The 100-mile Ring of Breadalbane scenery distracts from a challenging road cycle. The article was published in The Scots Magazine. If you enjoyed reading this article, why not buy a Scots Magazine, or a subscription?
Tolkien’s challenge: 100-mile road cycling route in Scotland
The Rings of Breadalbane comprise a 100-mile Road Cycling Ring, as well as a Trail Cycling Ring, with six sections of between 13 and 40 miles, and two Walking Rings, a 72-mile Clan Ring and a 21-mile Tay Ring. See www.breadalbane.org/ rings-of-breadalbane.
There is a point while cycling uphill on a steep narrow road in Perth & Kinross when I’m unsure if I can continue to push my pedals around.
My leg muscles are throbbing painfully and, without looking down, I know I’ve no more gears to slip into.
The only option is to rise from my saddle, grit my teeth and attempt to make one more revolution – and then another.
Of course, I could stop, get off my bike and walk, while pushing my bicycle by my side, to the highest point on the road in Glen Quaich. But that still appears to be a long way ahead.
From the corners of my eyes, I glimpse heather-clad hillsides undulating into the far distance. The calm water of a nearby loch sparkles in the sunshine and overhead three red kites soar confidently in a bight blue sky.
It’s these rewards – the stunning scenery and beautiful wildlife – that provide a useful distraction to the continuing agony in my thighs and calves.
Then, finally, comes the best prize of all: After miles of ascending, there is the fabulous descent.
Suddenly, I am freewheeling downhill from a high point of just over 1700ft and on a beautifully winding stretch of tarmac.
The picturesque landscape whizzes by, now a blur of the summer hues of purple, ochre and green.
I see the pointed outline of the iconic mountain, Schiehallion, in the distance to the north, while the huge expanse of Loch Tay, lying to the west, grows ever bigger.
Having set off from the more southerly settlement of Comrie earlier in the day, the long downhill towards the loch-side village of Kenmore is a welcome rest for tired legs.
Fact: Comrie is situated on the Highland Boundary Fault and noted for its earth tremors, hence its nickname, the “Shaky Toon”.
So far this morning, I’ve cycled around 40 miles heading through the town of Crieff, then on to a single-track road uphill via peaceful Sma Glen to reach the hamlet of Amulree, before riding Glen Quaich.
Yet, there are still many more miles to cycle today as I aim to complete a 100-mile route of the so-called Ring of Breadalbane.
The brainchild of the Breadalbane Tourism Cooperative, a series of Rings offer road and trail cyclists, as well as walkers, different routes to follow.
The Rings were inspired by Breadalbane’s “Tolkienesque” scenery. The landscape of the area’s mountains and glens is likened to that of Tolkien’s books – and the subsequent films – Lord of the Rings.
Next on my challenging circuit is the popular tourist village of Kenmore, which offers the perfect place for much-needed refuelling – coffee and cake – before I head east to the market town of Aberfeldy.
The map directs me to turn north and then west to cycle through “Appin of Dull”. I dearly hope it doesn’t live up to its literal definition.
The area is in fact a flatland – or Strath – of the River Tay to the south of the settlement of Dull and between Aberfeldy and Loch Tay.
I later discover that “Appin” means “abbey land” and is associated with a great abbey, the foundation of St Adamnan, that is said to have once flourished here.
Riding past a signpost for Dull makes me giggle, especially when I see that the settlement is paired with Boring in Oregon, US. The name Dull is thought to be Pictish and derives from the word “dol” meaning “water-meadow” or “haugh”.
I leave the B846 after Dull, for a quiet road that is signed to Fortingall, at the foot of Glen Lyon.
Fact: Breadalbane, from the Gaelic Braghaid Alban, translates as the High Ground of Scotland.
Fortingall is famous for thatched cottages, Europe’s oldest living tree and, according to local legend, it was the birthplace of Pontious Pilate.
Again I feel the build of an ascent, at first gradual and then more demanding, as I cycle Glen Lyon, which is acclaimed as Scotland’s longest glen.
It’s said that golden eagles are often seen here but I am not lucky with this bird of prey. It matters not because the scenery is fabulous with a river flowing along the glen and forests, hills and mountains in every direction.
I am grateful for another food stop at Bridge of Balgie, at the head of Glen Lyon, before the next climb. My legs complain intensely as I cycle south, up and up again, to reach the highest point on the Ring at 1855ft.
It’s a tough ride and as I make it to the top of the road I notice I’ve ridden almost 70 miles.
I enjoy more spirit-lifting views, including the lofty summits of the Lawers mountain range, before a sublime descent towards the northern shore of Loch Tay.
The road passes the National Trust for Scotland’s Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve car park, which is very familiar to me as a Munro bagger. There are multiple Munros – mountains of more than 3000ft – located nearby.
Turing right at the end of the descent, I cycle a section of the busier A827 to reach Killin at the loch’s western end. Killin is a beautiful village and home to the breath-taking Falls of Dochart
I had been hoping that the rest of the route would be downhill or flat, but there are still plenty of climbs and bumps to negotiate. However, I’m grateful for the warm and dry weather as I ride uphill again in Glen Ogle.
At the highest point at around 600ft, I take another breather. My legs are fatigued and I need to stretch out tired upper body muscles, including aching shoulders and sore hands that have taken the brunt of the handlebar pull on the uphills and the braking on the downhills.
I’m rewarded for the stop with a beautiful northern vista of the ridge of Meall nan Tarmachan. A southern aspect reveals more hills and mountains, including Ben Vorlich.
The next descent to Lochearnhead is over too quickly, although I welcome a more gradual downhill as I ride along the southern shore of Loch Earn, this time travelling east amid pretty birch woods.
Just after Lochearnhead, the road passes above restored Edinample Castle. From a bridge, it’s possible to clamber down to view the Falls of Edinample
At the eastern end of the loch is St Fillans. There is an impressive rock, atop which is the remains of Dundurn Hill Fort. This is thought to be a Pictish royal fort.
And then, finally, I ride on to the A85, before a detour on to a quieter B road that follows the route of the River Earn back to the start point at Comrie.
My GPS watch says 102 miles, which takes into account a few short detours, and a total ascent of almost 7500ft.
My advice if you want to complete the 100-mile Ring in a day is to start early, ride a lightweight bicycle and make sure you have plenty of gears. Alternatively, why not make a more leisurely circuit over two of three days?
Kit list for a 100-mile bike ride
- Road bicycle
- Cycle shoes
- Puncture repair kit and pump
- Cycle shorts and top
- Arm warmers
- Waterproof or windproof jacket
- Lightweight insulated layer
- Mobile phone
- Map or route upload to map app