Great weekend of cycling touring in Angus and Perthshire
Never-Say-No-To-A-Cycle Lee was celebrating her 40th birthday this weekend and Lee being Lee, who Never Says No To A Cycle, decided to organise her birthday celebrations as a Scottish cycling tour. In total, over the weekend, seven friends cycled various sections of this tour through stunning Angus and Perthshire countryside, and, for once, under a bright sun.
I joined Never-Say-No and her hubbie, Ali “The Campervan Converter” from the start at Montrose, via Braemar, Pitlochry, Blairgowrie and back to Montrose.
Day one was Montrose to Braemar: Some 70-plus miles (and an additional 12 miles for Ali due to a bike repair emergency. See below.) and including the big hill of Cairn o’ Mount.
Day two was Braemar to Blairgowrie, via Pitlochry: Some 60-plus miles and including the long ascent via Spittal of Glenshee and another challenging climb over the hill to Pitlochry for lunch – and back again.
Day three was Blairgowrie to Montrose: This was only around 40 miles but also took in the extremely steep Hill of Finovan.
Highlights of the cycle tour
Friends are for cycling: Cycling at touring pace is ideal for chatting and catching up with friends. We cycled in pairs for much of the tour and so I had the chance to chat with every friend at length. Some friends came for the full three days, others for two and one for one of the days but there was always a friendly person to cycle with and great chat to be had.
Touring is for seeing: Cycle touring necessitates a slower pace. Bikes laden with panniers are heavier and therefore harder to cycle. But this means that the pace is slower and so you see a great deal more of the countryside as it goes by. The Angus and Perthshire countryside in autumn is truly stunning. I looked on in wonder at golden fields of harvested cereals, rolled bales of hay, hills clad in velvet-like heathers of pink, purple and mauve and trees turning fiery reds, oranges and yellows. We spotted red squirrels, deer, hovering birds of prey and many cute sheep and young calves.
Café stops are essential: Cycling with panniers attached to a bike or carrying a rucksack while cycling uses up a whole lot more energy. So coffee and cake stops, as well as filling lunch stops, are required for re-fuelling. The best of the stops this weekend included an amazing café in Edzell, Finzean Estate Farm Shop & Tea Room, the Moulin Inn, by Pitlochry, and Little’s Restaurant in Blairgowrie.
Planning ahead makes sense: I realised before setting off that the Mighty Vickster and The Boy would be arriving with us Friday night, while Duracell Energy Ali would be arriving on Saturday night. So I left clothing and toiletries with them to bring along for me. This meant that I only needed to carry a small rucksack with me on the tour and saved myself a great deal of muscle pain and hill climbing agony. Call it cheating? I’d call it good planning!
Partners are of the loving kind: One of our group – we’ll not out her but refer to her as UDB (Ultimate Dizzy Blonde!)! – hadn’t thoroughly read the email from Lee about the touring aspect of the tour. This person thought we would be staying in Braemar and doing bike rides from there. So she, and her partner, arrived without a rucksack or panniers. Her partner is certainly of the loving kind because he then cycled more than 60 miles with a very large and non-cycle friendly rucksack on his back containing overnight clothes and kit for himself and the “dizzy blonde”!
Hill descents are the ultimate reward on a touring bike: Cycling uphill is tough enough especially when the route includes the long, long drag of Cairn o’ Mount but when you are carrying panniers, they are even tougher. Some of the ascents were rated 12% and 14% in places and it’s a wonder that we all cycled up without once getting off to push our bikes. But the reward of the descent is made even better because of heavier bikes. The heavier the bike the faster you’ll go downhill and we all took advantage of this plus-point after the muscle-zapping uphills.
Cakes taste better after 60 miles: UDB had brought a birthday cake with her, which was a lovely thought. But then someone needed to carry the cake for day 2 of the route so that it could be presented at the birthday meal in Blairgowrie. The honours for this go to The Boy, who carried his own clothing and kit in a pannier and also rode the 60-odd miles with a heavy birthday cake strapped on top. The cake tasted all the better for its journey.
Scotland can do amazing hospitality: Both the B&B at Blarigowrie, the Glensheiling and the Little’s Restaurant extended a very warm welcome to our cycling group. We were most likely loud. We were often dressed in strange clothes (flip flops are lighter to carry than trainers, while bike jackets can double up as going-out jackets). And we were tired and hungry. But both of these establishments welcomed us in with open arms and offered five-star hospitality.
More things learned while cycle touring
Bike wheel rims need attention: Just an hour into day 1 and after the welcome stop at the café in Edzell, Never-Say-No returned to her bike to find that part of the wheel rim had buckled off the bike. This rendered the bike unrideable. So hubbie Ali “The Campervan Converter” made a 12-mile return bike ride to a bike shop in Brechin to buy a replacement wheel. The bike rims were very worn and it’s unlikely that Never-Say-No will find herself in this tricky situation again. She will be checking her bike rims before she sets off on every bike ride in the future! It was lucky that she wasn’t riding fast downhill when the rim popped off because the bike would have come to a sudden and dangerous stop.
My memory is exceedingly poor: Some 20-odd years ago I lived in a tiny place called Craigton of Airlie, near Kirriemuir, which we happened to cycle through on this tour. I wasn’t there for long in the early 1990s although I did own a house in the village. While I did eventually work out which cottage I’d lived in I’m puzzled that I simply couldn’t recall a single thing about the other houses in the villages, the fabulous views, the amazing cycling landscape and the long hill to Kirriemuir!
Braemar doesn’t have the most hospitable lodge hotel: We were mostly all staying at Braemar Youth Hostel (it’s kind of ok for a youth hostel except for the pretty poor breakfast offering) but decided to go out for a meal. The Braemar Lodge Hotel disappointed on a number of counts and I won’t elaborate except to say I felt compelled to give them a not so favourable write up on Tripadvisor.
Cycle touring is a great deal of fun: We’ll be back from more. Lee plans to organise a September bank holiday weekend each year and I expect we’ll head back to beautiful Angus and Perthshire sometime. In the meantime, I will be looking for a new bike that offers the right bolts and holes etc for affixing panniers. I once did a fair bit of cycle touring and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. Next time there will be less cheating for me: I’ll be swapping carbon bike bling and rucksack carrying for a more sturdy bike with panniers!