Luss to Killin on Billie Fleming Tribute Ride
I wonder what the weather was like when Billie Fleming cycled the 100km from Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond, to Killin, Stirlingshire, as part of her epic year of cycling in the late 1930s.
I hope that it was a great deal warmer and drier on August 5 1938 than it was as I cycled the same route with two friends, Yvonne and Marie, in 2015. I hope, too, that Billie was able to enjoy much more of the fabulous views that I know can be seen on this wonderfully scenic route. Sadly, for us, the landscape was mostly shrouded in low cloud yesterday.
And, as we rode this route via Balloch, Croftamie, Drymen, Aberfoyle, the Duke’s Pass, Callander and Glen Ogle to Killin, I also wondered how Billie had enjoyed the hills and roads.
I imagine that there was a lot less traffic, although I doubt there were the same cycle paths that we were able to enjoy for some of the ride, including the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path and the smooth tarmac now laid on a dismantled railway to the side of the A84 in Strathyre.
I wondered if she had many places to stop for food and how well she was received as a cycling “oddity”. In the 1930s, her record of cycling almost 30,000 miles and on every day of the year during a UK-wide journey would have been very unusual. These days, it’s not uncommon to see women pedalling their bikes for many miles at a time.
The Billie Fleming Tribute Ride
If you are wondering why I put myself through many hours of riding through torrential rain yesterday it’s because of a Billie Fleming Tribute Ride. The brainchild of keen cyclist Anne Hunt, the year-long ride began on January 1, 2015 and has seen hundreds of women riding every day on the same or similar routes to that of Billie in 1938.
The ride is in honour of Billie’s memory after she died in May last year aged 100.
Billie spent a lot of time cycling around England but in July and August 1938 she travelled to Scotland to cycle. In July and August, numerous Scottish riders, including myself, have followed the routes that Billie took 77 years ago. I think the tribute is an amazing feat.
Anne says: “One of the aims of Billie’s year-long bike ride was to inspire more women to ride their bikes for fitness. Billie wanted to prove her belief that just by cycling a girl could keep fit and that was the simple principle behind her year of cycling.
“It seems fitting, almost eight decades on, that we are carrying on this inspiring goal by getting women to join our tribute ride up and down the UK.”
Riding Luss to Killin on August 5, 2015
Thanks to Scotland’s #winterofsummer2015, I was not hopeful of a dry day for the Luss to Killin ride. Yet, as we set off to ride south along the western shore of Loch Lomond to Balloch, Yvonne, Marie and I actually saw what looked like a sun behind the clouds.
It had not started to rain at that point and we hoped, for once, that the forecast for wet weather might be wrong. The rain continued to hold off as we left the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path at Loch Lomond Shores in Balloch and headed to Croftamie via a wonderful network of quiet country roads. I have to thank Yvonne for her knowledge of the quieter roads in this area, otherwise I would have been cycling on the busy A811.
From Croftamie we cycled north to Drymen and took another quiet, but hilly, back road towards Gartmore and then Aberfoyle. It was on this section that it began to rain and the wet didn’t stop after this.
A few miles short of Aberfoyle I also suffered a puncture. This was my first puncture for a long time and with the midges out in force it made for an unpleasant half hour at the side of the road. Thanks again to Yvonne, and also Marie, as we united to get a new inner tube in as quickly as possible.
At Aberfoyle, we headed with relief into the fantastic Liz MacGregor’s café for coffee and cake. I was amazed by the high-rise cakes and the impressive cake selection.
Two coffee and cake later and I was ready to take on the Duke’s Pass. This is a renowned hill pass in the area and contributed to the total ascent for the 100km ride of 968m. In ever heavy rain it wasn’t a particularly delightful climb although compared to some of the ascents I have cycled recently, it felt well within my capabilities.
The descent would normally be a much more joyful affair but the driving rain and chill felt horrible. I stopped to wait for the ladies just before we turned east and along Loch Achray and then Loch Vanachar.
At Brig o’ Turk, where there was another tempting tea room (we resisted) I took Yvonne and Marie on a short detour to see the bike that has grown into a tree. Legend has it that the blacksmith who once lived here left his bike resting against the tree before heading off to war. It has stayed there ever since and the tree had grown in and up around it. The bike is not way above head height and hidden by the trunk.
Marie wondered about an alternative story. “Maybe it’s Billie’s bike and she was actually so fed up with the Scottish weather that she left her transport there and took up sewing instead!”
As we headed along the undulating A821 road on the north banks of the two lochs the traffic seemed to grow and the rain become heavier. Just west of Callander we joined the far busier A84 to head first north-west and then due north towards Killin.
This part of the ride was a hard slog. The rain didn’t let up, the traffic was bonkers and there was only a short reprieve on a tarmac cycle path at the village of Strathyre.
We were all wondering how long we could put up with being soaked through. And then came the climb via Glen Ogle to Mid Lix. I had forgotten just how long this ascent goes on for and as I climbed I worried about what Yvonne and Marie must have been thinking about me. I am sure they would have been cursing me for ever suggesting the Tribute Ride in the Rain.
Thankfully, by the time we reached the turn off to Killin, the rain had almost stopped and we knew that just 5km of downhill would take us to a hoped for pub with open fire and lashings of hot soup.
Yvonne and Marie could not have been better companions. They were cheerful to the end through the adverse conditions and I know that a solo ride would have been a bit tortuous. I hope Billie had the same kind of upbeat company on her ride back in 1938.
One last thanks has to go to my tri club friend Russell. He drove to Killin to meet us and didn’t mind that we were shivering, drowned and blubbering riders. He kindly gave us a lift back to Luss and put up with the in-car heating on full blast.
I don’t think I properly dried out or defrosted until about 11pm that night and after a very hot shower and filling pub meal with G and Little Miss (in celebration of her Higher exam results).
I do feel proud to have been part of the Billie Fleming Tribute Ride and to have played a small part in keeping this year-long cycle going around the UK. Keep track of the next five months of the ride on Facebook.