with diagonal rain hammering on the windows, I was tempted to abandon the day’s cycle and get the train instead.
Unfortunately, the nearest train station was over 15 miles away on a trunk road – not a very appetising prospect, and I would get soaked to the skin over that distance anyway! In the end, encouraged by some friends of my B&B host, I decided to chance the day’s ride as planned…
Killin to Balloch
I was glad I did! The route from Killin to my eventual destination at Balloch was by far the most spectacular section of the entire ride. Just outside Killin the route climbed into the hills on an old railway line, eventually popping out on the defunct Glen Ogle railway viaduct, now part of the cycle route. The views from the viaduct are amazing – if you have been over the Glenfinnan viaduct, as seen carrying the Hogwarts Express in THOSE films, you have some idea. It was still raining, I was soaked, but I didn’t care.
Just as well really – before Callander the rain held off for an hour or so, but as soon as I reached the town it fell again with a vengence. I locked my bike to the nearest immovable object and headed into a cafe, where I attempted to hide until the rain had passed. It was no good – eventually I had to leave in the pouring rain, heading onwards to Balloch. By this stage the wind had picked up too, blasting me backwards every time I tried to pick up speed. I resigned myself to making slow, wet progress; by this stage, at least, I was so wet I couldn’t actually get any wetter.
The rest of the way to Balloch was spent alternately cursing pine woods (the route passes through some forests I’m sure are lovely, in better weather), hills, rain, wind, cars (only occasionally did these pass me, but I knew their occupants were warm, dry and probably feeling pretty smug), and once, during a mercifully dry spell, punctures. Eventually though, I made it – at 8:30pm. Never before have I been so glad to arrive at a good, old-fashioned Youth Hostel, shared rooms and wet clothes hanging on every available surface and all.
But to reiterate, Sunday was the best day. There may have been rain, there may have been strong winds, but the spectacular sights en route more than made up for it. You always dry off eventually.
Balloch to Glasgow
By comparison, the route from Balloch into Glasgow city centre was an absolute doddle. It was predominantly along pancake-flat old railway paths and riverside paths, with the odd town centre route thrown in. In Dumbarton, I had an excellent opportunity to get soaked again as the route led me into an underpass – luckily I spotted just in time that the ‘puddle’ spreading across its mouth was a good two feet deep! Although hardly inspiring as a cycle route, the Balloch to Glasgow section was a welcome respite from the rigours of the previous days’ journey through the Highlands, and gave the encouraging impression of arriving into the city with plenty of energy to spare. Only the fact my shoes were still dripping wet reminded me of the previous day’s hardships, which were well worth it.
There are no pictures for the last two days of the journey, because the rain made it difficult to stop and take things out of my bag without everything getting soaked. Don’t worry – the iPhone camera would make the places I passed through look rubbish anyway. It’s the rules.
Footnote: the puncture repair made between Kenmore and Killin lasted all the way through the rainy journey from Killin to Balloch, the on-and-off rainy journey from Balloch to Glasgow, the journey home, and a commute to and from work. The patch eventually blew off just as I arrived home – an extremely considerate time for it to give up the ghost.
Thanks patch! You have now been replaced.